Teen alcoholism and drug addiction can have serious consequences. Not only can it cause lifelong physical and emotional problems for the teen, but it can be destructive to the family, too. It can bring about a heart-breaking change in the way the family relates to each other.
We know that teenage alcoholics and drug addicts have been around since at least Biblical times, because of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is the story of a son who leaves his father's home and spends all his money on alcohol, parties and the people these attract. Of course, once he is out of money, his friends drop him and leave him to struggle alone, on his own. Eventually, he gives up in despair and returns home to his family, but only after he has hit his personal bottom. In this case, that meant he had reached the point where he was forced to sleep and live with hogs. One important lesson from this story, however, is that these family issues have always been common, and everyone has a different bottom. Another lesson to be learned is that the father didn't rescue the son, although he undoubtedly loved him.
If you have an alcoholic or addicted teen in your family, you are probably feeling overwhelmed. Parents may have been facing these problems since Biblical times, but that is small comfort to you when you see your own child making bad decisions. What can you do?
Stop Feeling Guilty
If you are the parent of a teenage alcoholic or drug addict, you need to understand three things. You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it. No matter what you do or do not do as a parent, your addicted child will not change until they have reached their own personal bottom. This may not mean that they are sleeping with pigs; however, it does mean that they may have to feel a deep level of despair before they finally surrender and realize that this is not fun anymore. Once your teen has begun making these bad decisions, you do not need to feel guilty. Sadly, the only thing you may be able to do is just let the disease take its course. Of course, you should seek help for yourself! You may want to join Al-anon Family Groups, talk with your minister, seek out an alcohol rehab or drug treatment program or go to a family therapist.
You may also want to get more information about ways to help them. You can use this direct Amazon link to Al-Anon literature in order to find some very helpful books that you can read in the privacy of your own home.
Stop Enabling Them
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the young man left home with his future inheritance, and returned completely broke. The father did not continue to send money month after month, nor did he beg his son to come home. In short, he did not rescue him. Even after the son returned home, the father assured his other son that this would not diminish his inheritance. In other words, the alcoholic son would have to rebuild his fortune himself. The father was happy to have him return, celebrated, assured him that he was loved, fed him well and gave him lots of encouragement, but he did not take property from the son who had remained at home in order to enable the prodigal son. Neither should you.
Stop Asking Them Questions
Often the addicted teen will use our questions to manipulate us. When we ask, "How are you?" he responds with a saga about how he is sick, hungry, and broke and how just a little more money will ease his pain. The same is true for the other questions we ask, such as "What have you been up to?" or "Where have your been?" or "Are you working?" The best policy is to stop asking questions. What can you say instead? When I joined Alanon, and my Alanon sponsor was helping me go through a difficult time with one of our daughters, my sponsor gave me a list of statements I could use to respond to nearly anything my daughter said on the phone. The list included phrases such as:
It's good to hear your voice
You could be right
I don't know
You won't believe what I've been doing
If they do share their troubles with you, despite your best efforts to avoid it, I was told to always conclude our conversation with the words: "I love you, I have confidence in you, and I know you'll do the right thing."
I avoided asking any questions, or giving advice, and I avoided getting excited about anything they said. This can be very hard at times, so I kept a note card with a list of the above statements written on it, by all the phones in my house. I would stare at it when I talked with her. Believe it or not, it really did help.
Stop Letting Them Ruin Your Life
When you focus all your attention on the alcoholic or addicted teen, you stop paying attention to yourself. You may not watch what you eat, exercise properly, sleep enough, or take care of your responsibilities. No matter how much you worry, it doesn't affect the behavior of the addict / alcoholic. However, it does affect your behavior, and can cause you to feel as if your life is spinning out of control. While you are in this downward cycle, the alcoholic or addict goes merrily on their way, oblivious to what is happening to you. In fact, they may criticize you, or hurt you in other ways.
You need to take the focus off the alcoholic or addict in your life, and put the attention back on yourself. Find a hobby that you enjoy. Spend time with friends. Listen to music. Take a class. Chat on the phone or email loved ones. Go to the gym. Take a walk. You get the picture. There is a saying in Alanon, "When I got busy, I got better." There's a lot of wisdom in that statement.
Start Going to Alanon
This brings us to the subject of Alanon. It is an organization for the families and friends of alcoholics and, more recently, of addicts. It is a place where you can meet and get to know other parents, spouses and friends who are going through the same crazy, chaotic life that you are. In Alanon you will find the opportunity to learn many techniques for improving your life, despite the drama that alcoholics and addicts seem to create everywhere they go. You will also find people who will not embarrass you, criticize you, or think badly of you when you tell your story. They've been there, too. Alanon Family Groups are listed in phone books across the nation, and there is also information available on the internet or through treatment centers. In addition, you can get a local phone number by calling directory assistance. There are meetings both during the day and evenings, and some of them may have babysitting available. If you try, you are quite likely to find a meeting time and place that is convenient for you. Take advantage of this wonderful organization that can help bring health and happiness back to your life.
You may also be interesting in reading these articles or reading the book advertised below:
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