One of our greatest drives is to protect our family. We want to see them happy, healthy, and safe. The reality is that we cannot always be there to prevent bad things from befalling them. For this reason, it is essential to be proactive and address potential concerns early.
This is the approach needed with substance use. The lure of drugs and alcohol surrounds us in media, advertising, grocery stores, restaurants, parties, and other places and experiences we frequently encounter. This environment, unfortunately, makes it attractive and often easy for young people to try substances. While teenagers and young adults can be expected to experiment with things they are curious about, substance use is a slippery slope. You may be especially attuned to this fact if you love someone struggling with addiction.
Why Should You Talk to Your Family About Substances?
Substance abuse makes us vulnerable to threats we cannot control. Teens who drink experience an increased risk of being victims of a crime or being involved in car accidents. They are also more likely to engage in other risky behavior, like unprotected sex. Individuals who begin drinking at an early age are more likely to develop dependency than those who did not drink before adulthood.
No one chooses substance abuse. It is the case, however, that many addictions start with the choice to try a substance. Other events precede some instances of substance abuse, such as when addiction stems from being prescribed an addictive medication, but often an individual unexpectedly sets the stage for dependence when they recreationally use drugs or alcohol.
There are many reasons someone might use substances. They could be in a social situation where everyone else is engaging in substance use, and the need to participate and belong takes over. Some people use substances to relieve physical and emotional pain or to sleep. Others are curious about the effects of a drug they have heard about and want to try it “just once.” It might even be as simple as having the opportunity to try alcohol when the family’s liquor cabinet is left unlocked. These are all circumstances especially relevant for young people who are being bombarded by these opportunities for the first time.
While trying drugs and alcohol is a choice, addiction is not someone’s fault. This mindset creates shame and can push someone even deeper into their condition. Slightly adjusting the framing of the situation can help us to see that a choice means someone has agency over their behavior, which is essential in prevention. While you cannot ensure your child will never use drugs, you can take steps to support sobriety. One of the most impactful actions you can take is choosing to have hard conversations about the subject.
Hard Conversations Can Protect Your Family
No parent wants to talk to their child about drugs and alcohol. It can be uncomfortable and heavy, and conversations like these might remind us that our precious children are growing up and the world can be unforgiving. Engaging in direct and meaningful conversations despite this trepidation is necessary, as the lasting benefits will greatly outweigh any temporary discomfort.
When discussing the risks of substance use, there should not be just “the talk,” where one conversation is intended to open and close the subject for good. Rather, it should be an ongoing dialogue between you and your child. Short, informal conversations here and there can reinforce the message while not being intimidating. Rather than sitting your child down and lecturing them or talking at them, emphasizing your desire to have a back-and-forth can make for a more productive discussion. Choosing times and environments conducive to calm conversations can also help put everyone at ease.
There should also be the opportunity for your child to ask you questions. It is important to remember that, as uncomfortable as you might feel, your child is most likely feeling worse. They may feel guilty for being curious. It’s possible they are experiencing embarrassment about how much they don’t know, especially when their friends appear knowledgeable. Approaching these conversations in a nonjudgmental, non-accusatory manner will remind your child you are on their side.
You should be honest about the dangers of substance use, especially at a young age. It is important to be direct and accurate. You might have the urge to exaggerate or embellish to prove your point, but this can sometimes have the opposite effect. If your child suspects you are altering the truth, they may be tempted to seek out the truth on their own. They may underestimate the danger or feel that you are simply trying to dissuade them from having fun. As discussed above, there are numerous valid reasons to keep kids from drinking. Sticking to facts like those can keep the conversation objective and productive.
Strong Families Need Strong Communication
Due to the difficult nature of these conversations, it is very helpful to already have the pattern in place. Maintaining a positive relationship with your child that is characterized by open communication and respect can pave the way for serious conversations. This can be accomplished by consistently showing interest in your child, celebrating their achievements, and maintaining reasonable expectations for them.
It is also essential to lead by example. Our words only mean so much when our actions are contradictory. Leading a life free from drugs and alcohol will present your child with a role model as they are presented with opportunities to use substances. This can also make sobriety feel more like a family effort where everyone supports one another and thrives as a result.
As much as we want to, we cannot completely protect those we love from the pain of substance abuse. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to reduce the risk. Having direct and repeated conversations about the dangers of drugs and alcohol with our children from a young age can introduce important concepts and reinforce them over time. If your family is struggling with addiction, there is help available. Working with a licensed professional can give you and your loved ones the tools needed to sustain recovery. Family-Centered Services offers a comprehensive array of services, such as individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, and case management designed to support you throughout the process. Call (509) 991-5822 today.