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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 6
- learn what typical kids need as they grow, and how to fill their needs
effectively over two decades without neglecting yourself. The range and
scope of major social
suggests that U.S. parents are failing at
This article is written to family adults and supporters
who worry about a minor child's probable addiction and how that may be
affecting their family.
article assumes your familiar with...
Q&A About Kids'
you feel one or more young people in your family are "addicted," you adults
need to answer questions like these:
How can we tell a true addiction from a "bad
habit" or "an obsession"?
What can kids become addicted to?
Why do kids become addicted?
Does childhood addiction differ from adult
What is "enabling," and what can we do about
How can we parent an addicted child
What if we're a stepfamily?
How Can We Tell a True Addiction
From a "Bad Habit"?
The words "addict" and "addiction" evoke strong emotions in typical family
members, which can hin-der effective discussion and problem-solving. So it's
important to know when to use those terms and when to avoid them.
Four variables distinguish "a bad habit" or "an obsession" from a true
the degree of personal and family
(none to vehement);
whether the compulsive behavior is stable or
increasingly harmful; and...
the degree of personal and social harm
caused by the behavior (minor to major).
"obsessions" are repetitive thoughts
about something. "Compulsions" involve repetitive actions. True
addictions are compulsive because they cannot be controlled by logic
or "will power."
Judging these variables is subjective, which promotes disagreement about whether
a child is really "addicted" or not. Such arguments are misleading and
pointless, because harmful habits and addictions are symptoms of the
real problem: major family
For more perspective, review and discuss these
symptoms of a true addiction:
What Can Kids Become
typical answer is "alcohol and other drugs." They can also become
unhealthily dependent on..
Web surfing and social networking (like
FaceBook and MySpace);
texting and talking to friends via cell
overeating (note - food is a drug);
sex, masturbation, and pornography (sexual
arousal and release);
spending and/or gambling; and...
exercising and sports.
Note that typical hobbies are not
addictions, unless they're compulsive and clearly interfere with health,
education, socialization, and family well-being.
Why do Kids Become Addicted?
Pre-teens and teens in all socio-economic settings
may become addicted because of a mix of powerful factors like these...
the unrecognized [wounds + unawareness]
causes some couples to conceive kids before they're able to parent
effectively. They create
families which cause their kids psy-chological
people unconsciously choose other wounded people as mates,
so if a child
has one wounded parent, s/he probably has two.
typical kids and teens don't know how to
their developmental and special
needs and (b) ask for adult help in filling them in healthy ways.
This is specially true for children in troubled,
and foster families;
true addictions reliably reduce or distract
from inner pain, so "addiction" can be viewed as
un-conscious "self-medication," not a "character
flaw," "illness," "disease," or "weak will;"
acquired cellular craving for some drugs
like nicotine, alcohol, and some street drugs can turn experimental and
recreational use into a compulsive dependence; and...
normal kids impulsively seek adventure,
excitement, and peer acceptance and approval; and...
many kids get too little factual information
about addiction and its toxic effects; and...
most parents and many professionals focus on
"fixing" the addict, rather than on healing their dysfunctional family
pandemic global demand for addictive
chemicals makes providing them highly
profitable and available, despite legal and social penalties.
Do these reasons for kids' addiction make sense to you? How many
average parents do you think could explain these inter-related roots of child
Does Childhood Addiction Differ
From Adult Addiction?
and no. Yes, because kids have less knowledge, authority, resources
(like money), responsi-bility, different family roles than adults, and fewer
options. Kids can't change their family's nurturance level by themselves as
their adults can. No, because addiction origins, dynamics, symptoms,
and recovery (sobriety) are the same regardless of age.
What is "Enabling," and What Can We Do About it?
Relative to addiction, enabling means "promoting an addiction
(inner pain) by not admitting or con-fronting the addict's behaviors and
their effects." So family adults who ignore, minimize, rationalize, joke
about, or intellectualize a child's addiction and what causes it are
enabling their family's dysfunction.
Enabling is a clear symptom
of the real problem: adult wounds and unawareness. So if any of your
family adults or supporters are enabling a child's addiction, they need to:
be respectfully confronted
by other adults on their wounds and toxic behavior, so they may...
admit their wounds and enabling, and commit
to self-motivated recovery. (ref.
Note that parents controlled by false selves can
behave paradoxically: they can agree that addiction and enabling are harming
their child/ren, continue to enable their addiction, and deny or excuse
How Can We Parent an Addicted Child Effectively?
If you feel a child is probably or surely addicted, you
family adults need to:
admit and work at
psychological wounds via Lesson 1 or equivalent;
raise your awareness by studying and
guard your primary relationships (Lesson 4);
help the addicted (wounded) child within
look at the last of these targets...
Options for Helping your Child/ren
"Helping" means "identifying and filling your child's current primary
needs in a
All your adults study and
discuss your child's developmental needs
and any special family-adjustment
needs. Seek agreement on...
which specific needs have been unfilled,
how these unfilled needs rank in
importance short and long term. Then...
negotiate which of your adults are
responsible for filling which needs.
the child you're concerned about has suffered family separation and
divorce and/or parental (or other) death, assess how well these common
adjustment needs are being met.
Unmet developmental and
family-adjustment needs - including incomplete
- cause inner
pain for all family members.
__ Help your child to trust that s/he is
loved and important to all you adults, and that you all are con-cerned
(anxious) about his or her (specific) behavior and welfare. If your
actions don't match your words here (the child doesn't feel
loved, respected, heard, and important), claiming this will increase
the child's hurt, resentment, and distrust (pain). Word <->
behavior mismatches usually indicate adult psychological wounds.
__ If any of you adults are addicted to
substances, activities, relationships, and/or mood-states, you want the
child to witness (not just hear) meaningful adult
behavior changes. Otherwise you're sending the youngster a
self-defeating double message ("Do as we say, not as we do.")
Double messages suggest false-self domination...
__ Help your child to believe you don't feel
she is bad or wrong for any (specific) addictive
behaviors, and that you adults believe addiction is a family problem
- i.e. that you adults have been doing something that causes the child
pain. This is only true if you adults feel your family nurturance level
has been too low because of adult
__ Help your child gain a factual,
age-appropriate understanding of "addiction," what causes it, and how it
harms people and their families. Learn about
and similar lay and church support groups, and
consider attending local or on-line meetings. Scan the Web for other resources. As you
do, avoid getting seduced into the outdated attitude that the child
is the problem. S/He isn't. Your family system is the
__ Help your child know you adults are
responsible for getting your family appropriate
help, and that you're going to do so. That might sound like "So Nina, we
want you to know that we're going to start family counseling, and we
need you to help us by participating with us."
__ Consider hiring a veteran family
counselor who knows about
managing addictions and sees them a family problem, not just a
personal one. Your child's school may suggest competent local
__ Avoid these impulses with
your child, for they are
signs of adults' wounds and unawareness, and will probably increase he/his
Keep in mind that
addiction is not "rational," and logic will not persuade a
change their self-medication for inner pain.
More suggestions on helping your addicted child...
__ Help your child understand
that you adults
hold her or him accountable for behaviors and choices within her/his control,
and that you're going to set limits (specific consequences) if s/he
chooses to ignore the behavioral limits you set.
Keep in mind that
need help in hitting
and that setting and enforcing uncomfortable limits helps to do that.
The toxic alternative is enabling.
__ Stay clear on the difference
between changes and losses (broken psychological bonds),
and inventory the child's major
invisible losses across
his or her life. Then evaluate...
(healthy > unhealthy), and...
at grieving her or his major losses (stuck > in process > complete).
Addiction is often a symptom of
incomplete grief + wounded
family adults in denial +
a toxic or ineffective family grieving policy (including no
for options and resources.
__ Help each other
steadily aware of what you
and to turn over the latter to your
You may also want to have asked the help of any religious community you
participate in if it is a high-nurturance (vs. rigid, judgmental, shame-based, or fear-based)
__ Help each other
and your child learn what causes
(e.g. "I caused my child to become an addict - I'm a bad parent!"), and
how to reduce excessive guilt to normal levels.
__ If you have other kids in the family, help
them understand in age-appropriate terms what you're trying to do. Be
careful not to imply or describe the addicted child as "bad" or
Pause, breathe, and notice your thoughts and feelings now. What did you
just learn? Do these helping options seem realistic? Do
you feel comfortable discussing and tailoring them with your adults and
supporters? If not
- why? Beware just adopting these results as they stand. For optimal
motivation, you need to define your own helping strategies.