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For Parents of Addict Teens

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When your teenager becomes a drug addict, it is one of the most scary, tragic, overwhelming things that can happen.  It breaks your heart into pieces.  You feel like you can’t get your head above water.  Even when you’re having fun with family or friends, you always sense a dark cloud lingering in the background.  Your prayers are desperate, you feel broken, and you feel disconnected from family and friends because they don’t understand the depth of your pain.

 

It can be scary to talk with your friends and family about your teenager’s addiction.  You just never know what kind of reaction you’ll get.  Some people are kind, compassionate and understanding.  Others try and go back into the past to determine where you went wrong as a parent.  When people react this way it’s excruciating and insensitive.  Many, many times I’ve worked with families who truly did everything right.  There are no parents who are perfect, but these families were wholesome, loving, fair and genuine.  Despite this, their teenager still got into drugs.  It’s not necessarily a product of the family system, and it’s very painful that family and friends don’t always realize that.

 

The other thing that parents have said is really difficult for them when their teens are addicted to drugs is feeling like a burden to their loved ones.  What they mean by this is the well-being of their child is always on their mind.  Sometimes parents don’t even know where their addicted child is, which is also very scary.  These parents don’t feel like they can call their friends or family and lament about the same problem every single day.  They have told me they live in a world where their pain is central to their existence, but they’re alone in their hell.  They worry that discussing their heavy heart everyday becomes a drag to those around them.

 

It’s important for parents of addicted children to get support from people who truly understand how intense the battle against addiction is for both the addict and the addict’s family.  A good place to get this support is Alanon, Celerate Recovery, CODA, or some other support group type of environment where it’s okay to voice how much it hurts.  There will be others around who feel the same way.  There will be some who have learned how to live with this and even carry on with their life.  There will be people there who can really understand your fear and helplessness.  There will be people there to gently point out ways you might be enabling your teen’s addiction, and then to support you as you try to stop.

 

Most of you who have an addicted teenager also have other kids.  You have to continue being a parent to the children who are healthy and try to make things as normal as possible for them.  You have to help them through their own pain they experience because they have an addict sibling.  Somehow you’re supposed to do this while fighting through it yourself.

 

Addiction rocks families.  It’s not just a problem for the addict.  For parents it is terrifying.  A child’s addiction has destroyed family finances, marriages, hopes and dreams.  Putting people around you who really understand this, and who don’t blame you, is critical.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

For people who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc., it can be hard to share this openly with family and friends.  If your teenager has any of these diagnoses, the stigma is even more profound.  As a rule, your teenager’s peers are not the most accepting when it comes to psychological struggles.  On the surface they might be, but they tend to gossip about these things to their friends.  In my work with teenagers I’ve noticed they are not the best secret-keepers.  If your daughter takes an antidepressant and she confides in one of her friends, there is a decent chance a lot of other teens will find out.

 

This means you’re left with two approaches.  The first is to encourage your kids not to tell anyone about their counseling, psychiatric treatment and challenges.  While this will prevent them from experiencing teasing, it also might create a sense of shame in them.  It’s tough too when they want to spend the night at a friend’s house and need to take a pill at the end of the evening.  Their friend might be curious, which means your teenager will have to lie.

 

The second approach is to work hard with your teenager on not feeling shame.  The thing I tell a lot of my clients is that even though they don’t know it, there are a handful of their friends who get medication and/or are also in therapy.  I remind them that very likely some of the most popular, good-looking, athletic, smart kids in their school get counseling for things.  I try really hard to help them know that emotional struggles happen to most people at some point in their lifetime.

 

If they can feel confident in their knowledge that they are just fine even if they have a psychological diagnosis, other teens will be more comfortable with it.  It also really helps to have some others know in terms of getting support.  There will be days when your adolescent needs a pick-me-up from their friends.  If their friends know what’s going on, they might better know how to help them.

 

I had one client who struggled with OCD.  It caused her to do a few things that were noticeable in social situations.  She just confidently said she had OCD and then was able to laugh about it.  Her friends felt a lot more comfortable after that, and laughed right with her.  Another thing started to happen.  Different teens would come up to her in confidence and tell her about their experiences with anxiety, depression, etc.  Because she refused to give in to the stigma of mental illness being something shameful, she became a safe refuge for a great number of struggling teens.

 

The stigma associated with mental illness makes us want to hide.  It makes us want to keep it to ourselves, and fight through it alone.  Unfortunately that makes the battle a lot more challenging to overcome.  When I struggled with an eating disorder my junior and senior year of high school I didn’t tell anyone.  When it progressed and continued into college I was much more open about it.  At that point I found I was able to get the support I needed, which was the first step toward healing.  I want the same for your teenager.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Pain Increases Depression

There is a strong correlation between pain and depressed moods. If you find your teenager seems irritable and down, one thing that might be worth exploring is if they are in chronic pain. Not every kid will complain when they have something nagging in their body. Perhaps your child has always had allergies, and everyone is so used to him having a runny nose that it’s easy to underestimate the negative impact this has on his moods. The bottom line is, pain can lead to feelings of depression. This means not every case of depression is psychiatric. It also works in reverse. Depression can lead to symptoms of pain. Things are not always as clear-cut as they first appear.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT