Struggling with Teen Addiction: Allowing Your Teen To Fail

As parents we want the best for our children. We would never put them in situations in which they would harm themselves or others. However, when it comes to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, the parent-child relationship can easily get skewed.


Often, parents continue to support, and even enable, their children thinking that the more they help their teen, it will eventually lead them to sobriety. Meanwhile, children continue to take advantage of the help that their parents are offering. And underneath, teens may feel powerless (which is often at the root of drug and alcohol addiction anyway) as a result of their parents helping them.


For this reason, at some point, a parent needs to stop supporting his or her addicted teen. A parent need to let his or her child fail. There needs to be a change in which the parent-child relationship unfolds. In fact, by allowing your child to fail, you give them the dignity to find their own way. It might take them awhile. It might be hard to go through. You might watch your teen struggle immensely, but by withdrawing your support, you create an opportunity for change. Don’t rescue him at a moment when he needs to most so that he can grow on his own.


The following are some healthy signs of growth towards sobriety when a parent lets go of trying to manage his or her child’s development:

Oppositional: It’s natural to become oppositional and resistant when faced with having to come out of relational pattern, routine, or comfort zone. When you change your role in the relationship, you let your child experience the feelings that accompany change. Don’t engage in an argument or begin to succumb to your child’s needs right away because you feel bad for him or her. You’ll be “rescuing” your child and he or she will not grow without this sort of legitimate suffering.


Aggression: This is another natural response to change. It comes from an awkward feeling of trying on a new way of relating with one another, such as taking “No” for an answer from parents. Yet as a parent, you don’t have to let aggression get in the way of your intention to stay firm and give your addicted teen the opportunity to grow and change. In the moment of aggression from your teen, you can acknowledge his feelings and behavior, but then you can take a deep breath and leave the room. Although it sounds difficult, you and your adolescent will make it through this change.


Manipulation: Another behavior pattern that is common with teen drug addiction is manipulation. It’s another way that your teen is attempting to control the relationship, control his or her life, or even control his or her parents. And manipulation comes in all sorts of forms. However, fortunately, as parents, you’re often quite familiar with the ways that your teen is manipulative. When you notice manipulation from your teen as a way to shift the parent-child dynamic to the way it was (which feels familiar and safe even though dysfunctional), you can point it out. You might say something like, “I can see your attempting to manipulate our interaction. When you do that, it’s disrespectful to the both of us and I feel sad.” Expressing your feelings is essential because it models communication of emotions to your teen.


Bargaining: This is usually a last resort tactic when nothing else works. However, as a way to get what he or she wants, teens will bargain with you. “If I stop drinking before noon, will you give me some money this week?” However, this also doesn’t have to resort to going back to old ways. Instead, as a parent, you can point out what your teen is doing and say something like, “I don’t want to bargain with your life. It’s too valuable and it makes me sad that we are at this point.” And then leave the room. This allows the opportunity for your child to be with his/her feelings and what you just communicated.


The above list are usual ways that addicted teens may respond to parents when a parent has shifted usual patterns of enabling and making it easy for a teen to continue to use alcohol and/or drugs.