When your teen is in recovery from either drug or alcohol addiction, your direct support is crucial to their long-term recovery. Support means helping and guiding your teen to make the changes needed to sustain their new, healthier lifestyle. It also means providing them with the proper environment when they return home from treatment.
Oftentimes, parents who don’t have any prior experience with addiction are left confused over how they can best support their teen’s recovery after treatment. They begin to fret over the big and small things. Their concerns typically involve whether or not they are exposing their teen to unhealthy environments that could trigger relapses, or if they are being over-protective and preventing them from living the life of a “normal” teenager.
So, how can parents continue to help their teen in recovery while still balancing a healthy sense of normalcy within their home? Mountainside Family Wellness Manager Tina Muller addresses some of the most common concerns parents express over their teen’s recovery and how they can support their teen while rebuilding their family unit.
1. As parents of a teen in recovery, does it mean that we have to stop drinking around our teen altogether? Should we make sure that there is never any alcohol around the house?
Choices about your own alcohol use around your teen in recovery can be confusing. However, clearly communicated house rules that have been set specifically to support recovery can make these decisions and others like them easier to navigate.
A basic non-negotiable house rule should be the expectation that your teen stay completely abstinent from all substances. Not only is adolescent alcohol use illegal, but research shows that it has many negative effects on the still developing brain. In addition, the impulsivity of the immature brain makes it even more difficult for teens to maintain abstinence than it is for people who develop substance use disorders in adulthood. As a result, substance dependent adolescents are particularly susceptible to cravings and relapse when exposed to triggers, such as people, places of past use, and things related to drug or alcohol use.
Clearly, drinking alcohol around your teen and having alcohol in your home could present a challenge to your teen in recovery. Although you cannot control all potential triggers in your teen’s world, as a parent, the choice to have alcohol in your home is within your control. As you make your decision regarding alcohol in your home, review your house rules together as a family and ask yourself whether your choice is one that will support recovery.
2. Do we have to inform our entire extended family that our teen is in recovery? Who should and shouldn’t know?
Informing extended family that your teen is in recovery can stir up many strong feelings for you and your teen, feelings such as guilt and shame. The ability to communicate with one another openly and respectfully about these feelings is a key part of individual and family healing from addiction. Any decision about who should and shouldn’t know that your teen is in recovery, therefore, should begin with a conversation between you and your teen. A healthy family conversation will include both your teen’s input and your knowledge, as an adult, of your extended family dynamics.
The family conversation is always guided by clearly stated house rules, including one of rigorous honesty, bearing in mind that honesty shouldn’t hurt others. Therefore, as a family discuss your motives for sharing this information and examine the possible repercussions within the immediate and the extended family. Be aware also that your extended family may already suspect that there has been a problem and can possibly be supportive of your teen at this time. As with any decision-making involving your teen in recovery, ask yourself, “Will this support recovery?
3. Should we stop our teen from going to parties altogether, so that recovery won’t be jeopardized?
Keep an open dialogue with your teen, remembering that socializing is part of being a teenager. Encourage positive interactions with sober peers, being consistent with expected behavior, house rules, and staying connected with their friend’s parents and school. This will keep you involved in your teen’s activities, and it will assist them in making healthy choices for themselves.
4. Do we as parents now have to closely monitor what friends our teen hangs around? If we don’t like one of their friends because we don’t think they are a benefit to our teen’s recovery, what should we do?
It is important to know who your teen’s friends are. Teens do not always make wise choices in picking friends. Help them see what qualities they value in friendship, such as honesty, school involvement, and respect.
Remember what is in your circle of control: if your teen is involved with someone that does not support recovery, steering the conversation back to “what do they value in friendship” will help your teen take responsibility for their choices.
5. How should we change our lifestyle to fit a teen in recovery? What are some things we should make sure we do and don’t do?
Invest in your own recovery by seeking out your own supports through self-help groups, professional therapy, and education. At the same time invest in your teen’s future by giving the teen the freedom to “own” their own choices and their own future. This “more freedom” concept is an entirely new notion for most families, but it is critical to understand and accept if the teen and family are going to succeed in life. Giving a vulnerable teen the freedom to earn their own successes and learn from their own failures by “owning” their decisions allows them to grow from their individual successes and mistakes. As important, it frees the family to live and enjoy their own lives independent of the teen’s daily struggles. This concept of allowing the parents freedom to live their own lives is foreign to parents of struggling teens because they have been so co-dependent with their teen, literally eating and sleeping all the ups and downs of their teenager’s lives. It does not mean the parent is not supportive, but rather that the parent is supportive in a healthy way that gives the young adult room to mature.
6. Will our teen in recovery have to go to meetings their entire life?
An important part of recovery is keeping the focus on the present, staying sober for today. It can be overwhelming to think of the “entire life.” Self-help groups, particularly groups for young people, and other adolescent support services can be helpful during all stages of recovery. They offer an added layer of community-level social support to help teens maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors over the course of a lifetime.
7. How should our teen explain to friends from school that they are in recovery without feeling ashamed or embarrassed?
It’s normal for your teen to want to fit in with their peers; however, when their peers are not in recovery, they may feel ashamed or embarrassed. Encourage your teen to discuss these feelings with you, a counselor, a school professional, or in a peer support group. They will begin to develop new friendships with others that are in recovery and can help them navigate their new recovery lifestyle.
For more information on family counseling and workshops to help your family better understand the impact addiction has had on you individually and as a family, visit our Family Wellness page.