August and September can be interesting months in the adolescent substance abuse treatment field. Vacations are wrapping up, school is starting, and many families are trying to navigate the stress and anxiety attached to attempts at motivating teenagers. This is the time of year that parents of substance abusing young people pray their children will go back to school and turn over a new leaf. In fact, numerous young people will make empty promises to their parents that real change is on the horizon. “This school year will be different!” they say. When dealing with a child who is abusing drugs and alcohol, parents must understand that the abuser will say almost anything to not have to stop using. Unfortunately, the commitment to academic excellence is the biggest weapon in a teenagers manipulation arsenal. Parents desperately hope their child will go back to school and be “normal.”
The False Security of School
“He/she must really be bothered by seeing everyone go back to school.” This statement is normal for parents in denial. These parents are desperately clinging to the idea that their child places the same value on school. In reality, it is the parents who feel the blow to their self worth. They believe they have failed as parents. They are convinced that somehow they have done something wrong. For a young person in the midst of addiction, education has zero priority. The motivation to learn will come but it will be later in the recovery process. If the first priority is not abstinence the chances of a young drug abuser staying sober are very slim. One of the primary goals of substance abuse recovery is for the young person to get back on track. However, timing is critical.
Don’t Put the Cart Before The Horse
If a young person is suffering from a substance abuse issue, very little will change until he or she is sober. Once the fog of drugs and alcohol has cleared, the addict will start to think about aspects of life that have been compromised by drug use. Once this happens it may still take a significant amount of time to make progress in these areas of life. It is very important for parents to let go of what others may think or how they will be judged. What matters at this point is the young person’s sobriety and the relationship between the parent and child. There will be plenty of time to resolve education issues and become more “mainstream.”