How to Help a Child With Addiction

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Many people associate addictions with adults, but children can become addicted too. Addiction tends to run in the family, and while you may have tried to keep your child safe, it isn’t always possible. Teen addiction is still a prevalent issue caused by many factors, from environmental to hereditary. Here’s how to help your child get the treatment they need.

Why Is My Teen Addicted?

There are many factors that play into teen and child addiction. Whether it be peer pressure, curiosity, rebellion, a way to cope with stress/anxiety, or expectations, there are many reasons why teens and children choose to take substances that develop into addiction. It isn’t necessarily because they are “bad” or “acting out.” In fact, many teens don’t try substances to anger parents, but rather because their brains aren’t as developed as adult brains. This doesn’t say anything about their intelligence, but rather their brain development and how they make decisions.

The front of the brain, or the pre-frontal cortex, which controls rational decision-making, isn’t yet fully developed in an adolescent brain. Additionally, the parts of the brain that regulate emotions are the most active. This means that teens tend to make decisions based on emotional impulse rather than logic. This is why many teens tend to make riskier decisions around drugs and sex, leading to negative consequences.

Your teen isn’t alone in this risk-taking behavior. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, 70% of high school teens have tried alcohol by the time they’ve reached their senior year, and half have experimented with illicit substances. This doesn’t mean it’s okay, but that it is common. The important thing to do when realizing your child has an addiction isn’t to punish them or center yourself as the reason your child has become addicted, but rather to understand how their environment might have played a part in their addiction.

Getting Them Through Detox

First and foremost, your child will need to go through a medically supervised detoxification process. Some programs offer services for teens and adults specifically. Jaywalker Lodge doesn’t provide detox services but can refer our clients to services before entering our facility for treatment. Detox will be difficult for your child, and it will be difficult to see your child go through detox. It can be a physically and emotionally demanding experience as their bodies get rid of the substances and adapt to living without them. Your child will experience withdrawal symptoms that will last weeks to even a year, depending on how severe their addiction is. Your child will need love and support during this time, as this can be a scary experience.

What Treatment Looks Like For Teens

The severity of your child’s addiction will depend on what program they enter. Many programs tend to cater to the needs of adults and young adults, but some programs help teens who still need to attend school. If your child has a severe addiction, they might need to enter residential treatment. This will require them to put their education on pause until they are more stable. Once they are on a sound foundation, they can enter an intensive outpatient program that allows them to attend school while attending wellness programs after school. This can include any wellness classes the treatment center offers and any counseling appointments. This will enable them to continue their studies while still putting treatment first.

Aftercare for Your Child

Addiction is a lifelong struggle. Your child’s brain will continue to develop until they are 25, but the effects of addiction will still affect their development. Wellness and self-care will still need to remain an essential part of their life through young adulthood, especially as they attend college and enter their adult lives. College can become a dangerous place for them, threatening relapse. This does not mean that college is too hazardous for them to attend. Instead, if your child already has an addiction, they will need to make sure they have the necessary tools to cope with the many potential triggers that could lead to relapse and the need for further treatment down the road.

Aftercare for your teen will mean continuing therapy services, including group therapy, family therapy, and one-on-one counseling sessions. This will also mean ensuring they keep their mental health in check by prioritizing their physical and emotional health over school performance. Depending on their circumstances or what led them to addiction — e.g., adverse childhood experiences, mental health in the family, or other childhood trauma — they may still need to heal.

Seeing your child experience addiction can be a scary experience. You might feel ashamed or as if you fell short. However, many teens do experiment with substances. If your child has an addiction, it isn’t too late to help them. Many detox facilities help children who are addicted. There are also plenty of programs that offer family therapy for individuals who are addicted. These resources can help mend any broken bonds in the family and allow a safe space for parents and children to discuss the factors that lead to addiction without putting any shame and blame where it shouldn’t go. Your child should not be punished for becoming addicted, but it is advisable to assess the situation that led to it, whether peer-related or a lack of supervision. To learn more about helping a child who is addicted, please call Jaywalker Lodge today at (866) 529-9255. We’re here to help.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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