When you’re a teenager, you’re in a really weird place. You’re almost an adult, and you aren’t really a child any more either. You don’t accept everything around you unquestioningly anymore, and you start seeing things that might make you feel uncomfortable. What should you do if you think one or both of your parents abuse drugs or alcohol?

Understand that they have a very deep problem

Sure, knowing that your parents abuse drugs or alcohol already shows they have a problem – but it may not be the drugs or alcohol that causes it! Does that sound strange? People who abuse drugs and alcohol usually have some other problem that drives them to use – and abuse substances. Maybe they have problems from way back when they were kids, maybe they even hate themselves. You may want to help, but there are limits to what you can do. What your parents need is professional help.

Understanding that there’s a deeper problem is all well and good, but how does that help you? Well, knowing that your parent isn’t actually a bad person and doesn’t hate you is some comfort. That drunk or drugged out parent is actually sick. Not in the sense of being a ‘sicko’, but as someone who really needs some kind of help. As a kid or a teenager, you don’t really have power over the situation, but there are things you can do to help.

  1. You don’t need to take responsibility for your parent

Your parent is responsible for his or her own behaviour and addiction. Don’t blame yourself and don’t try to protect them if others notice their addiction. You can’t ‘cure’ your parent, so don’t even try.

  1. Tell them they need to get help

Whatever you do, don’t do this when your folks are under the influence. Wait for them to sober and calm, and then tell them that you’ve noticed they have a problem and that they should look for help. If one of your parents doesn’t have a substance abuse problem, talk it over with them first and see if you can get support. You and your family can also talk to a counsellor to see how best you can persuade your substance abusing parent to go for help.

  1. Get help if there is any danger of physical abuse

If your parent is physically abusive, they are violating your rights and endangering your safety. At this point, you’re fully entitled to (and should) report the problem to a school counsellor, the police, or an adult whom you trust. Protect yourself by avoiding direct conflict.

  1. Understand your feelings

If you feel repulsed or disgusted at the sight of your parent under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that’s perfectly natural. But separate the problem from the person. Getting your parent to find help is something you do not only for yourself, but for them. At the same time, remember rule 1. You are not, and cannot be responsible for and adult’s behaviour!

  1. Get confidential help

You may not feel comfortable about talking to someone you know about the problems you’re experiencing, but help is at hand, and you can be anonymous. Get in touch with organisations such as Alateen. This group allows you to confidentially get in touch at organised meetings with kids who have the same problems that you do, helps you to find coping mechanisms, and ensures that you’re not all alone with your problem.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) isn’t just there for people who want to commit suicide. Expert counsellors will also help you with the situation you’re in by giving you good advice on how to deal with family problems such as this one.

  1. If your parent or parents decide to get help, be supportive

Just admitting that they need help is a big step for any adult to take. You should respect them for this and be ready to do what you can to support them. Of course, you aren’t a qualified addiction counsellor, and you don’t need to be. Suggest that your family goes for family counselling and find out what the experts think you can do to be supportive.

If your parent pulls through rehab and recovery, you’ll find that they really are the cool person you’d like them to be, but first they’re going to go through a pretty rough time. Remember: it’s the problem rather than the person that’s been making you so miserable. This might be hard for you to accept. If so, find a counsellor that you can talk to.

To sum up:

If one or both of your parents abuse drugs or alcohol, it’s not your fault, but it will affect you. Get advice on how you can help them to recognise their problem and find treatment for the disease of addiction.

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