Parental Abstinence-A powerful example for recovering teens

This article is being written while I sit in an airport.  I have just engaged in the process of my mother’s third attempt at recovery.  She had me very young and had problems with alcohol and drugs all of my life.  I think the first time she entered treatment I was 11 years old.  Now at age 33, it feels much the same.  I have a hesitating hope for change.  I am afraid of being foolish and believing in her.  I have mixed emotions and resentments I thought I had released through my own recovery that are stirred by all of the memories.  Each and every person in my family is emotional and we are all having similar emotional experiences.  My sister wondered to me last night if there was something wrong with her because she held so much caution, and because of the anger she felt inside for the past.  I was grateful to be supportive of her and to validate her experience.  It was denied for many years.

I am a teen addiction specialist.  I entered into my own recovery from alcohol and drug addiction when I was a teenager, and I always hoped my mother would follow.  After nearly 15 years, she is making this third attempt at recovery.  I pray things will be different, that she will make right the past and live better.  I wonder sometimes how my recovery would have been different had she been able to be a real support to me through my process?  Accepting you are addicted to drugs and out of control as a teen is no easy task.  I watch kids struggle with it daily.  The struggle I wish they did not have at times, is the one I share with many of them; that of a child of an alcoholic or an addict who doesn’t have a role model at home.

 “It’s their problem, not mine.  Why should I have to change?”

This simple statement is at times pervasive in the work that I do.  I sit with families that wish nothing more for their kids than to get off of drugs.  They plead and they beg.  They fight and some even hit.  They abuse, they seek help, they find treatment, and they seek counsel.  They are willing, able and motivated to spend countless hours doing all of these things to save their child and to make the chaos stop. Yet, when I ask them to put down the drink to support their child-I am often met with resistance.

Certainly, many of these parents honestly do not have the problems my mother had.  They are social to moderate drinkers who really do not have a problem themselves.  If not for an addicted child, no one would ever ask them to consider putting down the drink.  For these people I like to share a story I heard once.  When I was a psychology student, one of my professors was a cancer survivor.  She was explaining the importance of support in the healing process and insisted that without the overwhelming support she received during her bout with cancer, she would have passed away during that time.  She described several ways she was a recipient of this support, but the one most pertinent to this article was the support given by her family. Like many cancer survivors she had gone through chemotherapy.  One of the side effects of chemotherapy is the loss of hair.  This can be particularly devastating for women and for girls.  Her family, including her daughter, all shaved their heads along with her.  Their show of support-their symbol that they were all going to recover from her disease together was powerful, motivating, and life giving.  Parents of teen addicts can do the same for their children.

The effect on her was great.  The family had circled around her to support her.  She was renewed with strength.  Many years later, she is still teaching and has progressed in her own career in academia.  I wonder if she would still be alive without her family going through the process with her?  I wonder if she would be another victim to her disease?

This example is very rich for parents of teens or young adults who are trying to stop using or who have drug and alcohol problems.  This family’s example, in no uncertain terms, shows the positive results of going through it together.  Can parents not then apply these principles of togetherness to recovery from an addiction?  Can they put down the drink or drug to save their own child’s life? Even if your teen struggles, or even fights tooth and nail on giving up an addiction, we are obligated as loved ones to provide the example for them.  If a parent is a problem drinker or an addict, then this applies to them on a myriad of levels.  If that is the case, parents need to show them how to get through an addiction.   This is the responsibility of a parent. You may not be able to control them, but as a parent you can control yourself by getting the help you need along the way; by changing yourself along the way.


            Teens overcoming an addiction need all the support they can get.  They need parents who not only speak of support, but also show them support through their actions.  If you are a parent that needs help with an addiction to support your teen, I will personally help you to find the help you need, be it counseling, treatment, or a local AA meeting.  Just as the point of this article is to say that your teen cannot do this alone, you may not be able to either, and that is okay.  The varieties of help available for addictions are abundant and one can be found to help you find your way.  Who knows, the life you save could be yours, but it could also be your child’s.