Adolescent Addiction and the Power of the Parent

It is hard to find the words to talk about the horrors of addiction. Pairing the topic with the thought of our precious children makes it all the more difficult to even comprehend how to broach the subject, or how to sufficiently protect the ones who matter the most to us.

And yet, it has to be done.

Drugs and alcohol have the insidious potential to destroy lives, and the more we can arm our kids against being sucked into the vortex, the better chance they have to resist the inevitable web of brokenness that comes with it.

It might be tempting now to switch off. To assume that your child will be the exception, that they will automatically decline any substance offered to them, they won’t even think about betraying your trust or making bad choices. Unfortunately, however, this belief will do little to actually prevent any harm.

The more we can discuss these topics openly and naturally with our kids, the more likely they will have the information and connection needed to choose life when they are faced with a loaded decision.

Addiction is a complicated topic. There are many forms of this type of behaviour and we know full well that adults aren’t immune to their own variants of destructive patterns. What is fascinating, however, is the paradigm unveiled in the TED talk of Johann Hari that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. Looking into research conducted on rats in a cage, he notes that the rodents predominantly only chose to drink the heroin-laced water when they were alone in an empty cage – not when they were situated in a dynamic ‘Rat Park’ that offered friendship, entertainment and meaning. Our need for being loved and connected to a greater whole can have unfathomable consequences if these fundamental wirings become skewed.

There are a couple of different reasons why a teenager might be tempted to drink or take drugs. One is the need to fit in and belong- to feel as if they are ‘one of the group’, not standing out in the crowd. Another reason might be to alleviate pain. As parents, we can be aware of these triggers, teaching our kids a strong sense of self early on and reinforcing lessons in confidence and self-reliance. We can give them perspective and invite their friends into our lives, speaking life into the people who have a huge impact on the outcome of their choices. We can invest into a grounding in faith, teaching them deeper ideas about the world and about the Good News that they are loved, there is a purpose for their lives and they can make a difference by living well.

If your kids are younger, you can be proactive now – putting into place rituals and opportunities to talk deeply about life so that later on it won’t be out of the ordinary. We can be aware of the stories we project with our own lives, monitoring what we say if we are drinking (avoiding the depiction of alcohol as something we use to combat a bad day). Teaching our kids to sit with their pain and allow themselves to be bored are other important strategies that will stand them in good stead later on.

The encouraging news is that research shows how important parents are in the equation. Having boundaries, consequences and good conversations, and stating clearly your views on these topics can have a considerable impact. Starting to broach the subject as early as you can (according to day to day opportunities) is a key plank in encouraging children to make good decisions later on.

If your kids have already started using drugs or alcohol, check out Drug Free for some ideas about what you can do. You can also check out Drink Wise for some more information about facts on drugs and alcohol, informative videos on how to broach the subject and what the relevant laws are. We encourage you to contact our Chaplains for a more personal debrief on this topic and for information about referral to counselling where problems have already arisen.

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