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How can you help your child sustain long-term addiction recovery?

How can you help your child sustain long-term addiction recovery?

Every parent knows that parenting is not easy. In fact, sometimes it is extremely difficult. Add drugs and alcohol into the mix--and the job is even harder. Most parents (or school/courts) will be able to convince their son or daughter to enter treatment and will breathe a sigh of relief.

But what happens when kids are discharged from treatment? If parents have not been through it before, they likely believe things will be much better. However, the truth is that recovery is a process, which can take a long time. Many parents do not know what to do once their child completes treatment. Following this advice can help parents navigate the waters--and sometimes the very rough waters--of recovery.


Do educate yourself

Learn all that you can about addiction and recovery. What might your kids be going through? Do they still think about using? How will you know if they are using again? How long will it take for them to get better? When can you stop worrying?

Becoming knowledgeable about the disease of addiction and recovery is one of the best things you can do. Education means being more prepared to advocate for your kids, understanding what they are going through and assisting them with their journey.

Do join a support group and embark on your own recovery journey

Addiction is a hidden disease, and many families believe they are alone. But this is not so. There are more than 1.2 million teenagers with a substance use disorder. Joining a support group of others who are navigating these waters is essential. Just as youth in recovery should find a support group, so should parents. By embarking on your own recovery journey, you will be better able to assist kids in theirs. Do not go through this alone.

Do support positive behaviors

Take the time to notice the positive things that your son or daughter does. Kids are more than their disorder, and they need recognition for positive decisions and behaviors. Catch them doing the right thing and let them know you are proud.

Do develop a plan and follow through

Setting boundaries, communicating them to your child and sticking to them is crucial. Decide ahead of time what you will do if they break curfew, skip school or use drugs/alcohol again. And if the rules are not followed, do what you threatened to do, such as taking away the car keys. Also positively reinforce when kids follow the rules, such as adding an hour to curfew. Understanding the rules, recognizing what will happen if they are broken and dealing with the consequences--good or bad--are an important part of recovery.

Do create realistic expectations

The process of recovery is different for everyone. Don’t create expectations based on other examples of recovery. Individuals enter recovery with different levels of recovery capital, such as education, employment, personal support systems and community resources. This affects a child’s process of growth and change. Creating unrealistic expectations breeds resentment and excuses for failure, instead of cultivating an atmosphere of support and recognition of even the smallest progress.


Do not blame yourself

Believing that you are a bad parent and caused this disease is not only inaccurate--but it is also unhelpful. Be sure to educate yourself and join a support group so that you can be strong and consistent during your child’s recovery.

Do not resent or blame your child

Instead of resenting your child, denounce and fight the disease. It can be hard to not blame your kids for using drugs and alcohol, or to resent them for putting you and the rest of the family through this ordeal. But remember that addiction is a disease. You would never be angry with your child for getting cancer. Instead, you would hate what the disease was doing to your child. View addiction in a similar way.

Do not forget about other family members

Your son or daughter who is in recovery is not your only family member. It is vital to pay attention to your other children and to your spouse/partner. Spend time with them, celebrate their accomplishments and let them know they are still important.

Do not worry about little things

Just because someone has stopped using drugs and alcohol does not mean he or she will suddenly become perfect. Early recovery has road bumps. There will still be arguments, messy rooms and poor decisions--just like most teens. Focus on the big picture, be consistent and supportive, and celebrate the positive--that your child is in recovery.

Do not expect change to happen overnight

Recovery is a process and does not happen overnight. Just like addiction, recovery starts small, but grows and strengthens over time. Provide the necessary space for your child’s recovery to grow. Micromanaging the recovery process will not help children get better faster; rather, it will only hurt them in the long run by preventing them from growing into their own recovery.

Jumping cartoon

Addiction is a disease, and recovery is a process that can be navigated successfully. Like all teenagers, youth with a substance use disorder, who are in recovery, still need structure, reinforcers, consequences and reasonable expectations. It is important to stick to your established boundaries and to follow through with consequences and reinforcers.

Never give up. Continue to offer support and encouragement, and seek professional help when necessary.

More expert advice about Raising Teens

Photo Credits: © makler0008 -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Sarah Nerad, Kathy MeyersCo-Founder, Senior Scientist

Sarah Nerad is a young person in long-term recovery since 2007. She has made it her life purpose to create the same opportunities that she had to enter and sustain recovery for young people across the country. Sarah was one of the founding membe...

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