There’s not much you can do to prepare yourself for the fear, anger and pain that accompanies learning your child has a drug or alcohol addiction. Substance abuse affects the whole family, and the best way to help your child get the help needed to recover is to thoroughly educate yourself.
The more you know about addiction and dependence, the better you can help your child come to terms with their addiction, find helpful resources, choose the right treatment program and become involved in your child’s treatment and aftercare in the most effective ways possible.
This 14-part series is designed to help provide you with the information you need to face this struggle and help your child and your family find the path to recovery.
Addiction: From Choice to Compulsion
The best way to help your child recover from addiction, whether or not your child wants your help, is to thoroughly educate yourself about the particular substances your child abuses and learn the mechanics of—and the differences between—abuse, addiction and dependence, collectively known as substance use disorders, or SUDs.
Over time, the chronic abuse of drugs may lead to changes in the functions and structures of the brain’s reward, motivation and learning centers. This leads to the disease of addiction, which is chronic, relapsing and characterized by the compulsive use of drugs despite negative consequences. For most people, it takes more than good intentions and willpower to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction.
Signs of addiction are those that others can see, while symptoms are what an addicted individual might experience. General signs and symptoms of addiction include:
- Compulsively using drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences to relationships, health, finances or legal status.
- Wanting to quit or trying to quit but being unable to do so.
- Neglecting responsibilities at school, work or home.
- Withdrawing from friends or family.
- Abandoning hobbies and other activities once enjoyed.
- Increasing neglect of personal hygiene.
- Borrowing or stealing money.
- Engaging in risky behaviors to procure drugs or alcohol.
- Frequent mood swings.
- Becoming hostile when someone tries to discuss the drug or alcohol problem.
A drug or alcohol addiction requires intensive therapy to address complex underlying issues and develop skills and strategies to effectively cope with triggers like stress, relationship problems, cravings, mental illness and negative emotions.
Not everyone who abuses drugs will become addicted to them. The factors that determine whether an addiction will occur are about 50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmental and cultural.
Dependence: When the Brain Needs Drugs
You can be addicted to drugs without having a physical dependence on them, and vice versa, although addiction and dependence most commonly occur together.
Some of the brain changes caused by chronic substance abuse involve the activity of neurotransmitters, which may become suppressed or overly active in an attempt to compensate for the presence of a psychoactive substance. This results in the buildup of tolerance, which means that because brain function is changing in order to adapt to the substance of abuse, it takes increasingly higher doses of the substance to produce the desired effects.
At some point, the changes in brain structure and function may reach a tipping point, and the brain will begin to operate more normally when the substance is in the system than when it’s not. Subsequently, when the substance is suddenly withheld from the body, the heightened or repressed brain functions, now without the tempering effects of the substance, cause the onset of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms indicate that the brain needs the substance to operate normally. This is an indication that a dependence on the drug has developed.
Dependence is addressed during the detox phase of treatment. During medical detox, which is supervised by medical and mental health professionals, medications will be administered as needed to ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms, which can be intensely distressing. Trying to detox without medical supervision is dangerous in some cases, and it’s unsuccessful in most.
Hope is Essential for Recovery from Addiction and Dependence
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites hope as the catalyst and foundation of the recovery process.
It’s essential that you believe in a better future for your child. Everyone has the capacity to overcome the intrinsic and external challenges of a life of sobriety, and hope is the driving force behind the changes that make such a life possible. No matter what, as you navigate the challenges of addiction with your child, always hold out hope, which you will foster in your child to help ensure a better outcome in the end.
“When Your Child Has an Addiction” Continues
In the next entry in this series, learn about the first five steps to take to address your child’s addiction. Continued in “My Child Has an Addiction, Part 3: First Steps to Take”.