What do I do if I think my child is slipping and possibly relapsing?

Posted on June 8, 2023 View all news

The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. The information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.

We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers and opinions are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Every Brain Matters community. We encourage each person to take what they like and make their own decisions that benefit their families.

The Every Brain Matters community also does not recommend specific treatment programs, but we are grateful to share the content.

To learn more, please visit our family recovery resources here and find support meetings here.

What do I do if I think my child is slipping and possibly relapsing?

Perspective from a Parent: If my gut was telling me that something was off with my son, I learned that the burden of proof was on him, not on me. I held the boundary because the peace and serenity I felt when things were going well were leaving me was an internal signal that something was wrong. I would look at my shots on the refrigerator and think about which one of these shots was at play. I would call one of them, and if he denied it, the boundary still holds, and this is the consequence. It almost never failed that he had either used again or was about to. So then I learned to trust my own instinct. I had no parenting self-esteem when I came in. I didn’t trust myself. I fed into the lies and manipulation. I learned that if something felt off, it was, and something needed to be done.

Perspective from Teen: Trust your gut. When you feel like something is off it usually is. If you see a change in behavior, it is usually a good sign that something is behind it.

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Change the narrative. The burden of proof is not on the parent. You weren’t the one with a long history of manipulation, dishonesty, etc. 99.9% of the time when a parent’s radar is going off, there’s a good reason for it. You’re not in a court of law… you don’t have to prove anything. As a parent, you start to get your self-esteem back. What comes from that is trusting your gut and being confident in your parenting.

We hope that you find encouragement from reading the parent story below.

After a nine-month stay, my 15-year-old son was preparing to discharge from residential treatment because of an addiction to marijuana and severe depression. At 14, he was suicidal; he attempted to take his life on multiple occasions, twice at home. We had some form of peace while he was out of the house and in treatment, but our family was broken. 

My son hated me. My daughter hated my son for what he was doing to the family. I had resentments toward my son for turning all of our lives upside down. The one bright spot was that my wife and I were always on the same page, and our relationship was strong, perhaps even stronger than ever, as we came together to deal with this tragedy. 

The weeks leading up to his discharge from residential treatment were unsettling. Those feelings and memories of our household being out of control crept back into my mind. Absolute fear is probably the best way to describe it. There were so many unknowns, so many unanswered questions. Would he return and start using again, and would nine months and tens of thousands of dollars be wasted? How could we ever trust him again? How could we let him out of our sight? How was he going to have friends and socialize? Where would he go to school? How would he spend his free time? Was he going to live or die? Not knowing how this would turn out was eating me alive, driving me crazy. 

While my son was in residential treatment, we did a lot of research about what we would do after he came home. We were looking for the right support group for ourselves and him.

For the first 30 days or so, my son reluctantly did the full-day Cornerstone agenda. At first, he resented it. He complained that the days were too long and hard and that he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Later we understood that this was all part of the manipulative nature. After about 30 days, he developed friendships and started having fun. 

I did not understand recovery, and I certainly did not understand the concept of parent-driven recovery. However, my personality is such that if I get involved in something, I will do it right or not at all. The decision to get involved and do everything the program called for was easy since I realized this was a life and death situation. I was going to do everything I could to save my son. It wasn’t until about 3 years later that I finally accepted that I could not save my son but that I could save myself and lead a happy life based on spirituality.

I read the books, went to meetings, got a sponsor, worked the steps, did three dad step studies, hosted functions, hosted kids, did wilderness trip workouts with the kids, did nighttime mountain biking with the kids, did Dad retreats, and did Dad wilderness trips. Gradually I started feeling better about myself. I was becoming a better person, kinder, and more self-giving. We hosted Friday and Saturday night functions. We became a host family and had kids staying in our home most of the time. I learned a lot by hosting kids in our house, not only about the kids and their struggles but about myself. I learned that most of these kids are good, decent human beings that have a disease and made some bad choices. They are intelligent individuals with big hearts and a good sense of humor and adventure. I also learned that most of them have low self-esteem, and I saw how many of the Cornerstone concepts are geared toward helping them overcome this issue. 

We regained control of our house by setting “shots and bounds .”At first, this was difficult, not so much the setting of the rules and boundaries, but coming up with consequences that :

  1. Were appropriate in terms of severity.
  2. We could live with.
  3. We were willing and committed to following through with.

It took a while for us to get comfortable with it, and we made some mistakes along the way. One of the things that helped me the most in setting and enforcing the “shots and bounds” was hosting other kids since it is a lot easier and less emotional to follow through on consequences when dealing with someone else’s kid. There were several instances where the hostee would break a shot (rule) and had to move out of our house. When this occurred, we had meaningful conversations where all parties spoke and understood what had happened and the related consequences. One of the other important things I learned through this process was that most of these kids want to be held accountable. 

Several of the kids that stayed with us for long periods are doing very well in their continued sobriety, and I thank God for giving me the strength and opportunity to have helped them when they needed it. However, not all the kids that stayed with us were successful in their recovery, and I pray and trust that someday they will get to the point where they will call on all the various tools they learned while in the program.

I’ve learned to overcome my fears by surrounding myself with an excellent support system and trusting God. There may be other ways to achieve this, but the only thing that has helped me achieve this so far in my life is by working the Twelve Steps. At first, I did not understand why I should do this since I am not the one addicted to marijuana. But now I know. The Steps made me do a lot of “soul searching,” brought me closer to God, and made me a better person now committed to helping others through service work. 

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