Jesuit Social Services
Understanding the Problem

Drug Use

What Else Can I Do?

Sometimes young people make choices in their lives that we feel we wouldn't have made. Sometimes people that we love make choices that we would prefer they did not. At the end of the day, everyone's journey is unique.

You cannot make someone stop using drugs. There are things you can do, however, which may influence them positively and which will help you to cope with the situation a lot better. When you can cope and deal with things more positively, there are often flow-on effects for your young person.

› A version of this help sheet is also available in plain English.
1. Everyone makes his or her own unique decisions in life. No-one can make a young person stop using drugs unless they make that decision themselves.
2. Drug addiction may be seen as a chronic or long-term "disease" and it may take a long time to recover from an addiction.
3. It is more helpful to focus on the things your young person is doing well, and to value them as a person, rather than judge them because of their drug use.
4. You can help a young person by encouraging them to feel strong and capable enough to direct their lives in a positive way.
5. For you to be able to help a young person with a drug addiction, you must first ensure that you feel safe and supported to do so.
6. Other children in the family are affected by their sibling's drug use and also need the care and attention of their parents or another trusted adult.

There are no magic wands to help your young person stop using drugs

No one can make anyone stop using alcohol or drugs. Even if you were to physically restrain your young person, unless they make the decision themselves to cease their drug use, they may well resume use as soon as they are able to.

It is important to know that whilst you cannot stop your child using drugs your relationship is still important to them and to their recovery. You can still care about them, although not for them.

It may be a long-term problem

People supporting a young person who has a serious drug problem may find it helpful to think of drug addiction as a chronic or long-term "disease". They need to be aware that it may take a long time to recover from an addiction. Accepting this can help protect the family from burnout in the short-term and prepare them for what may be a long journey ahead.

Behaviour change is not a clear upward journey

Think of behaviour you would like to change for yourself, for example: to not eat sweets or to do more exercise. You probably have good days and bad days, times when you are motivated, and other times when you are less motivated.

Think about what stops you from making the changes you want to make. Consider how much you think about it compared to how much you act on your wishes.

Imagine what others could say that would support you in your efforts and use these thoughts to guide what you will say to your young person.

Encourage them to explore the effects of drug use in their life

It can be helpful to ask if they are concerned about the effects of drug use on their health. It may not make them stop now, but it may 'plant a seed' and help them to take responsibility for their life and their drug use, rather than you doing all the worrying for them. This may help them to feel more responsible for their own life.

People can be encouraged to explore for themselves the ways that their drug use may make things better or worse for them.

They can then explore whether there are other options that may have fewer negative consequences for them, for example, that may not be illegal, or that may not cause so much difficulty in relationships. If they are self-medicating to cope with emotional difficulties, they may be able to seek help in the form of prescribed medication and counselling.

Don't encourage them to change for you

This places guilt on them, which is not usually a good foundation for behaviour change. It can lead them to feel controlled by you and resentful towards you.

If your child says "I am cutting down for you, are you happy now?", this indicates they are trying to put the responsibility for their behaviour onto you.

It may be useful to reply:

  • Do you feel any better for it?
  • Have you noticed any good things about it?

Advice-giving vs reality-checks

Advice-giving is telling someone what you think they should do. Usually young people don't like to receive advice and generally it is better to save it for when the young person has asked you for it.

Advice may be tolerated or accepted by the young person if it comes from someone they trust and respect and if it is presented in a fairly gentle matter-of-fact, non-blaming or non-judgemental way. But this still doesn't mean they will necessarily follow the advice. That is their choice.

It is better if they feel they are not being told what to do or that their independence is under threat. They are likely to ignore advice if it comes across as a 'lecture' or if they think the person doesn't really understand the situation. Try to listen to them and understand and respect their feelings and thoughts first.

Although it is OK to tell them how you feel and fears you may have about their wellbeing, it is better to not tell them about your worries in a judgmental or angry way, nor in a way which makes them feel responsible or blamed for how you feel. Your feelings are your responsibility (see: Keeping Calm).

Reality-checks can be a bit different to advice-giving. This is where you are telling the person what you see is happening. It is giving them information in a way that lets them know that it is up to them what they do with the information, if anything.

This also needs to be done in a non-authoritative, non-expert and non-judgemental way. You may also offer to support them with their situation if they would like you to.

Have good boundaries in place

It is important though that you still set boundaries and limits on behaviour in your own home. Be clear, consistent and firm about what you expect and what will happen in your home. Follow through with consequences so that you can maintain a safe and secure environment for all your children, your partner and yourself (see: Setting Boundaries).

Having a child leave your family home due to unacceptable behaviour is an option that is necessary and important in some situations, for example where there is violence. It can have beneficial outcomes. However, it is best used as a last resort, after all else has been tried.

Being connected to family is an important protective factor against drug use.

Encourage them

It is very helpful to focus on things your young person is doing well, or things you like about them. Although they may not admit it, they are likely to benefit from this and appreciate it.

We need to believe we are a person of value, able to make changes and can have a good life ahead, if we are to bother making things better for ourselves. Sometimes when we run out of hope that we can make changes, it is helpful for someone else to 'hold the hope' for us. You may need to do this for your child.

When asking for behaviour change, it can be useful to focus on behaviours other than their drug use

Often, it is good to focus not so much on your child's drug use behaviour but on other related behaviours that are causing difficulties, for example, being home at a specific time or helping with tasks. Focussing on the drug use is more likely to be met with denial and non-compliance.

Rather than saying "you are doing this because of your drug use and if you just stopped that everything would be alright", it is probably better to clearly tell them what you expect about their behaviour towards you or in the home

Good humour amid drama sometimes helps to diffuse the situation

It helps to try and look for the funny side of things. Let it be non-sarcastic, and fairly good humoured and kind if possible. Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig is great at showing the dark and difficult side of life in a humorous way.

They are probably more capable than you think

It is easy as a parent to think you haven't taught them enough or that they are vulnerable and don't know how to get out of their situation.

They are still young people and benefit from support. But by focussing on what has gone wrong in their lives and feeling sorry for them and guilty yourself, you may be helping them to feel sorry for themselves. It is better to help them feel strong and capable enough to direct their lives in a positive way. Think about their strengths and abilities and try to remind them of these whenever you can.

Provide support and encouragement when they seek it

It might be hard to sympathise when you have felt hurt by a young person's behaviour and feel angry with them. It may make it hard to support them when they seek help.

It is also possible they may be asking for your help as a way to distract you from keeping a boundary. Trust yourself that you will know the best way to respond in the situation.

Sometimes it is appropriate to say "I don't feel like helping you at the moment, maybe you could call...or maybe we can talk at a later time...".

If at all possible, however, it is helpful for you to try to put your feelings aside when they ask for support. It may be a big step for them to ask for help. It takes courage.

This is an opportunity for change and if you can to try to listen with understanding positive outcomes may result.

If they ask for help, it is still important to continue to support them to take some responsibility for coming up with ideas and making things happen for themselves.

Look after yourself as a priority

It is normal to focus on trying to fix the young person's problem and to put other priorities on hold until that is sorted.

However, this may well be a long journey and you and the rest of your family need to be well in order to survive and to thrive, despite what is happening for your child.

Find ways to manage and reduce stress. Learn relaxation strategies. Try yoga or meditation. Build good things into your life.

Take time out for yourself. Do the things you enjoy. Give time to your relationship with your partner. Create positive experiences for yourself, your family, and other children.

Seek support for yourself from friends, family or other places.

Your safety and your family's safety should be the highest priority. You can't support another person if you do not feel safe or supported yourself.

Counselling and parent groups can help you feel better and develop strategies for coping with this journey. It may also help you work out when to put your own needs first, and protect yourself, and when to support your child.

Work together with your partner

When a child is using drugs it is very common for two parents to want to handle the situation differently, with one parent wanting to take a harder approach and the other a softer approach. People cope differently with stressful situations.

Stress and fears can lead us to have more narrow views and to hang onto our ideas at all costs. This can lead parents to appear at odds and very stubborn.

Generally, it is better for parents to work together to find an approach in the middle, and for both to give consistent messages to the child about boundaries and support for the child.

Remember other family members

Other children in the family may feel resentful towards the drug-using child for the stress they have put on the family and their selfish behaviour.

They may also feel angry towards parents for not doing enough to stop their sibling from behaving in certain ways. Sometimes siblings can try to take on the parent role with their drug-using brother or sister.

They may also think that parents reward bad behaviour with attention, time, worry and concern, and practical and financial support. This may encourage the non-drug using child to engage in bad behaviours to get similar rewards.

It can be helpful to reward good behaviour in the home if you are able to. Try to give equal attention and care to other children in the family. If time is tight, think of other adults who may be able to offer special support to siblings at this time.
More About Drug Use
Tell Me About Drugs
Why Do Young People
Use Drugs?
Why Does My Child Use Drugs?
Why Don't They See it
as a Problem?
Other Drug Related Behaviours
What Else Can I Do?
Alcohol and Other Drug
Services for Families
Related Help Sheets
Dealing with Violence
Alcohol and Other Drug Services for Families
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