All parents worry about their young adult children for many reasons. They’re becoming more independent, getting ready to leave home–if they haven’t already, and dealing with the pressures of getting started in life. Parents may also worry that their young adult children are using drugs or alcohol. Parents often feel conflicted on this topic. Most parents would like to think their own children know better. On the other hand, parents are aware that many young adults do use drugs and alcohol and that people of that age are very susceptible to peer pressure. While experimentation is common, it is not harmless. It’s never too early to develop a substance use disorder. Here are some ways to reduce the chances your young adult child will develop a substance use issue.
Talk to them early.
It’s best to start talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol long before they are teens. Even four or five years old is not too young. For example, when you give a young child cold medicine, you can use the opportunity to tell her never to take unless you or a doctor give it to her. Tell her the difference between drugs and medicine. Talk to her in ways she’ll understand, but be honest. You want your child to consider you an open, reliable source on drugs and kids can always tell when you’re lying. Keep the subject open as your child ages. Make sure your young adult child knows your expectations. You might think you have a tacit understanding, but it’s much better to set clear boundaries. If you haven’t yet talked to your child about drugs, the teen years are a late time to start, but it’s better than never. Make sure she knows drinking and drugs are not allowed, and make it clear what the consequences would be. This is also a good time to make sure your child is aware of any family history of addiction.
Set a good example.
Most of what you teach your kids is by your example. Your own substance use habits will be what they consider normal behavior. That’s one reason the best predictor of developing a substance use issue is whether your parent had a substance use issue. We internalize that behavior as children. On the other hand, if you only drink rarely or moderately, your kids will see that behavior as normal. Children, and especially as they get older, won’t tolerate hypocrisy. If you drink heavily and tell them not to drink, they will likely resent it, and probably ignore you. If you do have a substance use issue, the best thing you can do for your child at any age is to be honest about it and take decisive action to quit. Talk to your doctor or therapist, attend a mutual aid meeting such as a 12-step program, SMART Recovery, or Refuge Recovery, or look into entering a treatment program. Show your child that you mean what you say.
Know their friends.
Many young adults change friends often as they struggle to find their own identities. This is a productive process of exploration, but there are also hazards. Some young adults who have trouble fitting in may find that using drugs or alcohol is an easy way to find social acceptance. Or some of their friends might start using drugs and alcohol and pressure them to try it too. Make it a point to know their friends. Know who they are and actually meet them and talk to them. One warning sign is if your child suddenly quits hanging out with old friends and starts hanging around with new people that you don’t know.
Have family time.
One way to keep up with what’s going on in your young adult’s life–including who their friends are–is to have regular family time, such as family dinner. This should be a regular time when everyone can get together and talk. That means no phones or tablets at the table, just food and conversation. This allows you to be supportive when they’re having trouble and to spot early warning signs like big changes in behavior or appetite. Young adults need less structure and support than children and teens, but insisting on dinner together, even occasionally, shows you still care.
Be the “out.”
Be the excuse your kids need to not drink or use drugs. Let them tell their friends you drug test them and search their room for drugs if it makes it easier for them to say no. In this case, it’s ok to be no fun. Also, let your young adult child know she can call you if she needs a ride to get away from a bad situation. They don’t want to feel stuck if something like that happens. If you do get that call, be glad she reached out and let her know she did the right thing.
Watch out for warning signs.
Even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee that your young adult child won’t use drugs and alcohol. The warning signs include sudden changes in behavior, such as being more energetic or more subdued, suddenly spending more time alone or being secretive, losing or gaining a lot of weight, pupils that are abnormally small or large, or unexplained injuries. Keep an eye out for non-drug-related problems. Substance use is often just a symptom of another issue. Anxiety and depression often lead to substance use and addiction. The early adult years are also when the symptoms of schizophrenia start to emerge. Unmanaged ADHD is another major risk factor. If your child experiences a trauma, such as an accident, an assault, bullying, or the unexpected death of a loved one, she will also be at much greater risk for addiction.
Get help right away.
Because young adult brains are still malleable, they “learn” addiction more quickly than older adults. Fortunately, they can also unlearn it more quickly. The sooner you get help for your child, the more likely she will make a full recovery.
If your young adult child is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our Copper Hills facility specializes in treatment for adults between the ages of 19 and 29. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible.
Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.