Addiction & Self Harm: 9 Life Saving Things You Can Do for Teens & Young Adults Now
“Parents often think addiction is their fault, so they don’t want to see it. The fact is it’s no one’s fault. There’s a genetic component of addiction; it’s understanding how can I help my child face this, while living my life at the same time?”
Dr. Jessica Dahan, one of the instrumental clinical therapists at Harbor Village, offers her words of wisdom to help allay our anxieties revolving the harsher reality of addiction. As parents, we assume every blemish in our children’s lives are somehow our fault. This type of self talk can often make us overbearingly protective, sensitive, defensive, and ultimately harm our relationship with our children. Sometimes holding on too tightly forces our little ones to rebel, and indulge in the very things we want to shield them from.
The most important thing to remember is that we render ourselves useless to respond to addiction when we incapacitate ourselves with culpability, or blame.
If you’re like many other parents struggling with a child suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, you’re shouldering most of the blame, because maybe you struggled with addiction at one time in your life- or maybe your parents did- or maybe your great, great grandmother did, and somehow it’s still your fault.
Self Esteem’s Role in Addiction
Please listen to me, the last thing your child wants on their conscious is the weight of guilt resulting from your own sense of guilt. Many struggling with substance use disorders suffer from inferiority complexes, or self esteem issues. There are instances where your own love and adoration for your teens aren’t enough to break through their own self perception. Speaking from experience, as someone whose parents always encouraged and celebrated successes I considered inconsequential, substance use disorders and instances of self harm typically stem from inward demons.
Of course, there are environmental factors undeniably contributing to addiction and an unhealthy self image. (Are you one of those parents who poke at belly rolls?) Little things that may seem like nothing to you, may play a significant role in your child’s self esteem, and ultimate perception of themselves. Especially for those sensitive souls who latch onto the negative, and easily brush off the positive.
It’s not your fault. It’s their inability to see themselves clearly.
The Nitty Gritty of Addiction
Addiction is no one’s fault. It’s similar to inheriting high cholesterol or thyroid conditions. Although addiction has many psychological components, there are genetic aspects of the disease which are passed on from generation to generation. We can’t shield our rambunctious teens from everything, but there are things we can do to empower ourselves to help.
Often addiction stems from unresolved traumas, or the inability to deal with stress. Remember, for teenagers who turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, one of the main factors of this behavior lie in their development, or lack thereof, of coping techniques to diminish high-stress emotions. Teens are especially susceptible to spiraling into the dredges of addiction if the friends they keep are experimenting with addictive substances. The same may be said of cutters, or those who are predisposed to self harm.
9 Life Saving Things You Can Do Right Now
We’ve compiled a list of 10 smart things you can do to guide your little one to the help they need; as substance use disorders left untreated foment permanent psychological and physical damage. Acting quickly may seem overwhelming, but haste is the single most critical factor in ensuring your child recovers from addiction.
1) Foster Open Communication
Talking about the details of addiction: methods of use, scores made within what you may have believed to be “safe havens,” or listening to near-death experiences may be difficult for you to stomach- but getting everything out in the open is one of the best things that can happen for those struggling with addiction.
Closure is an important part of overcoming addiction, as is self evaluation. Sometimes this is best achieved just through talking it out. Even if you’re not a therapist, just having the opportunity to confide in you may mean the difference between using again or spiraling further down the rabbit hole.
For those struggling with chronic addictions turned physical, this method may not be able to circumvent instances of getting high- but knowing they can come to you, and you’ll listen with open ears and arms, can be the simple gesture inspiring your teen to get help.
I remember struggling acutely with suicidal ideation, and the simple presence of my mother allowed me to get everything out in the open, slowly. It was difficult for me to express my feelings to her, mostly because I didn’t want her to worry. I didn’t know opening up to her about all of the things I kept hidden from her would lift the weight I was feeling off of my chest- but it did. And she didn’t collapse from hearing it.
You can do the same for your children, teens, young adults, grown babies- whatever the case may be. Hearing the details of abuse may be too much for you to handle on your own, in which case enlisting the help from professionals is essential. It will be difficult for them at first to open up- you may be there for an hour before you can get anything out of them- but it will eventually come.
The key is not to be pushy. Remain soft, and reassuring. If you find yourself getting frustrated, try to remember many struggling with substance use disorders have trust issues- some erect psychological barriers, preventing them from opening up. This defense mechanism undoubtedly stagnates the healing process profoundly.
And yes, unfortunately these barriers apply to parents too.
It may be hard to understand why your loved one simply can’t open up. To many who have never purposefully bottled everything up inside, as to avoid detection from family and loved ones, it’s a difficult thing to accept. Dr. Holly Vasquez-Cortella, Clinical Director of Harbor Village, illuminates one of the reasons why it may be hard for users to open up, and how the condition may be helped,
“[Users] take care of everybody, and they have no one to take care of them. That’s why they use. Using cognitive behavioral therapy allows them to realize what it is they’re afraid of, what they’re avoiding, and allows us, on a therapeutic level, to change it and develop strategies to confront it.”
You may not know it, but hiding instances of drug addiction and self harm is a full time job. The secrets kept by your children and teens are not out of malicious intent, but protection of your sensitivities, and a measure of self preservation. Broaching the subject of therapy typically results in an emotional outburst, or flat-out refusal- but therapy gives users (who may or may not struggle with self harm) the ability to confront the underlying belly of addiction and mood disorders, making it necessary.
2) Love Them, Despite It All
Because it’s common for users to struggle with acute inferiority complexes, it’s important to always convey your undying love for them, despite their actions. Addiction leads many to behaviors they would have never exhibited before losing their lives to substance use disorders. Theft, robbery, among other criminal offences may be common.
Tell them you love them. Again and again and again, if you have to. Many struggling with addiction just don’t love themselves. They don’t like who they are, what they’ve accomplished- or focused on what they haven’t. Self abuse and addiction may result from feelings of unworthiness or self degeneration.
Your teen may not believe you- because they don’t love themselves. It’s a difficult barrier to break through, but with persistence, you will reach them.
But will you do so in time?
Overdose rates are increasing across the nation, almost everyday. Don’t wait to get your loved one the help they need. Despite your best efforts to help them feel whole, there are no real replacements for cognitive behavioral therapy, where addiction specialists are trained to help evaluate “self talk,” and ultimately promote healthy feelings of self worth.
Take it from Dr.Dahan,
“Our self talk has a lot to do with our actions. Is your self talk positive, negative? Are you down on yourself, do you think the whole world is over?
Or do you try again?
A lot of people give up because they make one mistake, but two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.”
3) Enroll in Therapy
Up until this point we’ve focused on the things you can do yourself, but sometimes our own resources aren’t enough to directly confront the perils of addiction and self harm. Don’t misunderstand me!
You are absolutely critical to your loved one’s recovery.
But let’s face it, not many of us have degrees, master’s, or PhDs in psychology. We’re not equipped to implement the how. We know there are underlying facets of addiction, begging to be addressed, but how in the heck can we do that from home?
The simple truth is that sometimes we just can’t. That’s when it’s imperative to seek help in therapy; and more specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The point of CBT is to help drug and alcohol users, (and cutters too), figure out what the underbelly of addiction stems from, and then ultimately redress those ill feelings.
Why can’t we do that for them?
Well, we can help. We can reinforce the techniques learned in therapy, but we’re no replacement for a specialist. Think back to college algebra. Maybe you passed, but do you think you could teach your child the ins and outs of the science behind it?
I certainly can’t. (And for you math geniuses, think back to your Shakespeare course!) Therapists are simply the teachers and guides we send our loved ones to, much like school.
Take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Dr. Vasquez-Cortella says,
“How can you be cured? If you deal with the depression and anxiety issues, then poof! You’re not going to want to self medicate anymore, because we’ve solved the problem. CBT is about 6-18 sessions, or up to 1-2 years, depending on the outside. We’re here 30-90 days. The research shows the longer you’re in treatment, the better the outcome.”
But what if you just can’t convince your little one to go to treatment?
Dr. Vasquez-Cortella uses their own logic to spur action: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I never say anything like, ‘How does that make you feel?’ It’s always, ‘I don’t need to go to treatment,’ but then ask them, ‘Well, how long have you been dealing with this, and how is it working out?’
“Even if it’s just once, they don’t want to be a statistic, usually when they’re coming [to treatment] they’re thinking oh my God, I’m not a junkie, I don’t shoot up. That’s not me. At the end of the day, an opiate is an opiate.
What I tell people, even if you’re not going to learn anything, it gives you time. Go, check in. Even if you don’t want to be here, just give it a few days. Time does heal all. Your brain and your mind need this clarity to get off it permanently.”
4) Teach Them How to Cope with High Stress Emotions
As we mentioned earlier, self medication and addiction typically stems from an inability to cope with high stress emotions- that’s a critical facet in cognitive behavioral therapy. We can help at home by teaching our little ones cope with their depressions, anxieties, and feelings of inadequacy. (Check out How to Cope with Addiction by Using the Arts.) Dr. Dahan helps recovering users learn how to better address the feelings precipitating addiction and self harm,
“Some coping skills for some people can be the gym, whereas some others can be as simple as listening to music, or going for a walk.”
See? Easy! Espoused with our other tips, teaching your teen how to effectively do something else, anything else, can be as simple as delving into whatever it is they love. My generation seems to have a propensity for video games. And I won’t lie, I lost almost a year if my life to an online MMO, Rift, while I was dealing with insatiable depression after a breakup with my boyfriend of five years.
I’ll be the first to say, immersing myself in virtual reality helped me avoid what I really needed to address. The lesson to take-away here is that diversion without healthy outlets of expression to address depression, or other factors (such as self harm), creates other instances of addiction- or negation.
That’s not healthy.
It’s critical to implement healthy communication, getting outside, and actually confronting whatever’s going on in therapy to truly heal.
I wasn’t healing. I was running.
What do you do when you’re stressed? Sometimes deep breathing can make the world of difference. And there’s science behind it. According to Health Land from Time, deep breathing calms “the nervous system, [increases] focuses and [reduces] stress.”
Coping doesn’t have to be one set thing; try painting, writing, bike riding, take a pottery class- anything that gets them active and moving. Which brings me to my next point:
5) Explore New Activities
The world is your classroom! That’s a bad analogy if you hated school. Think of the world as doors to immeasurable possibilities that you can step through at any time, with the right direction.
Want to be a master writer?
Enroll into a writing course, or workshop at a university. (And yes, you can enroll as non-matriculating, or non-degree seeking if you so please.) Want to be the next greatest makeup artist? Go to a makeup artist convention!
Want to get into acting? YouTube and the Vine has helped connect agents with undiscovered talents from all over. It doesn’t matter what your child does, as long as they’re doing it, Your job is to help them find the things that sing to them!
As parents we’re able to see into the heart of things, and although sometimes we miss the mark- because little ones with disorders they’d rather us not know about, are good at hiding it- we strike somewhere along the right lines.
Discovering new horizons can be as easy as finally going to those national parks you’ve never been to, even though you live 20 minutes away from them! Museums can inspire interest in history, and even provoke creation of historical literature or period pieces in way of art!
If you’re rolling your eyes right now, because you’re thinking, “Who the heck wants to go to a museum or take a class while struggling with depression? Who the hell cares?”
I’ve got some surprising news for you: improving one’s working memory and strengthening cognition ability is essential in overcoming addiction and can ultimately prevent relapse. So yes, do go for stimulating new adventures. Do challenge your young adults to reach their full potential.
And if they fall, that’s what you’re here for.
6) Improve Working Memory & Begin Cognition Therapy
A bit ago I wrote briefly about “Improving your Working Memory is the Key to Avoiding Drug and Alcohol Addiction.” To summarize, The University of Oregon’s researchers have found weakened working memory equates to diminished resistance to drug and alcohol use.
Ultimately this translates into users of drugs and alcohol being more impulsive, and engaging in dangerous behavior- like escaping in drugs and cutting. As parents, how can we improve our teens’ working memories?
What about our own working memories? (Addiction is genetic afterall!)
The answer isn’t as clear cut as we’d like it to be. According to Brain Facts, the keys to improving working memory lie within
- Brain Training (Yes!)
- Medication (Let’s not do that one. . .)
- Brain Stimulation (Yes!)
Now trips to national parks and museums don’t seem as farfetched, right?
The nitty gritty of improving working memory and cognition is beyond the scope of this post, but perhaps we’ll revisit it in more depth later. Essentially, what you need to know is that stimulating your loved one’s cognition is key to helping them overcome addiction. In fact, reading literary fiction has proven to help people overcome addiction.
Yes, I am one of those people who will happily spend their entire paycheck at the bookstore with no regrets. And guess what? It helps.
Going back to discovering new activities and immersing your loved ones in things they’re passionate about, reading is one of the best things to get lost in. Reading helps improve empathy- thereby translating into social skills and increased cognition, under the right circumstances.
But what can you do for them?
Try starting a series together- perhaps one that addresses addiction or self harm.
PLEASE BE WARNED: Stimuli revolving around addiction and self harm may result in relapse. It’s imperative to implement all of the steps outlined, especially with professional help, or this may be dangerous. Always follow the advice of your addiction specialist- and if you’re not sure if this will be harmful or not, just ask- or pick a book that doesn’t mention addiction at all.
I know from personal experience, any mention, image, or written memoirs of cutters was enough to dredge up old memories and increase my inclination to cut- so while I want to continue learning from my past mistakes, and examining those wounds, it’s not a good idea for me to binge read 10 personal stories from cutters, unless I am in an environment where it is safe for me to do so- and learn from what I am exposing myself to.
The ultimate aim of improving cognition is to learn. The goals of therapy is to learn how one can control their impulses for abuse. If we’re doing things without deriving value from it, or we’re not progressing recovery for our loved ones, you may want to consider reevaluating what it is you and your mini me hope to accomplish.
7) Look to Eastern Medicine, Too
Don’t stop at Westernized medicine- but don’t knock it either! If you don’t know, medically assisted drug treatment is imperative to transitioning from chronic addiction to sobriety. But if you neglect to address the spiritual aspects of recovery, you’re not painting with all the colors!
Your loved one may not understand achieving holistic health and spiritual wellbeing is essential for recovery, but as long you know, you can help guide them along- kicking and screaming, if you must.
Meditation has become popularized so much so that some people don’t even think it’s strange anymore. Meditation helps to center oneself, and forces us to honestly reflect on our actions and behaviors. Guided meditations can even serve as mini therapy sessions, and overcome the barriers erected in our own self preservation.
But what if you’re not a meditation master?
Going back to trying new things, you and your loved one can try meditation classes! In fact, there are many books, guided CDs, and even YouTube videos that can help get you started on your path to meditating glory. You may also want to consider chakra alignment, or crystal healing- knowledge attainable through both reading and the internet!
Chakra alignment is said to help balance both the physical with the psychological aspects of equilibrium and wholeness. Eastern medicine does not necessarily have to have a religious bent, but it can if that resonates with your loved one. Whatever works.
Those who shun, or are less receptive to treatment centered around God, holistic healing can help them achieve the spirituality ascribed to remedying addiction and psychological distress, without divine influence. This makes holistic healing more approachable and accessible to some.
8) Sometimes You Don’t Have to Say Anything, Just be There
In our fumbling efforts to help our loved ones through the perils of addiction and self harm- especially when we have no idea where to turn, sometimes it’s helpful to just stop.
Our own anxieties can rub off on the ones we want to safeguard from them. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Just be there. In all honesty, some of the most balming time I’ve spent with my parents after a huge freakout, or relapse- was just sitting with them. I didn’t have to think, I didn’t have to justify my actions, I didn’t have to explain. They were just there with me.
Sometimes silence is the best balm. It’s hard to cry, or open up when you’re being questioned- because your immediate response is to shut down. When you’re just sitting with your loved one, your child, your teen- whatever- it allows them to feel without filter.
Sometimes our “ahah” moments happens in complete silence, when the people you love are sitting there with you. You don’t have to be overbearing or encouraging. Know that your presence is more powerful than you think.
And yes, even if your mini me is always telling you to go away, it helps. They may think that’s what they want, but that’s because it’s hard not to peer into our own heart when mommy’s around.
9) Understand the Anxiety of Withdrawal, Be Encouraging
You may or may not be surprised to learn the fear of going through withdrawal is what keeps many away from getting professional help. During withdrawal the body rebels against being without its substance of choice it has become dependent to. Withdrawal symptoms and severity is dependant upon the substance abused, and severity of addiction.
Withdrawal is absolutely necessary to recover from addiction- but so many refuse to seek treatment because of the agony often attributed to the process. Dr. Vasquez-Cotella says,
“A huge reason why people relapse is because they don’t want to go through withdrawal. You have to think about it this way: did I get over it? Did I die?
Think about your first breakup. You think you’re never going to get over it. It’s the same with withdrawal. You think you’ll never get over it, but you will.
You just have to think ‘I’ve been through so much more, so what do I have to be scared of?’”
But what can you do?
If the obstacle is trying to help your loved one overcome the anxiety of going through withdrawal, the best thing you can do is to remedy their anxieties beforehand, to make the process of getting addiction attainable, now.
The longer addiction festers, the more difficult rehabilitation becomes, especially for teens and young adults. There are many books available on overcoming withdrawal, and exploring the recovery process altogether. If you want literary perspectives, I recommend Writing on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction.
You can begin allaying anxieties by going to group sessions with your loved one. Meetings like AA and NA can be empowering, and instil a sense of community. Hearing from active recoverers will give your loved one a perspective you may be unable to share with them.
What to Do Now
Now that you’ve read through our life saving tips, get up and get out there! Sign up for those classes and pick out a series or book you think your loved one will enjoy. Call us immediately for more information about the best personalized addiction treatment plans, today!
Remember: it only takes one time to overdose.
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.