Even closely knit families with strong values and ongoing drug-proofing have no guarantee that substance abuse won’t affect one or more of their children. The problems may range from a brief encounter with cigarettes to an episode of intoxication (perhaps with legal consequences) to an addiction. As you begin to cope with one or more chemical intruders in your home, keep the following principles in mind:

Don’t deny or ignore the problem

If you do, it is likely to worsen until your family life is turned inside out. Take the bull by the horns — but be sure to find out exactly how big and ugly the bull is. The marijuana cigarette you discovered may be a one-time experiment or the tip of the iceberg. Talk to your child or adolescent about it — but also talk to siblings, friends and anyone else who may know the extent of the problem. You may not like what you hear, but better to get the hard truth now than a ghastly surprise later.

Don’t wallow in false guilt

Most parents assume a great deal of self-blame when a drug problem erupts in their home. If you do carry some responsibility for what has happened (whether you know about it immediately or find out later on), face up to it, confess it to God and your family, and then get on with the task of helping your child. But remember that young users must deal with their own responsibility as well.

Seek help from people experienced with treating drug problems

Talk to your GP and pastor. They should be part of your team, even if in a supporting role. It is likely that you will receive a referral to a professional who is experienced in organising a family intervention. This may include educational sessions, individual and family counselling, medical treatment and long-term follow-up. When the user’s behaviour is out of control and he is unwilling to acknowledge the problem, a carefully planned confrontation by family members and others affected may need to be carried out under the supervision of an experienced counsellor. The goal is to convince the drug user in a firm but loving way of the need for change — now. The confrontation should include specific alternatives for the type of treatment he will undergo and clear-cut consequences if he is not willing to co-operate.

Be prepared to make difficult, "tough love" decisions

If you have a drug-dependent adolescent who will not submit to treatment and insists on continuing drug use and other destructive actions, you will need to take the stomach-churning step of informing him that he cannot continue to live in your home while carrying on this behaviour. This will be necessary not only to motivate him to change but to prevent his drug-induced turbulence from destroying the rest of your family. If you must take this drastic step, it would be helpful to present him with one or more options. These might include entering an inpatient drug-treatment centre, halfway house, boot-camp program or youth home, or staying with a relative or another family who is willing to accept him for a defined period of time. More ominous possibilities may need to be discussed as well, such as making him a ward of the state or even turning him over to the police if he has been involved in criminal activity.

If you continue to shield him from the consequences of his behaviour or bail him out when his drugs get him into trouble, he will not change and you will be left with deep-seated anger and frustration.

Don’t look for or expect quick-fix solutions

It is normal to wish for a single intervention that will make a drug problem go away. But one conversation, counselling session, prayer time or trip to the doctor won’t be enough. Think in terms of a comprehensive response encompassing specific treatment and counselling and the gamut of your child’s life — home, school, friends and church.

Remember the father of the Prodigal Son

Tough love means allowing the consequences of bad decisions to be fully experienced by one who is making them. It also means that your child knows a parent’s love for him is so deep and secure that it will never die. Never give up hope, never stop praying, and never slam the door on reconciliation and restoration when your child comes to his senses.

The Complete Guide to Family Health, Nutrition & Fitness

Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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