What can you do when your child seems to be falling into a trap of drug use and all that drug use can entail?
While there are many resources, books, workshops and opinions on how to answer this question, IMPACT highlights four main points:
#1: You are not alone.
Countless parents have gone through your struggles and countless share your struggles right now.
For many parents and guardians, having a child who is involved with drugs can at first feel shameful. Many parents feel like, at least on some level, they have failed as parents if their child turns to drugs. Quite often this shame can lead parents to keep their struggles with this issue to themselves, feeling that it is their problem and therefore their problem to solve – by themselves.
This approach can have poor results both for the parent and the child.
While no one (sometimes including the person taking the drugs) can say for certain what causes any one person to use drugs problematically at any one time, we can state with certainty that no one has a silver bullet that will stop it. Because many parents may at least initially shoulder themselves with the burden of stopping their child from using drugs, this can lead to escalating conflict, each side digging in deep and deeper – the parent convinced that they can stop the drug use, the child convinced that the parent cannot.
Unfortunately, in this debate, IMPACT has to side with the drug user. Of course parents can threaten and enforce all manner of consequences and disciplinary actions on children – and in some cases these actions may have positive results. But in others they may only have a temporary effect, or could even have the opposite result.
Though most children know it is usually easier to live with the support of their parents, they also know or may believe it is possible to live without parental support. And many will call their parents’ bluffs when parents make statements like the perennial, “If you live in this house, you have to follow the rules of this house.”
Their children know it is possible to break the rules without getting caught, and they know it is possible that there will be no serious consequences if they are caught or even if they flagrantly break the rules in plain sight. Which leads to our second point…
#2: Don’t make threats you aren’t prepared to enforce.
We advise that parents think carefully before making direct or implied threats of this type. Not only does making idle threats set a problematic example for children, it also can cause a sense of unpredictability or even chaos – with no one sure when or if threats will actually be followed through.
Under this point, we would also advise that every situation is unique. People in a parent’s circle of support may make all kinds of well-meaning suggestions about what to do. What they don’t have to do, however, is live with the results of their suggestions. Parents who make decisions based on the suggestions of others alone, we find, end up rethinking things when the rubber starts to hit the road – again possibly inserting unpredictability or chaos into an already difficult situation.
#3: Don’t lose your own life to your child’s drug use.
A parent who is convinced that he or she can or must go to any lengths to stop the drug use of his or her child can sometimes end up going as far over the edge and out of control (though in another way) as the child that is at the centre of the parent’s verging-on-desperate concern may be.
Sometimes this can have negative consequences for a parent’s other relationships, their careers and the pleasure they are able to take out of life.
This lack of life balance may not only be negative for the parent, but it can also set a negative example for the very person the parent is trying to help – their child.
#4: Don’t take your child’s drug use personally.
Another tact that parents sometimes take is that they view their child’s resistance or continued drug use as a personal attack and become angry.
While there may be changes that parents can try in order to influence or contribute to reducing the risk and harm their children may be exposed to, we view drug use as a complex behaviour that depends on a set of factors unique to each individual. A parent who attributes this behaviour (or stopping/reducing it) solely to themselves may be missing (or causing their child to miss) what may be other important factors that may be helpful to address.
We view drug use as, at least to some extent, a way of coping. A fit of anger or rage from someone close to a person who is using drugs will likely be an upsetting experience that everyone will have to find some way to cope with.
To help parents with these and other points, we regularly offer our Parent MERGE Group, as well as monthly follow-up groups for alumni of the parent group.