How to Talk to your Teenager about Addiction and Rehabilitation

You have probably noticed, that your teenager is going through a rough patch. They’re skipping school or work, they seem distant and isolated from their friends, you may find evidence of some sort of substance abuse. But even though it can feel like they are being swallowed up by their addiction, you can’t give up hope. If addiction is a family disease, you can help your teen. Whether they need a rehabilitation centre, or a point in the right direction.

The road to recovery for an addict is long and uncertain and often filled with setbacks. But the rewards of recovery are great; a new life, reuniting with family and friends, freedom from the confines of substance use. And if you stay involved (make sure they actually want your help), it doesn’t have to be lonely or painful for them; it can be a chance to start over free from the pain and shame that has kept them in drug or alcohol addiction for decades.

# Listen without judgement or demands; the past is past.

Listen, listen, listen! You can’t fix them, they’re not actually broken, but they want to fix themselves. And if you can’t give them what they need in order to do that, give them what you can – the time and space to do it alone. Jason Shiers Certified Transformative Coach says “Don’t criticize or lecture – just listen and make sure your teens know that you care about their lives. Ask occasionally if they are doing OK or are having any problems with their friends (or family).”

# Encourage healthy new activities and goals (sports, music).

If your teenager has struggled with addiction for a long time, encourage them to seek out support groups. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are available in most cities and offer a chance for addicts to recover while learning from others’ mistakes. Encourage your teen to learn a new skill or pick up an old one, perhaps the piano they left behind, or pick up a new hobby; this is a great way to keep them occupied and help redirect their focus onto things other than substance abuse.

# Check in regularly; make sure they’re doing OK.

The old adage is true: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Keep track of how often you check in. If you’re calling or texting every couple days, try to step it up a little – twice a week, then once a day at first. Once there is no longer a danger of relapse, you can let them know that you trust them and want to let them have more time alone.

# Rebuild family connections.

If your teen has struggled with addiction for several years (or decades) it’s very likely that your family has changed since things started going awry. Try to schedule fun, low-stress times as a family (if anyone can make the time). Go out for a nice dinner, hit the movies, or take a trip to the country.

# Get your teen into supervised treatment and rehab.

There are lots of options out there but they won’t work unless you help them get there. Don’t let your teen down by believing that their addiction is manageable or self-healing – it isn’t, and it’s not. If you are struggling with your own addiction or alcoholism, consider getting yourself into rehab as well – it can help you understand more about what addiction looks like from the inside and it can offer hope and support to your teens as they search for a better way to live their lives.

# Maintain a relationship with your teen’s friends.

Your teenager may withdraw from their old friends, but it’s important to maintain contact. If you learn that one of your teen’s classmates is struggling with addiction too, encourage them to get into rehab, or at least talk to them about what they’re going through (it could be the push they need).

# Be consistent and available.

You can’t control what your teenager does or says but you can control how consistently and genuinely you are willing to offer help. Don’t give up and stay on top of things at home – this will help prevent relapses.

In the end, the choice is up to your teenager. They have to want your help, or they’re not going to get it. But if you can make them understand that you really do care and that it will be better if they get sober, then just maybe you can help them find their way back home.