Parents: When It Comes to Teen Addiction, Ask Questions, Don’t Give Orders

It’s hard if you’ve been to the hospital three or four times already with your teenage son or daughter for alcohol poisoning. Likely, you’re at a point where the drinking and drug use has got to stop. You’re watching your child destroy his or her life and you’ve pulled all the cards already. There aren’t any tricks left in the book.


Parents, if you’re in these shoes, it might be time to let go. It could be time to give your child the autonomy he or she needs to make the right decision for him or herself with regard to teen addiction. Although it’s an incredibly scary position to be in, the best thing you can do is let your teen decide for himself how to proceed.


Now, this doesn’t mean giving them the full reigns to wreak havoc with drinking or drugs. Rather, it means approaching your teen differently. It means talking to your child in a way that respects his or her inner authority.


Dr. Michael Pantalon, author of Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone To Do Anything – Fast, provides the following suggestions. These pointers for parents are based on a therapeutic method called Motivational Interviewing. This is a form of therapy that drug counselors use with recovering addicts. It seeks to evoke a teen’s intrinsic desire to change. It does this by exploring his or her ambivalence to changing behavior, given the pros and cons of using drugs or drinking and teen addiction. Exploring and resolving this ambivalence is the goal of this type of therapy.


For instance, a teen might love to drink – it feels good, it’s fun, and it gives them a sense of power and inner security. However, at the same time, they might see how drinking gives them a hangover, gets in the way of concentrating at school, and causes alcohol poisoning and trips to the hospital The inner struggle of wanting to quit because of its consequences versus wanting to keep drinking because of the fun is the ambivalence that needs to be resolved.


Now, parents, most of you are not trained therapists, but you can utilize the principles of this therapy in the way that you talk to your teen. For example:


  1. Don’t tell your teen about how you feel. Instead, listen to the thoughts and feelings of your child. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, repeat back to your child what you heard in your own words. This process strengthens trust and respect. Your child will feel heard and understood versus being pushed or coerced into anything.
  2. Don’t tell your teen why he or she needs to stop. Rather than telling their children what to do, ask questions to invite how teens feel about drinking. Ask about how they feel when they’re drinking along with some of the consequences they experience. Parents might ask questions like “Have you ever done something you regretted while drinking?” or “What are some of the reasons you might want to quit?” You can also invite your teen to answer on a scale from one to ten, how ready they are to get help.


The point is to recognize that ultimately it is up to your teen to seek treatment for teen addiction. You can facilitate that by empowering your child versus expressing your anger, enforcing “tough love” with strict punishments, or telling your child what to do. In the end, he or she is going to do what she wants. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, encouraging your teen’s autonomy is the best step you can take.




August 22, 2011. Teens Only Listen to One Person…Themselves: How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Retrieved on June 17, 2014 from: