What is the most important skill parents should learn to help a child with a substance use disorder?

Posted on June 6, 2022 View all news

Answers From Different Perspectives (clinical staff, parents, and teens):

Note: The following are quotes from real people and some may use language and/or terms that may not be accepted by some readers.

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Utilizing the Shots (consequences from the rules you set up in your home) as guiding principles which in turn will help you follow through with exactly what you say you’re going to do.

The shots are the most effective tool for you to regain your serenity and the power back in your home. The shots are there FOR YOU and they will ultimately help your teen learn through having consequences to their unacceptable actions and behaviors. 

Most parents like to talk, lecture, and reason/convince their teen into changing. This method does NOT work! People change because they HAVE to change which typically is facilitated by consequences. 

You as a parent have a huge role to play in enforcing those consequences or letting them off the hook. 

Perspective from Parents: Work your own program!!!! Utilize your sponsor, educate yourself through reading ALL suggested materials, attend as many meetings as possible including Climbers, be 100% on board with enforcing the plan of action/teens program outlined in family appointments and reach out to your area counselor for input when you feel lost or in doubt (they do know more than we do).

Also, learn what it means to detach with love from your teen. Enabling only prolongs the hardship for them and you will keep your family from the healing and growth recovery can give you all. 

Learn as much as you can about addiction, parent-driven recovery, and the tools of the program!

Perspective from Teens: Honestly, just be open-minded. There are a lot of counterintuitive approaches and tools you will hear in the program which will require you to do things differently in your home and life. 

These changes will challenge your teen and they may go through a bunch of emotions while adjusting to a new way of doing things as well as experience the emotional rollercoaster of getting and staying sober. As a parent, I can imagine that it is hard to watch that without wanting to jump in and make it easier on them or help make excuses for them to not work hard for their sobriety. 

The biggest help you can be to your child is working your own program and NOT theirs! Hold them to do what they committed to doing ESPECIALLY in the moments that they begin telling you they don’t need to work as hard as when they first got in. 

Remember that addicts are MASTER manipulators. We want to cut corners and find people who will co-sign this for us. When you are honestly working your own program, WE know and your teen will recognize it. 

Glossary of terms:

Shots: A term used to describe consequences or a rule that families implement in their homes.

Addict: An old term used to describe a person with a substance use disorder that is not currently socially accepted anymore.

Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.

Climbers: Name of a meeting where families learn how to respond to their addicted loved ones. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.

We hope that you find hope and encouragement from reading this parent story.

My life was always kind of messy even from earliest childhood memories, being exposed to things &

situations that later in life I hoped to protect my own children from. I developed survival skills the best I

could, with little or no self-esteem. From my teens to my late forties, marriages & children in between

all the time surviving on my own evolving survival skills, carrying all emotional baggage, character

defects, coping the best I could along the way, along with self-medicating.

Depression began to set in during my mid-thirties while married and having children, along with the

continued self-medicating, my first marriage failed after approx. 7yrs, leaving 2 children in the

wreckage, neither one of us at the time were parent of the year candidates in my mind, but I felt as

though I was less worse than the other, so I pursued & was awarded custody of 2 young boys. Not too

far down that road I began to realize somethings got to change, I was going through the motions of life

with what seemed like the weight of the world holding me down, somewhere around 1999, I cried out

for help to a God I did not really know, or not sure I believed existed, He gave me the strength to get up

off my knees and continue in life.

As time flies my children approaching their teen years, I parented with a lot of fear, resentment towards

my children’s mother for perceived lack of help in raising our children, around this time my oldest son

began getting into trouble in & out of school, the younger son began really struggling emotionally as

well but did not get into trouble, we spent any extra money we had on Dr. visits & medication for

behavior problems, (all of us) I never attending college for lack of interest, self-discipline & money, I held

descent paying jobs but always struggled financially never being able to put away money, and always

worrying about the next financial hurdle, let alone retirement, but those fears were always present

being able to pay the bills & not end up homeless.

My children became the sole reason for my existence. Eventually, I could no longer ignore my older son

was using drugs, and getting in legal trouble, at this time he was about 16yrs old, leading up to this there

was a lot of craziness in our lives, emotional & physical abuse, ignoring my youngest son because of the

drama with the oldest. I realized I was becoming crazy trying desperately to fix my kid, I heard about

Cornerstone (recovery community or APG in Houston Texas) through one of my child’s friends’ parents, I attended a meeting and decided this would “fix my kid” I tried to make him attend but he refused saying he could quit on his own, well he failed his first drug test, his refusal to attend Cornerstone or quit using led to him leaving the house, it was a very traumatic time, we both said a lot of hurtful things to one another I believed everything he said about me being a worthless piece of crap parent, I was heartbroken, I had pretty much raised him on my own it hurt really bad.

The night he left the house I found myself crying in a parking lot of a store I was going to enter, I asked

God did he even know what was going on in my life did He even care, a few days later while waiting to

enter the sanctuary at church, a man that I recognized but did not know his name came up to me &

asked what was going on with me last Thursday, (the same night I was in the parking lot crying to God)

he said I came to his mind and felt a powerful need to pray for me, I did not realize it at first, thought it

was a weird conversation, some crazy Christian, later I realized it was from God letting me know He did


I continued to attend the Cornerstone meetings and be the parent without a kid in the program, just

another one of the many awkward uncomfortable feelings I began to deal with myself at these

Cornerstone meetings, I did not like hugging, sharing, talking after the meeting, attending coffee,

functions, climbers or getting a sponsor but I did keep coming to the meeting, so my growth was slow, I

did not jump right in with both feet as I have seen others do.

Eventually (yrs.?) I decided to get a sponsor and start working the 12-step program, I decided to be

honest, fearless & thorough as I worked the steps, I realized that although I was deeply religious at

church, and yes, it did make me wonder about this cornerstone rule to refer to my God as “my higher

power” how this program could work without letting Him in, I now realize & accept the reasons, and

realized I was not trusting God as the program & 12 steps taught me, funny here I thought I knew better

about my God, and really, I knew very little, in a lot of ways I connected with God more through the

program than I did at church.

I learned to trust God more, give Him my worries, let Him be in control of my life, I started embracing

the love of the group, even wanting to share this little light of mine with others. I had realized how

shyness, fear, low self-esteem, and shame had ruled my life and no longer was useful and I started to

change, the miracle, gift I had heard others talk about was in fact happening to me, my lifelong affair

with anger, as relating to fear became less, then almost non-existent, I started getting self-esteem, and

really for the first time started loving, liking, and taking care of myself, as I worked through all 12 steps, I

began to have healthy relationships in all my affairs, all the time improving my conscious contact with

my higher power.

My son did eventually come willingly to Cornerstone, mostly for himself but also am sure from the

changes he seen in me, and how I dealt with him now, I am grateful for the recovery he gained, he even

attended IOP, before relapsing, then spending some time in jail, I no longer focus on his recovery or

addictions, he has his own journey and I have mine, my relationship with my younger son has improved

& became healthy (not perfect) I have made amends to the past & present. I am learning to live life on

life’s terms, not knowing or worrying about tomorrow, but knowing I have the tools & faith to face it,

embracing the love that is all around me, willing to reach out to others.

Yes, I have received & embraced the miracle, the gift of recovery, I am eternally grateful for

Cornerstone, and how this program has helped change my life, my son, and a ripple effect to family,

friends, coworkers, I do not want my old life back (in reference to before my child started using) my

problems started way back and my life has been changed profoundly, I have a new life, freedom & the

“courage to change” to live life the Way my Higher Power intended, freedom from self-destructive

behavior. I am now able to be a conduit of God’s love in life; this is what God intended for me, living a

happy, victorious life, sharing my strength hope, experience & love with others, just as others had done

with me on this journey. I feel God in this program, He is in the daily moment of my life, I am realizing

life’s about trusting Him, He loves me, and sharing that love with others. I now believe & trust with God

all things are possible, it is all about His love, sometimes I think “I got this now” then God reminds me of

this new journey I am on does not end, I must remind myself of progress not perfection and this is a life

long journey that I embrace without fear.

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