Parents who struggle with addiction to alcohol or drugs are more likely to have children who also struggle with addiction as they develop into adolescence and adulthood. However, if parents can remain warm, sensitive, attuned, and connected to their infants and remain connected throughout their childhood, those children are more likely to succeed and possibly avoid addiction later in their life.
Recent research suggests that the warmth and sensitivity a caregiver displayed to their child during infancy plays a significant role in the child’s psychological well-being as they got older. More specifically, the warmth and sensitivity a caregiver displays can contribute to preventing addiction when that child reaches adolescence. This article will review a recent research study that can help parents who struggle with addiction themselves prevent addiction in their teens.
Preventing Addiction Early On
University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) examined possible contributing factors to adolescent addiction, starting in infancy. The research focused specifically on families whose parents struggle with addictions to alcohol and drugs. Because it’s common for children of parents with substance use disorders to also have similar struggles, the RIA research team explored when and how those substance issues begin. The intention behind the team’s research was to find information that might lead to better interventions and prevention of alcohol and drug addiction.
The results of the research revealed that maternal warmth and sensitivity played a significant role in preventing addiction for a child in their later life. In particular, Rina Das Eiden, the senior research scientist, pointed out that when mothers can be warm to their children even when under the stress that frequently accompanies alcohol or drug addiction, there was less probability that the child would later develop adolescent addition to substances.
The research explored the struggles and successes at each developmental stage of a child born to parent(s) with substance use disorders. They found a variety of contributing factors that led to the child’s later use of substances in adolescence:
- As a child entered kindergarten, parents with alcohol and drug addictions displayed lower levels sensitivity and warmth.
- When the child entered middle school, parents were less likely to monitor interactions with peers, activities at school, and association with certain peer groups. This left a child more vulnerable to delinquent peers and possible access to substance use.
- At the middle school age, these children also had less of an ability to stay calm when under stress, maintain proper behavior without supervision, and manage their own feelings.
- Similarly, these behaviors continued into adolescence, leaving a teen vulnerable to the use of alcohol and drugs, and possibly addiction.
Helping Children and Teens Whose Parents Struggle with Addiction
Preventing addiction in teens can be challenging for parents who are trying to stay sober themselves. Here are a few tips for sober parents who want to do their best to prevent addiction in their teens.
- As early as possible, learn the importance of attunement, emotional connection, and warmth when raising children.
- Work with a mental health provider to gain the experience of attunement and emotional connection so that you are familiar with how to create that for your child. Remember that teens still need emotional connection and warmth, despite their need to pull away from the family at this life stage.
- Learn techniques of self-care to manage difficult emotions and stay calm under stress, an important skill to pass on to children and teens.
- Explore your own history with your parents in order to gain awareness on what was missing for you and what you might provide for your children and teen.
- Get support for your child, especially as they enter adolescence. Have your teen work with a mental health provider, so that your teen receives individual therapy as well as family therapy with you and your spouse or other primary caregiver.
- Prior to adolescence, do your best to provide support as your teen goes through major life transitions, such as moving from elementary to middle school or between middle and high school.
- During adolescence, be sure to model abstinence and responsible drinking. Your relationship to alcohol or substances will be noticed and perhaps mimicked by your teen. Learn to model positive choices towards medication, alcohol, and other substances to facilitate the prevention of addiction.
- Teach your teen how to have fun without substances. For the most part, teens want to know that they belong and that they are accepted by their peers. If you want to help them avoid peer pressure to drink, give your teen and a few of their friends an experience they can enjoy without alcohol or drugs. For instance, you might take them hiking, camping, shopping, or on a road trip.
When it comes to addiction, genetics also plays a role in whether your teen will develop addiction as well. If an adolescent has a relative with addiction, there is a greater likelihood that they may also have the same illness. This is another reason for parents to consider the above suggestions for preventing addiction and think about seeking professional support for their teen as early as possible.
Supporting Your Teen’s Psychological Health
Supporting your teen’s psychological health is a good start to preventing addiction. For instance, it’s important to keep in mind that when teens struggle with stress or symptoms of mental illness, they tend to be more vulnerable to the use of drugs and drinking. In fact, one study found that the moods and mental health of adolescent females have a direct influence on their choice to drink or use illicit substances. “Parents can help prevent alcohol and drug abuse,” said CEO of Partnership for a Drug-Free America Steve Pasierb.
A psychological dependence is the need for a particular substance because it causes enjoyable mental effects. Over time, if a teen continues to rely upon substances to feel better, he or she may lose their power over that drug. Yet, parents, mental health professionals, and educators can encourage their teens to use coping tools and engage in health practices that benefit their overall well being so a teen doesn’t feel tempted to use substances to feel better. For instance, encourage your teen to:
- Get at least 8-9 hours of sleep.
- Eat 3 balanced meals per day.
- Stay physically active by exercising on a regular basis.
- Stick with friends that are positive and uplifting
- Avoid peers that are a negative influence
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Utilize relaxation techniques on a regular basis, such as deep breathing or yoga
- Have a support system of friends, family, and professionals
- Be involved in something that gives your teen purpose and meaning
- Communicate with you about their thoughts and feelings
- Keep a log of how they’re feeling as well as any mental health symptoms
- Commit to attending therapy, if any emotional or psychological issues arise
As the research described earlier suggests, your teen’s psychological health begins in early childhood. However, it’s never too late to support the physical, emotional, and psychological well being of your teen. Use the above tips to help your teen live a healthy lifestyle and seek professional support when needed.