We get calls every day from concerned parents and carers of young people who have gone off the rails. They often don’t know where to turn to for help and feel lost and confused about to how to help their loved one.
While addiction can happen at any age, it usually starts when a person is young. If things at home have taken a turn for the worse, and you suspect that there might be signs of a drug and alcohol problem with your child, then these are the things to look out for:
- Negative changes in behaviour or family relationships
- Responsibilities being neglected
- Disrespectful and rude attitude
- Secretive, withdrawn, or uncommunicative behaviour
- A change in peer group
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits and unusually tired or overactive
- Blaming others for their problems and repeated excuses being made
- Decline in academic achievement and loss of interest in favourite activities
- Money or items have gone missing
- Carelessness with appearance and hygiene
- Pale complexion, with scratches or sores on their body
- Headaches, dry mouth, red eyes or weight loss
While many of these symptoms can be triggered by stress, if several of them are present at once, then it could be time to face up to the possibility that your loved one might have a substance abuse problem.
We now know more than ever before about how substances affect the brain. Addiction can be successfully treated to help young people regain control of lives and stop abusing substances. Early intervention is critical and it is best to seek help before your child develops an addiction. However, if they’re already struggling with substance use, treatment is the next step.
Getting your loved one to agree to treatment can seem overwhelming or impossible. The topic should be brought up gently and without aggression or judgment. The most important first step is getting your child to recognise that they have a problem.
Mission Australia's Triple Care Farm Program Manager, Gabriella Holmes highlights that getting yourself prepared and supported is a key step in helping your loved one. There are some great resources available for carers of loved ones using substances. Call the Family Drug Support hotline on 1300 368 186, or contact them through their website www.fds.org.au. Family Drug Support can help you walk the tightrope of getting help for your loved one and looking after yourself. If you are not feeling supported you will struggle supporting someone you love. Help is just a phone call away.
Family Drug Supports Guide to Coping recommends the following:
A. Tips in the Early Stages
- Seek help. Don’t deal with things in isolation. Talk openly to the rest of your family.
- Be informed. Educate yourself about drugs and the issues.
- Listen to the drug user. Look for cues that they want to talk.
- Try to avoid control and direction. These tactics usually lead to more underground activity and resistance to change.
B. Basic Principles in Support Someone who Uses Drugs
- Open and honest communication is almost always the best policy.
- Acceptance is not the same as approval.
- When verbal communication is impossible or very difficult try writting a letter.
- No-one's drug use can be directly controlled by another person.
- Support is not the same as rescue.
- Listening is the most useful communication skill.
- Try not to be judgmental, accusatory or emotional.
- Defer communication if you are not calm.
- Love and acceptance are not the same as being a ‘doormat’.
- Be clear on the boundaries set.
- Trust is a major issue for both parent and user. As a coping mechanism, it is tempting to break trust e.g. service property, read diaries and breach boundaries. Remember, we often accuse the user of lying, deceiving, manipulation and stealing. We need to encourage two-way trust.
- Separate negative behaviour from the person you love.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask for help.
- Families also need help. Not just the drug user.
- Understand the meaning of dependence.
- No treatment will work until he/she wants it to.
- Not every treatment is right for every person.
- Lapsing should not be seen as a failure. It is normal.
- Drug users have the right to be treated with dignity.
- Most families have influence over the drug user, especially when the drug user lives at home or has regular contact.
- Expression of emotions and acknowledgement of feelings is therapeutic. Sharing information with other families creates collective wisdom.
- Never give up hope.
If they are resistant to help, you can try to create incentives to get them to agree to an evaluation from a doctor. Research an appropriate medical professional with expertise in the area of addiction, and share their contact details. Oftentimes young people find it easier to listen to professionals rather than family members, as they don’t come with all the baggage and emotions.
You will need to emphasise that it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem, because there is a lot of hard work ahead, but it has been proven that treatment works and people do recover every day. Assure them that you will support them in their courageous effort to get better.