Since your child was born, you have tried to be a “good-enough” parent. This obligation, skill set includes comforting and reducing his “boo-boos” to lessen the hurt.
When the child was older, you could somewhat control his behavior, although it became harder, with a carrot. For example, if you mow the lawn, you can stay up an hour later. If he misbehaved, you could send him to his room for a “time out.”
It worked for a while. You saw compliance. Then in later years, when he was a teen, you could take away car privileges, allowances that seemed more dire.
However, once substance abuse disorder develops, and the son’s quest for dopamine-fueled drugs became an obsession, you couldn’t use the same toolbox for him or you. Their rationale leaves their perhaps undeveloped prefrontal cortex because they now have a chronic brain disease (or maybe they always did) that’s prone to relapsing.
How can a parent cope when it is innate to want to help a suffering child who is bringing down the whole family with him? How do you unlearn your motherly instincts?
Here are some observations:
- You can NOT fix the substance abuser. Unless he is ready to get sober, it doesn’t work. It’s a constant battle for him not to rely on drugs.
- To do the hard work to achieve sobriety, your child needs to detox safely in a facility. It is more dangerous to try to detox yourself, from alcohol and benzodiazepines as they both can produce deadly seizures.
- You are not enabling if you try to support your child in his efforts to achieve sobriety. But if you don’t set boundaries, make excuses for him, bail him out, then you are “enabling” or being “co-dependent.”
- Make sure you are taking care of yourself and your other children who may feel as if they are being neglected and act out.
- Once your child is detoxed, make sure his day is structured with work/school, exercise and healthy food. He needs to stay away from former acquaintances if they are still using or he will relapse. “Change people, places, and things” mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Your child will need a therapist who specializes in addiction. You don’t want a “pill pusher” or one that can be easily manipulated. But the right medicine could alleviate his condition. If your child needs suboxone, for example, to quell opioid cravings, this is NOT “substituting one drug for another.”
- Try to get a dual diagnosis. Substance abusers are numbing themselves because of mental health conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, trauma, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. or co-occurring disorders.
- “Meet your child where he is.” Most 28 day rehabs have twelve step programs like AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). But there are other options such as Smart Recovery.
- Don’t expect miracles! Relapse is common during the first year of sobriety. Unless your child is very mature, it may take many attempts to get and stay sober.
- It’s a good idea to keep Narcan (reverses overdoses) in your house, just in case of relapse. Watch your valuables, prescription pills, and alcohol.
- If you can’t get the family into therapy, try changing your behavior to adjust the rewards and punishment in the environment. CRAFT or Community Reinforcement and Family Training has a high success rate. It can be used in almost any situation and doesn’t require the whole family to participate.
- Don’t think you did anything wrong! As Al-Anon states, “you didn’t cause, can’t control or cure the disease!” Don’t make the child so comfortable with breaking rules or he will learn that the rules are meaningless and that breaking them has no consequence.Be consistent with your boundaries and if they are not met, then let them have consequences.
Sobriety takes self-examination and hard work to achieve. But it’s not impossible and certainly worth it!
Wesley Cullen Davidson
Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.