Substance abuse is terrifying, especially in children and youth, and the consequences are life-altering for everyone involved. Natalie has the education and extensive front-line experience necessary to treat every family member affected by addiction, whether they are parents, siblings, or caregivers, not just the child or youth who is abusing substances. The entire family can experience healing from the trauma that causes addiction and the trauma from the addiction itself. Families do not need to suffer in silence and isolation, help is available, and healing is available for every family member impacted by addiction.
Before setting to the work of healing and recovery, parents must understand what substance abuse is, the substances their child or youth might be abusing, and the behaviors and habits associated with substance abuse in children.
- Have there been changes in your child's friends, school performance, sleep patterns, or eating habits?
- Has your child lost interest in school and hobbies?
- Does your child lie about their activities and whereabouts?
- Have you noticed personality changes or mood swings that cannot be explained by puberty or other stressors?
- Has your child suddenly become physically or verbally abusive?
- Does your child self-harm and attempt to hide it? (Examples of self-harm might include wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer to hide cutting, burn marks, or needle tracks.)
- Has your child expressed suicidal ideation?
- Have you found drugs/addictive substances or drug paraphernalia in your home?
- Is there a history of substance abuse or mental illness in your family?
- Does your child have a mental illness?
- Do you suspect that your child experienced any trauma (physical, but most likely sexual) in their early years?
What substances could my child be abusing? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) recognizes substance-related disorders resulting from the use of 10 separate classes of drugs: alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens (e.g. LSD), inhalants, opioids (e.g. Fentanyl), sedatives (including hypnotics and anxiolytics), stimulants (e.g. Cocaine), tobacco, other or unknown substances.
Although not all of these substances will lead to physical dependency, your child could still develop Substance Use Disorder by using any one of the above-listed drugs or a substance or behavior not listed.
- Experience cravings for an addictive substance.
- Cannot quit or cut down on an addictive substance despite attempts to do so.
- Take prescription drugs in larger doses for a longer duration than prescribed.
- Use an addictive substance, even when it interferes with relationships.
- Use an addictive substance. even when it puts them in danger.
- Use an addictive substance even though it interferes with work, home, or school.
- Avoid social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
- Continue to use, even when they know they have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
- Need more of their addictive substance to get high.
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when not using an addictive substance.
Natalie treats addiction as a family disease because she has witnessed the profound impact that addiction has on the entire family system. Each member often feels fear, loneliness, anger, shame, and guilt, and develops coping strategies that leave them feeling profoundly helpless. She believes that recovery for the whole family, including the addict, is a process that leads to healing, hope, and freedom from addiction. No person or event is entirely responsible for addiction. Natalie believes that everyone is inherently good, and her mission in therapy is to help her clients access, reconnect with, and nurture that goodness. The foundation of change is honesty, acceptance, identifying and feeling one's emotions, and re-developing a sense of choice and meaning outside of addiction.
Family members must recognize that addiction has a profound impact on everyone in the family, not just the addict; parents and siblings of the addict will need professional help too. Substance abuse is usually the result of a traumatic event or series of events, which almost always impacts the whole family. The negative impact of trauma will probably show up first in the addict but is just as damaging to those who do not abuse substances to cope with the pain of trauma. Family counseling is often an essential first step in healing the whole family from whatever trauma led to addiction and the addiction itself.
Substance abuse is a complex issue in any case, but much more so in children and youth. Those responsible for helping them reach adulthood are going to face a particularly exhausting strain on their relationship. Their range of emotions will be broad and varied, usually starting with anger, frustration, guilt, shame, and beyond. Fear of judgment and ostracism lead to isolation from other family members and others who might be able to help. They risk becoming isolated from other family members and friends because they fear being judged and ostracized. Parents or caregivers of the addict will likely need to seek couple's counseling to strengthen their relationship while they help their child navigate recovery from addiction.
Early intervention is key to helping your child overcome their substance abuse.
It is never too late to heal your family and help your child find the path to recovery. Because a child's brain is not finished developing, it is exceptionally vulnerable to everything they ingest. Early intervention could help mitigate the impact of addictive substances on your child's brain. It could also help change the destructive behaviors that accompany addiction. If you know or suspect that your child or youth struggles with substance abuse, reach out to Natalie today.