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Substance abuse is a huge problem in America today, affecting families from every stratum of society. To find out how parents can help their adult child who are using and how they can help themselves, too, I interviewed an expert on the subject, Dr. Maureen Murdock.
In our first post about an adult child’s substance abuse problem, we discussed the symptoms of addiction and the need to see it for what it is: a disease. Here, we’ll explore how to engage your son or daughter who is using. It’s scary to contemplate breaking the code of silence that so often surrounds the loaded subject of addiction. Rather than risk alienating their child for good, parents will pretend nothing’s amiss. That’s the worse thing you could do, according Dr. Maureen Murdock, a psychotherapist who has written widely on the issue of mental illness and substance abuse, “You must speak up because either it’s the end of your relationship or the end of your child’s life. The choice is clear: there is no choice.”
Dr. Murdock emphasizes that there will be several conversations and likely several false starts before your child is open to receiving treatment. Still, the key thing is to begin. You and other members of the family should be coached by an addiction specialist or have that person in the room, if possible. Dr. Murdock urges you to address your child as neutrally and nonjudgmentally as possible. If you get angry and start blaming, the intervention won’t be productive. No matter what your actual words, project a message that the family is caring, loving, and there for her:
- We are concerned about your behavior;
- We suspect you’re using drugs;
- This can’t continue. You are comprising your health, possibly fatally by your risky behavior;
- We’re worried and we want you to get help.
Your child will most likely minimize his addiction if he acknowledges it at all. According to Dr. Murdock, those who abuse substances have a distorted perception that all is okay. “It’s such a small amount,” they’ll say. “I’m only using periodically,” “It’s your problem, not mine,” and “How could you think this of me!” Those who abuse substances are in denial and that denial is very strong and difficult to overcome. Further complicating the issue is the fact your adult child is not a minor; you can’t order him to get treatment.
Dr. Murdock says the key is to hear your child out. Encourage her to talk about her feelings. Perhaps she’s been lonely, bullied, unpopular, depressed or unbearably pressured by her peers. Perhaps she’s actually bipolar or on sensory overload. To combat mental illness or social anxiety, she may think, “Ah, drugs will make me cool.”
Dr. Murdock stresses that there are no magic bullets and no shortcuts on the road to recovery. No matter how you slice it, it’s a long, slow, painful process, but by getting the subject out in the open, at least you’re making a start. In part 3 of this series, we’ll look at things you can do to help your child and keep your sanity as the journey continues.
Maureen Murdock, PhD, is a psychotherapist, teacher and social activist. You can learn more about her at www.maureenmurdock.com
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