If you ask any parent if they really know their teenager, the response would sound more like wishful thinking. The truth about many parent-child relationships is that there is a certain amount of deception going on, especially when drug or alcohol addiction is part of the picture.
So how do you know what to look for when your child isn’t open about what’s really going on? You step into their social world first.
Vaguebooking Is Like a ‘Help Wanted’ Ad
Chances are that your daily personal interaction includes at least one visit to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. You may be guilty of vaguebooking yourself or seeing evidence of this from your friends.
Vaguebooking is when someone intentionally posts extremely vague or sympathy-inducing status updates in hopes that someone will ask them what’s wrong. Some of the more common vaguebooking is seen through “inspirational quote” posts, like the one shown below.
This may seem harmless enough. But if your teenager is preoccupied with sadness, anger, overzealous partying or consistently posting in the middle of the night, there may be cause for concern.
Talk About Addiction Face to Face Only
Let’s say you’ve taken the first step and peeked into your child’s social media presence only to be horrified at the content. Your first impulse might be to respond to their status, believing that whatever you share online will be well-received if you respond like one of their friends would.
HERE’S A CLUE: YOU ARE THE PARENT, NOT THE FRIEND. BE THE PARENT.
Airing family drama on social media is a really bad idea. It fuels the social outcry for help and continues to enable the negative behavior. In addition, it takes two people to fight. If you don’t engage in the public conversation, the fight will fizzle out quicker. Take this discussion offline, in private, face to face with your child.
You may also want to have this talk in a public place like a restaurant or park, as confrontation is less likely in neutral surroundings. This keeps the focus on your relationship and uncovering the truth about your teenager’s despair.
There’s a fine line between keeping communication going and enabling addiction. When is enough enough? When is it too much? Just like the saying, “If you love something set it free. If it comes back it’s yours, if it doesn’t it never was,” but what if the one you love is your child?
Is there ever a time when it’s okay to let them go…?
When Parents Of Addiction Have the Power to Fight
Before you can intervene, and yes, a serious talk about drug or alcohol abuse is a form of intervention, you have to better understand what you’re dealing with, how you are contributing to the problem and what assistance is available to get you through it and keep your sanity.
So, we asked some experts whose experience is deeply rooted in drug and alcohol treatment, but who also have their own compelling personal stories about addiction, creating different perspectives that offer interesting food for thought.
The Warning Signs Of Addiction Are There If You Look
“Parent coach” Cathy Taughinbaugh knows what it’s like to be a parent of a child immersed in addictive behaviors. During the time her daughter attended high school, there were signs.
“My daughter was very good at hiding her use. I just didn’t realize it,” Cathy recalled.
Cathy’s daughter had a boyfriend during high school that led her down a destructive path. Then he followed her away to college. Because Cathy wasn’t there seeing her daughter’s downfall (from crystal meth), she didn’t know – until she received a phone call.
“My daughter was failing school. The relationship with her boyfriend was ending. She had no friends and said she was ready for a positive change. So I brought her home. She was ready for recovery. I think her father and I were lucky. I know it’s not the same for other families in this situation,” said Cathy.
Although there are similarities in addictive behaviors, every child is different and every family is different. Treatment and recovery programs should be just as individualized to adequately support long-term sobriety. Until a child is ready for a program, the responsibility falls on parents to do whatever possible to guide them toward readiness for recovery.
So what can parents do to fight addiction?
The Sweet Spot Between Enabling and Loving Your Grown Child
It’s easy for parents of addiction to feel a sense of helplessness when faced with their child’s drug or alcohol abuse. Remember, whether children acknowledge this or not, parents are their strongest life influence. Hold onto that and let it lead you in communicating with your child.
“Parents don’t enable because of their love for their children. They’re just trying to keep the status quo and life continuing on. Shame comes into play and there’s a denial about it because they don’t know what to do,” Cathy stated, knowing this all too well from her own personal story.
People who have lost control, due to addiction, are generally very capable of manipulating enabling behaviors in others, especially parents. To prevent this and provide a more loving and supportive relationship to the family as a whole and throughout the recovery process, Cathy offered the following tips:
Nurture a positive relationship, even in the difficult times. Be mindful of where your child goes and with whom he or she is spending time.
“Think through what you’re supporting. Don’t call the school for them, or their job … That’s enabling the behavior to continue,” Cathy continued.
How Do You Know You’ve Had Enough?
“Set boundaries and show them their actions bring consequences. I’m not a fan of tough love, but I don’t support enabling behavior either,” Cathy explained.
“How you interact with them and being clear about what behavior is appropriate is important. And think about whether you’re supporting your child’s recovery or their alcohol or drug use, and use that with every different decision you make.”
As negative interactions can escalate, staying away from enabling behavior can prove to be even more demanding, especially if your child is underage.
“Do not kick your kids out of the house before they are 18, as this can send them spiraling downward quickly,” Cathy strongly stated.
We spoke with someone who knows what being “parentless” feels like and how it exacerbated her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Can Parents Stop Enabling Addiction When They Haven’t Dealt With Their Own Addictions?
The genetic predisposition to drug addiction and alcoholism is very real. Just ask the children whose parents also abused drugs or alcohol. So we did.
Lorelie Rozzano has been helping others struggling with addiction through her 18-year dedication as a drug and alcohol addiction counselor as a way to remind her of the demons she faced at a young age, growing up in a “drinking family.”
“My father held a job, sure, but when he came home from work, he drank until he passed out. I thought everybody’s dad drank like that,” she recalled.
Lorelie’s entire family structure was designed around supporting and hiding the alcoholism, which is a typical phenomenon.
“I learned that, at a young age, we focus on making the alcoholic happy. Fixing the alcoholic means fixing the family, and if that’s done, then everyone’s safe,” she said. “When you enable, as long as someone else is cleaning up the problem, the alcoholic doesn’t have a problem: The person cleaning it up has the problem.”
Lorelie further explained that there is a false sense of contentment for the enabler because by cleaning up the problem, or evidence of the addiction, it temporarily removes the addiction and there’s relief in that, until the next episode. And there’s always the next episode, until drug or alcohol treatment and recovery begins.
She stated, almost matter-of-factly, that, “Addiction thrives in secrecy.”
The Delusion of Addiction
Many people focus on the aspect of denial when it comes to addiction. Lorelie takes a different position on this notion, referring to the mental state of addiction as a form of delusion.
“You can’t talk sense to addiction because that person has lost the ability to reason. And for the enablers, it can make you sick, literally. I speak to many parents of addicted children. The stress has created heart disease, ulcers, high blood pressure, because they’ve dealt with this for so long that their bodies break down,” Lorelie emphasized.
The Culture of Addiction
Drug or alcohol use often starts with a recreational mindset. There is a fun, social component to use and, innocently enough, it can escalate into a way of life.
Lorelie revealed her own course of addiction: “It allowed me to be free of me. I felt powerful, attractive, smart and funny. I felt alive, and that feeling was so intoxicating. I built a lifestyle around it. But I didn’t realize I was using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. So much damage was done, but I was completely oblivious. I was hurting my kids. But at the time, it didn’t matter, because there was no me.”
Why Do Some Children Follow in Their Parents’ Addictive Footsteps?
In any toxic environment, children do what they need to do to survive. If they have parents who use drugs and alcohol, they quickly learn how, when and where to hide or enable the dysfunction. What may be a bigger piece of the puzzle is that children, all children “don’t do what we say; they do what we do,” said Lorelie.
Parents know, from personal experience, that their children mirror their behavior, good or bad. It’s their version of normal because it’s all they know and with it comes an element of control.
On every side of addiction, the addicted, the enabler or the recovering addict each, in their own way, deals with the element of powerlessness. It is this powerlessness that children with parents who are addicted often surrender to because it’s easier. They don’t know the magnitude of the problem, or know of another way out.
How Do You Get Through to a Child Who Needs Help?
Keep the lines of communication open. Lorelie was that child, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to.
In retrospect, she offered this: “You have to step out of the family circle and learn how to do things differently, so we can come back into the family in a healthy way.”
This goes for the person who has an addiction problem as well as the enablers.
“Have conversations before they go off to college; start when they’re young,” she added.
But if it’s too late and your child is amid drug or alcohol addiction, Lorelie underscored the importance of getting help as soon as possible.
“Reach out, get help, learn what you can because you can’t do it on your own. You’re actually making the situation worse if you don’t.”
Guest blog contributor Cathy Taughinbaugh, founder of Rise Up Moms, a support group for parents, helps others through the ordeal of addiction and shows how parents have the power to fight addiction – and win.
Guest blog contributor Lorelie Rozzano provides counseling to parents and children of addiction and is the author of a book series that supports children dealing with addiction: Gracie’s Secret, Jagged Little Edges, Jagged Little Lies, and Jagged No More.
To better understand the difference between loving and enabling your child’s addiction, refer to the TTC Care Quick Guide to Quit Enabling Addiction.