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Resources for Moms

It’s not easy watching kids grow into adulthood, warts and all. Mothers often hope their children avoid the pitfalls they made as young adults, even though they know they fall prey to the same temptations. Here is some information to educate moms how to react if they discover their son or daughter has a drug or alcohol problem.

Is Your Child Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

A few sips of a beer or puffs of weed pose a relatively minor threat in the grand scheme of raising your kids. Chances are these experiments of theirs will be a blip on the radar of a school experience – and many of us would be lying if we said it wasn’t part of ours.

But habits form, and teenagers sometimes develop a substance-abuse problem. If unresolved or untreated, these habits can sidetrack an education, lead to trouble with the law and lead to danger.

Even if a parent does everything right and provides a strong role model as a guide, young adults often follow others and emulate behaviors that no parent would want. Friends ask them to try this or try that. But if you identify the problem early and handle the situation with care, your teen’s issues with drugs or alcohol can be overcome.

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Signs of Abuse

Alcohol remains the drug of choice for teens, but illicit drugs crop up increasingly as kids get older. High-school students smoke marijuana at the same rate as their predecessors did in preceding decades. A smaller percentage of them report experimenting with prescription drugs, cocaine, or other substances.

Each carries a different danger with different risks, and new drugs seem to pop up every year. What doesn’t change, though, are the signs of abuse. They follow the same general pattern.

Concerned mother watching teenage daughter

If your child displays odd changes in behavior, appearance or hygiene, and their performance in school deteriorates, you should be suspicious about drug use. If you ask them about it, kids often become detached or irritable, silent or defensive. You may notice them putting off their obligations to go out with friends, and lying about their whereabouts.

Most won’t want to talk to you about their personal life. Some hide drug-use signals better than others. But don’t make the mistake of chalking up these behaviors just to being a teenager. That could be the case, but you might regret it if that’s not the reason.

The Difference Between Loving and Enabling

Digging into your teen’s habits can be delicate. Emotional risks lie everywhere. You risk the embarrassment of being wrong. You also take a chance that your actions will make your son or daughter feel attacked.

Fear of these causes a lot of parents to ignore the signs and turn a blind eye to their dangerous habits. Parental support in spite of an obvious problem can be mistaken, in their minds, for love. But by overlooking the problem, parents in fact enable the habit and ensure that it not only carries on but also worsens.

Mother hugging teen age son

This conundrum presents one of the toughest challenges in parenting. How do you assert your concern while still being a friend to your child, and respecting their independence? You have to find the right balance for yourself. But at a certain point, you have to speak up.

Long before the problem comes up, you should talk with your children about drugs and alcohol. Explain the many risks involved, and how they should handle themselves in the face of peer pressure. And contrary to some opinions, avoid telling them about your own past encounters with substance use unless they ask. Children who receive a strong anti-drug message from parents at an early age are much more likely to develop their own anti-drug attitudes.

Ways You Can Help

You’ve done all you can to educate your child and influence their decisions, but life takes its course. What to do, then, when you see the signs that he or she is abusing substances? The precious steps you take next can open their eyes to the problem at hand, and pull them out of the fire before it engulfs their entire life. A large number of adults with serious addictions never had the good fortune of loving, proactive parents. You can make all the difference in setting them on the path towards a clean future.


You can’t force someone to get clean. That’s the first rule of battling substance abuse. People who take drugs or drink to excess have to make their own decision about stopping and getting help. That doesn’t mean you have to wait for them to bottom out. With professional help and planning, you can do an intervention. This is a proven way to bring the drugs and alcohol to an abuser’s attention – letting them know that you know they have a problem. With any luck, that meeting becomes the starting point in a recovery.

Interventions come in many shapes. It can mean as little as one brief, heartfelt conversation on a car ride or a nice walk. In other cases, a full-blown intervention gathers the teen’s family and friends into a room, where they open up and showcase how the problem affects them all. Different cases call for different measures, but both prove effective in countless situations. The bottom line: Make it known that they are loved, and that help is available when they are ready to get better.

Set Up Rehab

Before staging an intervention, gather info on the help available in your area. Reach out to the nearest treatment facilities or substance abuse counselors, explain your son or daughter’s scenario and determine the best course of action. Have these details prepared when you attempt an intervention, and offer to help your teen set up their appointments.

Not all cases of substance abuse require rehab. But your child’s addiction may require the care of trained professionals, and young people who go through the rehab process have a high success rate. Particularly in cases involving illicit drugs, treatment centers offer amenities and procedures that may be the crux of a successful recovery.

Improve Your Relationship

The majority of teens battling addiction have a troublesome home life. That should come as no surprise. Absent parents, neglectful parents, or simply uninvolved parents play a massively influential role in the psychology of children, the effects of which come out in a variety of ways. Kids will turn to substances in order to fill a void where a positive parent-child bond belongs.

Being there for your son or daughter holds an immeasurable value. Show them your love in any way possible. Give them attention, engage them with insightful conversations, and be their closest friend. It’s never too late to nurture this relationship. A tight parent-child bond not only discourages drug use, but also reduces the likelihood of an abusive drug or alcohol habit ever forming. And while this should not be your primary reason for being close with your children, it can be a natural side effect.

Take Care of Yourself

Watching your child struggle with substance use may take a toll on your own well-being. Especially for mothers, the pain of seeing your son or daughter work through such a difficult experience can suck the life right out of you.

I found out within six months that both my sons were addicts. Like every other mother, I just wanted to go into bed and never get out.

Barbara Theodosiou, whose sons are 25 and 22. The younger one was 16 when she first noticed the signs of abuse

Parents of addicts can find emotional reassurance in counseling sessions, therapy or community parents’ groups. Support also exists in online communities, such as The Addict’s Mom, which has more than 20,000 members.

It’s crucial for these parents to take care of themselves, avoid blaming themselves for the problem, and act calmly during their child’s recovery process. Letting the situation get the best of you will only delay the healing, and can even make matters worse.

There are moms losing their lives to save their children. They’re spending their whole paycheck trying to take care of their child. They’re not taking care of themselves. That’s just a ripple effect.

Brenda Stewart, mother of two recovering sons, now 31 and 29

Lead By Example

Children tend to follow their parents’ example. You can’t expect kids to live clean if they see you drinking each night – or worse. Look at your own habits, and determine if you yourself have room for improvement. There is no time like the present to push for positive changes in your household, and be the role model that your children deserve.

Helpful Resources

The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a collection of resources for parents, and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence publishes a short guide on how to talk to your children about drugs.

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