Help your child deal with addiction

Whether it is drugs or alcohol addiction, how do you help your child overcome it?

1. Approach it with the right perspective

There are four major perspectives through which parents view addiction: either that it is a social problem (“It is a problem society should deal with. I do not have anything to do with that.”), or that it is just bad behaviour or a crime, especially if it involves illegal substances, or that it is a moral problem - that the addicted person has been sinning, and if they repent the addiction will be sorted out.

The fourth and correct perspective that psychologists approach it from and that you should approach it from is that it is disease, which means it requires treatment. How you view your child’s addiction will be crucial to you helping them overcome it.

2. Get out of denial

Accept that your child has an addiction and that it is a chronic disease that is cunning, powerful and out of your depth. The sooner you can get out of denial and understand that your child has a problem, the sooner you can get the necessary helped.

3. Heal their pain

Your child’s addiction is a sign that there is something they are trying to escape. It means that there is an intolerable reality underlying the addiction and the child does not have the coping skills and their addiction is their escape. You need to find out why the child is addicted.  Chances are that there is neglect, parental conflict, a dysfunctional background, abuse -- the reasons are endless.

The addiction is just an umbrella for other things going wrong that need to be identified and solutions found, so that you do not just treat the symptoms, but the root cause. If you do not deal with the root issue, addiction will keep recurring.

4. Seek a professional

Once you have identified the root cause, seek effective treatment from a professional that meets the needs of that particular addiction. See a child psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor who will do the initial assessment to determine what the real problem is and they can deal with it or refer you to the appropriate professional so that the child can have the right intervention after understanding what the underlying problem is.

All addictions are unique to an individual, and the detailed initial clinical assessment will develop an individualised care plan for the child. The clinical assessment also determines whether there is really an addiction or it is just dependence or abuse of freedom. You will likely find the professionals in the mental health departments of big institutions like Level 4 or 5 hospitals, counselling centres or in a private practice. You can also search on the internet.

5. Tough love

Most parents hate subjecting their children to pain and discomfort, but these are necessary to overcome addiction. You cannot negotiate with an addict. Some privileges have to be withdrawn, which will cause discomfort. Changing behaviour is difficult for many people and with addiction, hardship and pain is the way to recovery, and you as a parent are the primary person to impose that pain and discomfort so that the behaviour can change. If you can’t do it, you are referred to as an enabler. You are enabling the addiction. Stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.

6. Pursue a lifestyle change

Identify the primary people that the child interacts with, which include the school, the church or other institution. Ensure that the people who surround the child are supporting the child in achieving their recovery goals by rewarding and encouraging them not to engage in the behaviour. A new lifestyle should come into place with the family, the child and friends that ensures that the addiction is not supported.

Douglas Nyandoro, an addiction counsellor at Turning Point Counseling Solutions

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