A group of people sitting on the ground with a fallen injection while battling substance abuse.

Artwork by Graphic Sheet

A group of people sitting on the ground with a fallen injection while battling substance abuse.

Handling Substance Abuse and Addiction in Children: Tips for Parents

Medically reviewed by

Written by Riddhima Poddar

As a parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to have access to the abundant opportunities out there, and there isn't anything that you wouldn't do to see them thrive.

It could then be concerning and equally agonising to suspect that your child might be treading down the path of substance abuse. 

This article will help you understand how you can prevent substance abuse in your child and how you can support them as they recover from addiction.

What is Addiction?  

Addiction, unlike the popular misconception, is not a choice. It is certainly not a result of moral failing or bad parenting. Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder that is characterised by the compulsive use of substances despite the harmful consequences.

How can you Prevent your Child from getting Addicted to Substances?

The first step towards preventing your child from experimenting with substances begins at home.

Have an Open Dialogue

Quench your child’s curiosity by talking to them about the different substances, their effects and subsequent risks. Ask for your child’s opinion and views on drugs and alcohol. Assure them that they can be honest with you. Your goal is not to scare them but to make them aware of how substance abuse could negatively impact what they want from life.

Your child might ask you about your drug use. Give them an authentic response. If you chose to not experiment with drugs, tell them your rationale. If you did do drugs, be open and share what your experience taught you. 

Lead by Example

If you drink or smoke, make it a point to do so responsibly around your child. Practice what you preach. Never drive while you are under the influence, avoid drinking on an empty stomach, don’t smoke if your child is in the room and ensure that you do not lose control of your senses- especially in front of your child. Children tend to observe their parents and model their behaviour accordingly. If you have a healthy relationship with cigarettes and alcohol, your child will likely develop a healthy relationship with these substances too.

In case you use illicit drugs, don’t store them in your house where your child can stumble upon them. Since children are impressionable, you do not want your child to grow up thinking that it is normal to do drugs.   

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Establish Rules and Boundaries

To ensure that your teen has a healthy relationship with substance, communicate and establish clear rules and boundaries. For instance, leaving a gathering or a party where substances are in use. You can also work with them to arrive at an optimal quantity of alcohol that they can intake. In whose presence are they allowed to drink, if at all you permit that for your teen? Knowing what is acceptable can prevent your child from going astray. 

Warn about Peer Pressure

It is crucial that your child understands what peer pressure is. They should know how to conduct themselves under direct or indirect pressure without being influenced or swayed by their peers. Let them know that it is okay to say “no” and not follow the crowd. 

Be mindful of the Stressors

Your child may become susceptible to substance abuse during major transitional phases in their lives, like moving to a new city or changing schools. These stressors could be present at home- parents who constantly fight, financial stress, and losing a loved one. Open up channels for your child to process and express their emotions in a healthy fashion by helping them identify what they are feeling.

Recognise Signs

In case your child is misusing substances, look for certain telltale signs. Has their hygiene deteriorated? Do you notice a sudden change in their friends, eating habits or sleeping patterns? Is there an unusual smell in their breath or clothing? 

How can you Support your Child through their Battle with Addiction?

It is possible that your child may not even realise that their use of substances has spiralled out of control. For them to seek help and attain sobriety, they need the support of their family more than ever. 

Finding out that your child is addicted to substances could be extremely challenging. It could evoke feelings of guilt, inadequacy and incompetence in you as well as your child. Instead of feeling responsible and blaming yourself for your child’s predicament- over which neither of you had any control, you have to let your child know that their mistake changes nothing. 

Rebuild your Relationship:

Understand that your addiction is a biological and psychological condition and that your child didn’t choose to get addicted. Do not distance yourself from your child, refuse to engage with them or be judgemental. Instead, communicate openly. You might notice that your child is irritable or moody. Know that it is not them but the addiction that is controlling how they respond to situations. You might find yourself being sarcastic, upset and irrational too. Catch yourself when these emotions get the better of you. 

Use Positive Affirmations:

Addiction could result in diminished self-confidence and self-esteem. It is vital that your child knows that you believe in them and their recovery even if they relapse and start over. It is a long journey, and they need to know that you don’t define them by their mistakes. Instead, encourage positive behaviours and coping strategies that they may adopt during their recovery. Positive affirmations paired with your faith in their journey could help your child develop a sense of camaraderie, which could significantly counter any negative emotions that may arise. 

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Reinforce Ground Rules

It is crucial that your child knows what is and isn’t acceptable as they learn to restructure their lives during the treatment. Work on these rules together so that your child does not feel that they have lost their agency. These rules could include avoiding gatherings and parties with substances and disengaging with peers or friends who misuse substances. 

As much as your child needs your attention, support and care, you have to ensure that you do not enable their poor decisions by making excuses for them or blaming yourself. However, you do remember that your child is not at fault either. Recovery has its periods of ups and downs. As taxing as the process will be, do not run out of patience or lose hope. 

Understanding that your child’s addiction is a biological and psychological condition instead of a result of poor judgement could help reduce the stigma around it. Your faith in them could help them rebuild their self-worth and increase the likelihood of being in long-term recovery.

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