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Section 8
Parent Support in Adolescent Substance Abuse

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents | Addictions
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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On the last track, we discussed the three types of parental enabler for a chemically addicted teen. These are the provoker, the rescuer, and the victim.

On this track, we will discuss the four steps parents of teenage addicts can take to get support for themselves.  These are learning about chemical dependence, joining a support group for parents, making time for personal needs, and gathering information on the teen’s behavior.

As you are well aware, helping the parents of addictive teens prepare for an intervention is a difficult process. I find that the first stage of preparing parents for disengagement and intervention is to get them to take care of themselves. As you know, by taking better care of themselves, parents of addicted teens are better able to start breaking the enabling cycle. In my experience, there are four important steps in this stage. 

Four Steps for Parents to Get Support

Step #1 - Learing About Chemical Dependence

The first, as you probably are aware, is for parents to educate themselves about the disease of chemical dependence.

Step #2 - Joining a Support Group
I find that the second step is to join a support group for parents of chemically addicted teens. In my experience, a group like Families Anonymous or Al-Anon is the best way to help the parents of addicted teens realize that they are not alone in what they are going through.

These groups can also provide information about other community programs, such as crisis lines. In addition to joining a support group, I recommend to my clients that they begin research local treatment centers, and connect with other people in the teenager’s life who may be willing to help. I find that good places to start looking for people willing to help are teachers, coaches, counselors, and individuals from religious organizations.

Step #3 - Making Time for Personal Needs
The third step is to make time for personal needs. As you may have experienced, the parents of a chemically addicted teenager often spend so much time caring for and worrying about their child, that they spend little or no time physically and emotionally taking care of themselves. In my experience, recommending small, specific techniques for self-care can be very helpful.

I encourage my clients to practice daily meditation or journaling, or to take ‘minute vacations’ throughout the day to pick flowers or listen to the rain. I also recommend that my clients find a way to take a weekend out of town with a spouse or friend. If going out of town is out of the question for safety reasons, I suggest that my client instead make a weekly date to get out to a movie or a relaxing dinner.

Step #4 - Gathering Information on Teen's Behavior
In addition to learning about chemical dependence, joining a support group for parents, and making time for personal needs, the fourth step is to gather information on the teen’s behavior. I find that this step is especially important for parents, as it provides them with evidence that they are not imagining things. Their teenager really does have a problem, and really does need their help.

As you’ve probably experienced collecting this information also provides parents with concrete evidence to show their teenager when they are ready to perform an intervention. The first step in gathering information that I suggest is for the parents or caregivers to keep a daily journal of troubling behaviors their teenager is exhibiting. I encourage parents to only record behaviors that they have observed firsthand that relate to their teen’s alcohol or other drug use.

I also suggest that parent be as specific as possible, and that they note not only what happened, but the time, exactly what was said, and how they felt about the incident. It is impossible to be too specific when detailing the events caused by a teenager’s chemical dependence. The more specific the description of the behavior, the more impact it will have when the parent becomes ready for the confrontation stage. Although most of my clients choose to journal their observations, I also have had clients who photograph, tape record, or video tape their teenager’s drunk or high behaviors.

Martha, 35, took photographs when she came home her twin 17-year-old sons passed out drunk after attending a pre-graduation party. One of the brothers had vomited on the other’s shirt. When she later confronted the boys about the incident, they said "Come on, Mom, you always exaggerate. It wasn’t that bad." Martha was then able to take out the photos she had taken and show her sons exactly how bad the situation had been.

"My Feelings Letter" Technique
My client James, a 42-year-old car salesman, began seeing me when he became concerned about his daughter’s alcohol use. Olivia, 15, frequently came home late at night drunk. I recommended that James try the "My Feelings" letter to both document times when Olivia came home drunk, and to help him process his feelings about the incidents.

I explained to James that there were three important components to the My Feelings letter- the date and time, a specific description of the event, and a short statement of his feelings about what had happened. James wrote "Your friends brought you home drunk at 2 am on October 3rd. They dropped you on the porch, rang the bell, and ran. I had to carry you to your room and put you to bed. I felt scared and hurt to see you so sick. Sometime during the night, you threw up and urinated in your bed. I felt disgusted.

"The next day, October 4, you missed school because you were complaining of nausea and a headache. I felt worried because you were obviously ill. On October 5th, you were still sick, and missed school and all of your chores again. I felt angry."

I asked James how he felt about the exercise, and he stated "You know, for the first time I really feel like I’m not just overreacting. Olivia really does have a big problem. It feels better to get it out on paper like this."

On this track, we have discussed the four steps parents of teenage addicts can take to get support for themselves.  These are learning about chemical dependence, joining a support group for parents, making time for personal needs, and gathering information on the teen’s behavior.

On the next track, we will discuss the six key guidelines to help parents stop enabling and disengage from their chemically addicted teenager. These guidelines are, don’t take it personally, don’t confront, don’t say things you don’t mean, don’t nag, don’t clean up, and don’t make excuses. We will also discuss the "Learning Ignoring Skills" technique to help parents manage verbal confrontations with their chemically addicted teens.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Samek, D. R., Rueter, M. A., Keyes, M. A., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2015). Parent involvement, sibling companionship, and adolescent substance use: A longitudinal, genetically informed design. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(4), 614–623. 

Wills, T. A., & Cleary, S. D. (1996). How are social support effects mediated? A test with parental support and adolescent substance use. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(5), 937–952. 

Wills, T. A., Resko, J. A., Ainette, M. G., & Mendoza, D. (2004). Role of Parent Support and Peer Support in Adolescent Substance Use: A Test of Mediated Effects. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18(2), 122–134.

What are the four steps the parents of teenage addicts can take to get support for themselves? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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