When we become parents, we have a list of things we hope – and never anticipate – will never happen. Among these things, we hope our kids will never use drugs. If there is addiction in our family, we hope we will be effective in preventing them from experiencing addiction. If there’s no history of addiction, we hope they will never be “stupid enough” to use drugs … as if it’s “stupidity” that underlies it.
Chances are, though, we view underage drinking as a rite of passage; the same with marijuana. As for other “hard” drugs, we shake our heads in disbelief that our kids would even consider use.; after all, we are doing our best to be good parents.
Fast forward to the tween and teen years. Things change.
If your kid is using drugs and alcohol, it’s reason for concern. No bones about it. Whether it’s experimentation or out-right dependency, no use is good use for a developing brain. I think we can all agree, that youth substance use has the potential of leading nowhere good.
We must stop youth substance use. Better yet, we must prevent it in the first place. Heck yes.
Substance-use prevention, in theory, is fine and dandy. It’s predicated on good communication, good relationships, good boundaries. In fact, it’s our obligation as parents and as adults of influence (teachers, coaches, faith leaders, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, et al), to do everything in our power to prevent our youngsters from trying and using drugs and alcohol.
However, if your kid is using, prevention is a thing of the past. It’s too late, and many parents are kicking themselves wondering where they failed.
Reality check. If your kid is using, it is NOT your fault. You did not fail as a parent. You did not fail at prevention. This is not shirking responsibility – in fact, it is the ultimate in acceptance and the foundation for addressing and arresting addiction even as it spirals out of control.
Let’s face it. Addiction can happen. Not to all kids who use, but to some. Even to your kid.
It happened to mine. It might happen to yours. Sorry, it might.
But wait. What if you diligently employ the 35 ways to prevent addiction? What if you do “all the right things”? You’re immune, right? Your kid is safe, right?
No kid wants to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. No kid believes they will be. Until they are. Until it’s too late. That’s addiction. It sneaks up and grips. It arrives with little warning, and it stays longer than ever imagined. It creates chaos, drama, trauma and more.
While I wholeheartedly embrace prevention in theory, I realistically acknowledge that it’s a bit of a crock. Yes, it is.
All the dogma about prevention provides a false sense of security. Prevention pundits, without meaning to, shame parents of young addicts because they flaunt all the things we could have, would have and should have done.
Oh, wait. These ARE the things we did … and it still did NOT prevent our kid from trying drugs and alcohol AND it did NOT prevent the kids with a predisposition (known or unknown) to addiction from developing a substance-use disorder.
If anything, these lists of “things to do” to prevent substance use set us up for unfortunate reality checks when experimentation escalates.
Certainly, there are mitigating circumstances – situations that contribute to substance use among young adults; that’s sad and unfortunate. There are underlying issues from self esteem, depression, anxiety, dysfunctional family dynamics, family history with addiction, and more that might lead to trying drugs – to “fit in” and to self medicate.
For the rest of us, the prevention message is somewhat insulting. By no means does this mean we are perfect parents who flawlessly parent in a prevention positive manner, but we are well intentioned and we’ve done our best. Beyond that, our kids sometimes do choose to try a substance and some of our kids are hooked from day one. There’s no way we can predict, and really, there is no way we can prevent.
One of my phrases, “been there, done that,” implies that I can offer you insights to prevent substance use; but really, it’s about connecting with you as a parent who has done your very best and in spite of this finds your kid using.
Instead, you find out your kid has tried drugs and alcohol so you’re now wondering what to do to halt your kid’s use, to reverse the situation. In my mind, this is of infinite value because we can’t control whether our kid will try substance, whether they will abuse them, and whether they will develop an addiction.
But we can intervene early and often. We can parent them through addiction. We can encourage treatment and support recovery. We can accept that we can’t MAKE them stop, but we can set boundaries and we can be there when they are READY. We can weather the treacherous, dangerous path that is addiction. We can face the ugly possibility of the worst, most horrifying potential outcome, More importantly, we can hope, pray and believe that sobriety is possible.
To recap, prevention is admirable and is our obligation as parents and adults of influence; but we must recognize that prevention isn’t always possible. Instead, if we find ourselves as parents of young addicts, we must be ready to meet this head on without guilting ourselves because prevention didn’t work. That is one of the reasons that the Our Young Addicts community exists – to surround and support each other, to embrace parents and professionals in addressing the number of kids trying and becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.
I realize this may not be a popular perspective, but from my “been there, done that” experience, it offers liberation and empowerment to move from statistics to solutions.
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