Helping Kids Navigate Their Teenage Years:

When Parents Need Help First

Few would dispute the belief that parents hold a tremendous amount of influence over their children. But when it comes to issues such as depression, violence, and substance abuse, that influence is not always positive – in fact, children who live in dysfunctional households may endure emotional trauma that drastically increases the likelihood that they will engage in unhealthy behaviors as they mature.

Even in cases where it would appear that the child is too young to be influenced by parental drug use or tendency toward violence, researchers have noted that these children often experience related repercussions during their adolescent or teen years.

In short, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and depression by parents (or primary caretakers) can have a significantly detrimental – and long-lasting – effect on children.

Get Help Today – For Yourself & For Your Children’s Futures

Children are extremely perceptive, and parents who believe that they are “hiding” their negative behaviors are deluding themselves. Researchers have concluded that about 90 percent of children who live in homes where domestic violence occurs have either seen or heard the abuse taking place – an experience that makes the children themselves more likely to become violent.

In a similar vein, children of parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs are also at greater risk for engaging in these dangerous behaviors. If you, your partner, or someone you know is struggling with issues related to substance abuse or domestic violence, getting help from a mental health professional or other social services provider can have the dual benefit of improving the lives of the people who are directly involved as well as increasing the odds that their children will develop into healthier, happier adults.

Parental Alcohol or Substance Abuse

Parents who are abusing alcohol and other drugs are often so absorbed by their own personal crises that they are unaware of the effect they are having on their children – and are incapable of dealing with the many challenges related to raising healthy, well-adjusted children.

In most cases, parents who are often drunk, high, or hung over are not paying attention to their children’s nutritional needs, supervising their behavior, monitoring their school progress, or making sure that the children are making smart, responsible decisions about how they live their lives. Alcohol or addicted parents often exhibit severe mood swings that dominate the household, ruling through fear or anger and subverting the traditional parent-child relationship by forcing their young children to take caretaker roles for which they are neither emotionally nor socially prepared to perform.

Communication is one of the first casualties of these families, as the children are unable to talk to their parents, and are often unwilling to reach out to other family members, friends, or school personnel due to fear, shame, or a combination of the two. This isolation can have devastating effects on the children of alcoholic or drug-addicted parents, and their festering, untreated anger may manifest itself in violent outbursts, dangerous social relationships, and substance abuse. Some children will also seek attention by behaving badly in school or committing crimes.

It may be difficult to force dysfunctional parents to get the help they need – but there are a series of steps that can be taken to increase the odds that they will seek assistance, and diminish the negative impact they are having on their children:

  • Don’t enable the dysfunctional parent – It’s human nature to help out family members who are in trouble – but continuing to “rescue” addicted or alcoholic parents from the damage that they have caused to themselves only reinforces their misguided belief that things aren’t as bad as everyone says they are. It may be difficult to watch a loved one suffer through social, work-related, or legal problems stemming from their unhealthy behaviors, but experiencing the harm they are causing may be the only way to convince these people that they have to change their behavior.
  • If you intervene, do so at the right time – Discussions with the person who is causing the problems should be done during a calm, sober period – but don’t wait too long after an incident such as a serious argument or physical damage has occurred. There’s no value to be gained from talking during an emotional period when the person is still high or drunk, but waiting too long can minimize the odds that the person will be willing to address the damage that’s been done.
  • Be specific and nonjudgmental – This sounds like a contradiction, but it doesn’t have to be. Talk about tangible, specific instances in which the person’s behavior caused problems – for example, “you were drunk and forgot to pick up your daughter from school,” or “you were high during your son’s birthday party, and the way you acted made him cry.” By addressing specific actions and results, you can avoid general, judgmental statements such as “you’re a lousy parent” or “you’re ruining your kids’ lives.”
  • Express your love and support – You probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if you didn’t care about the person to whom you’re speaking – and there’s no reason for you to hide this fact. The family member with the drug or alcohol problem may be abusing substances as a means of masking a sense of isolation or self-loathing – and another expression of disappointment won’t help change things. Don’t be afraid to address negative behaviors, but let the person know that he is worth the effort he (and those who love him) will be making to get healthy.
  • Don’t issue ultimatums unless you are absolutely sure you can follow through – There’s a good chance that this first conversation won’t result in immediate and permanent changes. So if you say, “if you drink one more time, I’ll never speak to you again,” you’re probably going to be put in the position of either following through – and abandoning the person – or giving in – and proving that you’re not necessarily willing to back up what you say. Neither of these situations is helpful. You can let the person know that you don’t approve of their actions without completely turning your back – and you can give someone a second chance without caving in.
  • Be ready to help immediately – Before you speak to the person, educate yourself on available treatment options. There’s a chance that your conversation will motivate the person to agree to get help, so you need to be prepared to help in any way you can. Call immediately for an appointment with a treatment program, offer to accompany the person, and make yourself available to provide whatever support is needed.
  • Get support for yourself and anyone else who is affected – Regardless of whether or not the family member in question aggress to get help, you (and others who are affected) shouldn’t remain in a state of passive victimization. Contact a mental health professional or support group to learn how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Convincing someone to get help for a substance abuse or anger issues can be quite a difficult process – but failing to do so can be considerably more devastating. Approach the situation with both confidence and compassion – educate yourself, prepare to be challenged, get whatever help you need, and don’t be distracted by empty promises.

Helping an addicted parent get sober can be much more difficult than you’d expect – but the results can benefit more lives than you could ever imagine.