Get Tough With Addiction, Not The Teen Addict: Use Compassion, Empowerment And Support To Find Hope

When you discover that an adolescent you love is addicted to drugs, it can seem like the end of your hopes and dreams for that child. But there are many reasons to believe your teen can beat their attraction to addictive substances.

Researchers are continually studying how the brain and addiction work together. They are discovering new methods and strategies for coping with and overcoming drug addiction in teens.

Compassion is the key

In the past, "tough love" was sold as the best approach to dealing with a loved one with addiction. Being dependent on a substance was thought to be a moral failing you could help "cure" in another person with enough stern looks and refusal of funds. Many parents felt betrayed by and ashamed of their addicted children and believed in the mantra of "do not enable the addict in any way." 

But researchers now believe that drugs may replace the need for human connection in the addict's life. To get the addict focused on correct channeling of energy and resources, human connections must be encouraged and freely offered in a loving, non-judgmental way.

Of course, addicts often steal and hurt the people who love them the most. Providing human connection to a teen-aged patient with addictions does not mean that you must endure thievery or abuse. But addicts who have their basic needs met while they recover will be less likely to resort to crime to survive, so it's best to help addicts through the rough patches as much as possible.

Most addicts will eventually recover

Research has shown that most people will recover from alcohol and drug addiction on their own, but it may take over a decade for them to do so without any assistance. That's encouraging to know, because it means your teen has a better than average chance of beating their addiction over time.

But a decade or more is such a long time to wait to get clean, especially for a teen just starting life. Addiction can lead to a loss of opportunities, freedom and even life. So it's important to have hope but to also encourage a teen to begin recovery as soon as possible.

The power the addict possesses must be emphasized. Instead of insisting that addicts are powerless over their dependence, it's time to reinforce the control the young addict does have, and to provide examples of everyday people who have overcome their unhealthy drug habits.

Medical support is necessary

There is no shame in having an addict in the family. You are joining million of families coping with family members who have opioid, cocaine, alcohol and heroin addictions. People from all walks of life are easily led to dependence on painkillers and other legal and illegal substances.

There is shame in denying addicts the proper medical support as they try to break their addictions and get sober. Some addictions can be deadly if stopped cold turkey, and other withdrawal symptoms can be very difficult for the addict to endure which may lead to relapse into drug abuse.

Having what are called "harm reduction policies"--including offering addicts clean needles, methadone or other withdrawal medication, and monitoring by health professionals--can cut rates of death for addicts undergoing treatment and withdrawal. Compassion comes back into play as communities realize that jailing and fining addicts is no better a plan to cure addiction than incarcerating and punishing heart patients who eat cheeseburgers is a plan to cure obesity.

Your teen's life is far from over, no matter how long they've used or what they've been using. With compassion, medical support and a focus on the teen's strengths and abilities, there's every reason to believe your adolescent will rise above this experience to lead a full, meaningful life.