This month there is a very interesting article in Money Magazine, These Parents are Cutting Off Their Opioid Addicted Children: And it’s the Toughest Decision of their Lives by Kristen Bahler. It speaks to the very difficult choice many parents in this position face, financially. As with everything else, there is no singular path that people should follow in every situation. However , a lot of parents eventually come to a point where, partial, or even complete, withdrawal of financial support ultimately is the “right” answer.
My training in substance abuse is limited, so I don’t recommend that you consider taking these steps without consulting with a substance abuse professional. Nevertheless, because of the pervasiveness of addiction in our culture, I still find myself working with people around these issues. It’s a tricky issue for parents and I can completely relate to the temptation to try to do what initially feels like being the most supportive parent you can be and then ultimately realizing that you are enabling your child’s unhealthy choices and behavior. I think it’s a normal process that most go through until they find a balance of what’s right for them.
One thing I will say, overall…I definitely recommend that setting financial boundaries, as well as personal ones, work best when framed in a firm yet loving/accepting way. This is a hard skill to learn. Therapists and support groups can provide guidance about how to do this. I also really like the CRAFT program, which I have written about, previously. The main reason I make this recommendation actually isn’t for the parents’ benefit, it’s for the addicted family member. It’s easier for people to step onto the challenging path towards recovery when they know that your love is, and will always be, there for them. Shame and humiliation only serves to make people feel worse about themselves and gives them more reason to avoid their feelings with intoxication. You have to walk the line of loving acceptance and logical boundaries. Remember, love doesn’t mean doing everything they expect of you.
There is one critical detail that I think a lot of parents, and even some professionals, overlook when parents are stuck in rescue mode. It’s important to understand that there is a subtle message that is communicated when we repeatedly bail out our kids, “I don’t think you are capable of solving this problem or even figuring out how to attempt to solve this problem,” and, “It’s my job to protect you from all of life’s stresses and discomforts.” The biggest problem with this underlying message is that everyone’s life involves being able to tolerate discomfort and solve problems. These are core life-skills that we all need to learn, one way or another, and the only way to do this is through uncomfortable experience, making mistakes, and becoming more skilled over time. This taps into my favorite thing to teach people about, having a Growth Mindset. I encourage you to check it out.
Getting back to the Money article, there are several resources listed that can be helpful to parents. I will link them here for your convenience.
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) – a faith-based network of parent-volunteer run support groups, including two weekly telephone groups if there isn’t an in-person group close to you. They have a specific, education driven series of presentations, and these resources are available on their website.
- Learn to Cope – online forum for family members of addicted loved ones.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – a government website that, among tons of information and resources, includes several different 24/7 information and treatment referral hotlines.
- Al-Anon & Nar-Anon – volunteer, peer-run groups focusing on educating and supporting loved ones affected by addiction. Based on the 12-step model used by Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous.
- Grief Recovery After Substance Passing – a community of support groups who have lost loved ones to addiction and overdoses.
The teen years are tough ones, for both the teens and their parents! So many exciting things are going on in the brain as it develops during the teen and young adult years. Due to advances in medicine, particularly the availability of functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans, researchers have been learning so much in the last two decades. The field of psychology has been studying this information and working to shape it into practical recommendations and approaches for parents, teachers, and the teens, themselves.
In the video below, we get to benefit from the knowledge from two insightful and gifted people in the field. The first is Marsha Linehan, PhD. She is the psychologist who developed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and is highly regarded in the field of psychology. DBT was developed to work with people who meet the criteria for Boarderline Personality Disorder. (Note: If you haven’t yet read my view of the strengths and limitations of labeling a person with a diagnosis, I encourage you to check that out.) Over time, research has shown that DBT concepts also work well with other people who generally experience intense emotions that make them feel out of control. Not surprisingly, a lot of her ideas apply quite nicely to raising teens, particularly those teens who are having a difficult time keeping their emotions in check. Not an unusual concept in the world of adolescence, right?
The second presenter is Laura Kastner, PhD. This is the first I’ve come across her but I enjoyed her approach and her presentation. She is a developmental psychologist and able to talk a lot about what the latest research is telling us regarding what the strengths and challenges of the developing teen brain are. She goes on to give examples of how parents can most effectively intervene with their teenagers, particularly during high emotion times.
Note: I want you to be aware that Dr. Linehan’s speaks extensively about suicide. This is because, in its original form, DBT was developed to work specifically with individuals who had frequent suicide attempts. In the clinical world, these are individuals who are often intolerant of their own intense emotions and have no coping strategies to help them through. DBT helps them through. Now that DBT is an established form of therapy, research is starting to show that the techniques are just as powerful a way of helping people who struggle with intense emotions for a variety of other reasons not the least of which being the turmoil of adolescence. Just because you or someone you love struggles with “regulating” their intense emotion does not mean that they are suicidal or risk of committing suicide but because Dr. Linehan set out to make her life’s work out of working with people who experience the incredibly deep emotional pain, it is through that framework that she describes some of the many techniques that are a part of DBT therapy.
This talk explains some of the concepts you will find in a book that I recommend and wrote a review on, Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors by Pat Harvey, ACSW, LCSW-C. The talk does get fairly technical at times because both of these women are not only therapists, but research scientists too. Try to not sweat over some of the more complex terms they use and just focus on the stuff the more concrete examples they give. This is a talk that was given to an audience of parents and professionals.
This is the first time that I have come across Dr. Kastner and I enjoyed her perspective so much that I’ve added her (and a co-author, Dr. Jennifer Wyatt’s) book, Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens, to my (increasingly long) reading list. I am grateful to both of the speakers for allowing this talk to be available for free to the general public.