Family Culture and Teen Addiction

The nature versus nurture controversy is fought on many fronts, including teen substance use. Family culture affects teen behavior, but unlike DNA it can be changed and adapted to help with recovery.

Responsibility and Consequences Are Crucial

A teen addict deflects responsibility for their own choices, blaming parents who then blame themselves. It’s important for parents to own what is theirs. But on the flip side, the family’s culture needs to turn around so a teen becomes personally responsible for their behavior. Consequences are the best way to develop a culture of personal responsibility.

Parents should be clear about what is and what is not acceptable. Drawing up a family contract puts everything in black and white with no ambiguities so each family member knows what’s expected and what happens when responsibilities are not met. Personal responsibility is part of teen addiction treatment and it shouldn’t be abandoned when the teen enters recovery.

Role Modeling Is Key for Recovery Success

Role modeling is also key. Many parents seem oblivious to the fact that their teens are watching them more than they are listening to them — how parents talk and cope with their own daily issues speaks louder than words. For example, a parent can remind their teen to process through their emotions before making a bad decision, but if they then become explosive while driving the teen around they have modeled an entirely different message. When there is a disconnect, the modeled behavior rather than the instructed behavior usually prevails in the teen’s mind.

Just about every mother and father would like to see their children avoid the mistakes and pitfalls they had to work through. Every parent has made some major errors in life and wants above all to help their child circumnavigate that particular issue, especially parents with a history of addiction. So when a child or teen does repeat the mistakes of the parent does that point to heritability?

Stay Consistent on Discipline

Even after a parent has moved beyond previous troubles, the effects of past experiences still ripple into the present. The parent’s own past behavior may prevent them from standing firm when a teen starts to make wrong choices, feeling like a hypocrite when punishing their child for things they once did themselves. This can lend itself to a permissive atmosphere where discipline is rare. Parents can be almost dismissive about discipline because they don’t want confrontation. A better way for parents to think is that they are doing for their teen what someone failed to do for them — warn and protect them.

On the other end, some parents personalize teen behaviors, as if the teen wanted to wound the parent by abusing substances. These parents are the opposite of the non-confronters — they are the over-reactors.

Parents of teens in recovery need to examine their family culture to see what changes might be needed for a more positive environment. Just like the teen in recovery, parents need to learn to look at the situation realistically and then come up with a positive solution.

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