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    Getting Your Child Help for Addiction

    Have you been thinking about getting your son or daughter help for a drug or alcohol problem? Here are some ways to approach improving your child’s health.

    Start out with a good game plan

    It’s important to accept the reality of the current circumstances with your child — with kindness and patience. Work on spelling out the small steps that both you and your child can handle, in the direction in which you both want to go. Focus on the process rather than on the end goal; this allows for small victories to be celebrated along the way and increases ​your child’s motivation — and yours too.

    Work on better communication

    Communication can be a powerful way to improve your situation. It is the foundation for helping your child and inspiring action. It’s always a good idea to do more listening and less talking. Think of it as “Listening with LOVE” — Listening, Offering, Validating and Empathizing.

    Try one of these today:

    What Should You Try? Why Should You Try It? What Might This Sound Like?
    Ask an open-ended question. This invites information (rather than you making suggestions) and helps build a collaborative tone. “What concerns you most?”
    “How would you like things to be different?”
    Listen for the positives. Notice what is going right and acknowledge it and be specific. This builds self-esteem and reinforces positive behavior. “You’re really showing some commitment to getting home on time.”
    “Thanks for helping your brother.”
    “I like the way you said that. You really have a way with people.”
    Validate how your child is feeling, rather than correcting. Validating keeps the conversation going instead of shutting it down. “I know you feel like you’re not being heard.”
    “It sounds like you had a really tough day today.”
    “I understand that smoking marijuana is a big part of your life.”
    Offer an information sandwich by “sandwiching” a request or potentially distressing message between two positive statements. This can get more cooperation from your child and shows respect. “I can see how hard you’ve been working and I know you’re under a lot of stress. I’d like you to come home earlier on weeknights. I have some ideas on how to help since I know it might be difficult for you to do.”

    Listen For “Change Talk”

    Our loved ones are often contemplating getting help even if they don’t express it to us. Even a little bit of willingness can make all of the difference to get your child to agree to treatment.

    So, how does willingness appear? Often it comes in the form of “change talk.” Change talk is any time your loved one voices a concern over the way things are, or expresses a desire to improve their lives in some way.

    For example:

    • “I’m feeling depressed that I don’t have a decent job.”
    • “I wonder if I should go back to school.”
    • “I want to move out and have my own place.”
    • “I think I really upset my friend Jack last night because he thought I had too much to drink.”

    When a loved one expresses change talk, it’s important to pay attention and help them connect the dots as to how their substance use is related to their concerns in the present and their desires for a better future.

    Listen carefully for the door to open — just a crack — for change. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous statement, or even frustrated comment with the way your child’s life is, can lead to brainstorming with your child about how to change. Here are some examples:

    Your Child Says: You Can Say:
    “I’m feeling depressed that I don’t have a decent job.” “Sounds like what you’re saying is you’re feeling depressed. It’s miserable to feel that way. What do you think about talking to someone to sort things out? You could try it and see if it helps.”
    “I wonder if I should go back to school.” “You said you’re interested in going back to school. I think that’s a great idea. I also know that marijuana is really important to you and in the past, it’s been difficult to prepare for class when you’ve been smoking. I’m wondering if it might help to talk to someone about how you might cut back so that you can manage it better so you can do well in class. What do you think?”
    “I think I really upset my friend Jack last night because he thought I had one drink too many.” “You said you think you embarrassed yourself last night at the party. I can’t imagine what that must be like for you. How do you think you might handle things differently the next time? What are your thoughts about cutting back on your drug use or maybe taking a break for a few weeks?”

    Options for getting help

    There are a range of treatment options, including evaluations, individual counseling, intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization and residential treatment programs. Offering options so that your loved one feels they have choices can be very helpful.

    Sometimes it is effective to suggest that a loved one consider treatment in order to “cut back” on their substance use, even though abstinence may be the ultimate goal. While in treatment, they will have the opportunity to examine if they can moderate, or if abstinence is the better option.

    The “back door” approach focuses on another problem a loved one might be experiencing, such as anxiety, depression or insomnia. Some people will agree to treatment with a problem other than their substance use, although at some point, their substance use is likely to be discussed in treatment.

    Some parents choose to use incentives or leverage to get a teen or young adult into treatment. An incentive ties treatment to something a loved one wants. For instance, “If you complete treatment and remain abstinent, we will help you with a deposit for a halfway house or apartment.”

    Leverage usually involves taking something of value away. For instance, “If you don’t go to treatment, we won’t pay for any of your expenses, college, car payments, or provide housing.” Sometimes leverage takes the form of disclosing substance use to someone of significance including probation officers, coaches, or love interests.Choosing to use leverage in this way should be done as a last resort and with caution, as often loved ones will react defiantly, and the situation could get worse. It helps to present this in a loving way and to give your son or daughter a week or two to think before going through with whatever you’ve decided to do.

    How to have a conversation not a confrontation

    Learn how to best approach your child about their substance use, how to remain calm and make it a productive conversation.

    Download the quick guide now

    Last Updated

    October 2023