Countless married couples and co-parents find themselves in disagreements about major life events and difficult decisions. Money, household obligations, work schedules, and many other issues can easily give rise to disagreements. However, disagreements concerning a child’s substance abuse can have devastating effects. If the parents cannot compromise on how to approach and manage their child’s drug addiction, the situation will invariably deteriorate.
When Parents Disagree About Their Child’s Substance Abuse
Parents disagree about their children’s substance abuse problems for many reasons. One parent may refuse to accept how severe the addiction has become or cannot recognize how his or her behavior enables the addiction to continue. A parent could believe that his or her child can beat an addiction on his or her own without the need for professional treatment while the other strongly believes it is time for the child to enter rehab. Parents may also disagree about basic house rules for managing a child with an addiction who lives with them.
These disagreements are common and natural, but it is essential for parents to understand that these issues are not about them; they revolve around the child and his or her substance abuse, and the parents need to work together to develop a functional solution. This requires communication and sometimes compromise. It may also require shelving preexisting issues between the parents until they fully address their child’s substance abuse.
Preventing Adolescent Addiction
One of the best ways to address a child’s substance abuse problem is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. Parents must remember that substance abuse does not care about social, economic, or demographic lines; almost everyone will encounter substance abuse-related issues at some point. Discussing these issues and talking about what you will do if it ever happens in your family, can help parents understand each other’s views and be aware of areas of disagreement.
All parents should take time to speak with their children about substance abuse, especially if there are environmental factors in their area that increase their children’s risks of exposure to dangerous influences. The National Survey on Drug Use reported that about 22% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reported current use of illicit drugs and about 11% of the same age bracket reported heavy alcohol use.
Unfortunately, a child may fall into substance abuse despite his or her parents’ best efforts. Some children suffer sports-related injuries and develop addictions to their prescription painkillers. Others avoid drugs and alcohol until college and then develop addictions due to poor restraint once they have more freedom, easier access to illicit substances, and minimal adult supervision. Despite these risks and challenges, it is always worth talking to children about the risks and dangers of substance abuse to try and cultivate healthy attitudes and habits as early as possible.
Identifying and Stopping Enabling Behaviors
One of the most common areas of contention between parents of children with substance abuse disorders is enabling. Parents may disagree about which behaviors constitute enabling and which are genuinely helpful. The bottom line is that anything that helps a person with an addiction to maintain that addiction is enabling. A few examples of enabling include:
- Paying a child’s rent and other living expenses after he or she loses a job due to addiction.
- Cleaning up after a child, doing laundry, and providing meals when the child’s substance abuse interferes with his or her ability to perform these basic tasks.
- Lying on behalf of a child to cover up his or her substance abuse problem.
- Giving the child money. If a child has a genuine financial issue and the parents are willing to help, they should pay for it directly and never give cash to a child struggling with substance abuse.
A couple may disagree about how to approach their child’s addiction, but that does not mean they can simply “agree to disagree.” Substance abuse is a problem that demands a solution, and parents may need to acknowledge and correct their own contributions to their child’s substance abuse problem before the family can start healing.
The support network of a person with a drug addiction needs to know they must focus on helping the person without falling into the trap of helping the addiction. Enabling can be very difficult to identify and even harder to stop, especially for parents who feel as though stopping their enabling behaviors equates to hurting their children.
The Importance of Family Therapy
Family-based therapy focuses on the underlying causes of an addiction and the role each family member plays and has played in that addiction. Parents may not always be able to form a united front in tackling a child’s substance abuse disorder but making the effort to communicate openly and honestly about these issues is crucial for the well-being of their child. A family-focused approach to a child’s substance abuse issues offers the best chance of showing the child how much he or she means to the family and how much they want to see him or her recover.
Not Talking Is Not an Option
A child’s substance abuse is a very serious issue with potentially life-threatening implications. Parents may have strong feelings one way or another about certain issues related to their child’s substance abuse disorder but butting heads and refusing to compromise helps no one. Parents who reach disagreements about their child’s substance abuse should first focus on the aspects of the issue on which they agree, and then tackle the ones on which they disagree. This is a constructive starting point that ultimately encourages healthier discussions. Communication is the cornerstone of overcoming substance abuse.
Parents may even cast blame on one another, and it is possible that one or both tangibly contributed to the child’s addiction. However, blaming one another is ultimately neither constructive nor helpful to the child struggling with addiction. Parents need to address these issues, including their own errors and shortcomings, openly and honestly and ultimately strive to make the best decisions possible for their child to help him or her overcome addiction.