Growing up can be a tough challenge for most adolescents, but when their parents are abusing alcohol or drugs, the obstacles can seem overwhelming. Nearly 8 million children under age 18 live with a parent who is abusing or addicted to alcohol or drugs. That is over 1 out of every 10 children in the U.S.!
So what's the best way to help a teen who's grappling with the problem of parental addiction?
These kids need our help, and perhaps the first step in helping is simply to listen. Let the teenager talk it out, then take appropriate steps, such as reporting physical or emotional abuse, or contacting a family friend who might be able to intervene with the parents.
Here are a few suggestions on ways to help teenagers with addicted parents:
Discuss the problem. Talk with the teenager who is affected by it, then take appropriate steps. If the child is being physically or emotionally abused, report it to child-protection authorities. If the addicted parent or parents will listen to you, recommend substance-abuse counseling.
Contact someone who can intervene. One helpful approach is to look for a relative or friend (of the teenager) who has some influence with the parents, then ask him or her to intervene.
Suggest a support group. The good news for teens struggling with this problem is that support groups are out there. Alateen, for example, offers guidance, support, and regular meetings at which adolescents can share their painful feelings.
Give the teen a list of phone numbers to call for help. The list might include the school guidance office and a government or volunteer agency that assists troubled families. Include your own phone number if you feel comfortable doing so.