Nearly half of all US adults have a family member or close friend who is addicted to drugs, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs and that an estimated 1.3 million US adolescents from ages twelve to seventeen suffer from substance use disorder. These figures represent the rampant commonality of addicted underage males in households all across the US and demonstrate the thousands of families across the country that are dealing with a son suffering from drug addiction.
While parents are uniquely empowered and usually singularly responsible for guiding their addicted children toward treatment and sobriety, this endeavor can often be complicated and difficult. To begin with, it can be incredibly difficult for a parent to accept that their child has a substance use disorder. Many immediately internalize the realization as their own failure and are rendered emotionally paralyzed to act in the best interest of their child. It’s important to realize that it is not always parental faults that drive children to drug or alcohol abuse. It’s also important to realize that addiction is a time-sensitive matter; the sooner you’re able to get your emotions in check, the more effective you will be in getting your addicted son the help he needs.
The first step in helping your addicted son is identifying the nature and scope of the problem. Parents are favorably positioned to look for certain physical and behavioral signs if their addicted son is living at home. While each addicted person’s physical and behavioral indicators will vary according to the scope, duration, and frequency of their substance use, some of the more common signals include, but are not limited to:
While it’s natural to want to respect your addicted son’s privacy, it’s more important to save his life. If you notice a suspicious combination of these or any other questionable symptoms, it’s imperative to take direct action in confronting them about their behavior. This action can and very often should include checking your child’s personal belongings for drugs or related paraphernalia. Although organizations like SAMHSA provide multiple resources to help families living with an addicted loved one, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s important to do what is necessary under the specific circumstances.
Once you’ve identified that your son is addicted to drugs, the subsequent course of action will be largely contingent upon a few specific factors, including the types of drugs they’re using, their age, any co-occurring mental health issues, and their level of danger to themselves or others. In most states, if the addicted person is underage, parents have the option of committing them to inpatient rehab without their consent through a process called involuntary commitment. This may seem like a harsh and hasty measure; however, the bar of acceptance for this course of action is very high. If your son meets the criteria for involuntary commitment, it’s probable that he needs more help than you or any outpatient program can give him. Underage people suffering addiction are often resistant to inpatient rehab because they fail to grasp the necessity and long-term benefits of getting help from a residential program.
If your son is older or generally more receptive to parental involvement, an intervention may be a prudent course of action. An intervention can help him see, front and center, the scope of damage that his substance use has caused himself and the people he cares about. Whatever the means—whether it’s tough love, compassionate conversation, or direct intervention—the parent must recognize the probability that their son is not going to enter treatment of his own volition and take the lead to get him help.
A common and destructive practice that parents often engage in, whether intentionally or not, is enabling their addicted children. This is often done in an effort to keep some semblance of false peace in their home, but it can also be done out of deeper-rooted codependency issues and genuine fear. Enabling can include direct actions like giving money for drugs, providing transportation to acquire drugs, or constantly going back on terms they set forth when their son’s substance use hits new and alarming heights. Every parent wants to protect their children and make them happy; sometimes this means doing what makes them angry in the short term so they can survive and flourish in the long run. Enabling a drug-addicted son endangers his life and reinforces the idea that he can use without any lifestyle consequences.
Parents have more power than they often realize in helping their addicted sons find their way to recovery. By stepping in, getting involved, and actively pursuing treatment on his behalf, you’re letting your addicted child know that there is hope and that he has people who care about him. While this may not immediately resonate and may cause him to act out, this kind of persistent love can be the game-changing asset he needs as he overcomes drug or alcohol addiction. Again, it may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility to help.
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