When adolescents live with their parents, it is generally fairly easy to know what they are up to from day to day. It is normal for adolescents to experiment with drugs and alcohol to some degree, especially when peer pressure is involved. For parents who live with their children, it usually isn’t difficult to tell when a problem has developed. For adult children in their 20s and 30s, however, it can be more difficult to recognize a substance abuse problem. If you are worrying about your child’s drug or alcohol use, chances are there is a good reason behind your concern.
Is My Concern Justified?
It is natural for parents to worry about their children, even when they are adults. For this reason, many parents second-guess their worries. They may be concerned that their child drinks or uses drugs too much, but then in the next moment dismiss their concerns and think, “Well, it’s normal for young people to drink a lot!” It is important to remember that if you are concerned at all, then some type of behavior has likely alerted you to a problem.
Substance use disorders are serious mental health conditions. They also tend to get progressively worse over time if no help is sought. Even if you think you may be making a mountain out of a molehill, it actually might be a good thing if you’ve recognized the earliest signs of a budding addiction. Moreover, even if your concern turns out to be unjustified, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Is Addiction Serious?
Yes! It may be tempting to dismiss substance abuse as silly or excessive behavior, but substance use disorders can actually have quite serious consequences. The majority of addictions begin during adolescence. During this time, the brain is still developing. Drug and alcohol abuse at this time can therefore lead to permanent changes in the brain’s neural pathways. Substance abuse during youthful brain development can cause changes in the brain’s ability to perform a number of tasks, including:
- Managing emotions
- Impulse control
- Anticipating consequences
- Language fluency
Moreover, flooding a developing brain with drugs and alcohol can lead to stronger addictive cravings. If your adolescent was a bit excessive with alcohol when they lived at home, and you suspect they have a problem as an adult, it may be even worse than you think.
The long term risks of addiction are very serious. It doesn’t take long for an addicted individual to begin damaging their relationships with friends, family members, and other loved ones — either through isolation or overt conflict. As they come to prioritize substance abuse over all else, work performance and participation in hobbies tends to decline. Physical and mental health problems, unemployment, and even homelessness can become serious concerns. Perhaps most dangerously of all, life threatening overdoses are possible no matter how long a person has suffered from an addiction. In fact, among young people, drug overdose is the leading cause of premature death in the United States.
Risk Factors for Addiction
If you are unsure if your adult child has a substance abuse problem, it is often helpful to go over a checklist of common risk factors. Having a number of risk factors does not guarantee that a person will develop an addiction, but it does significantly increase the likelihood. Most of these risk factors boil down to two categories: biological factors and environmental factors. Common traits that people who develop substance use disorders share include:
- A family history of substance use disorders. Research shows that substance use disorders are significantly affected by genetics. If you or another family member has struggled with drug or alcohol abuse, there is an increased likelihood that your adult child will share these struggles.
- Early exposure to drugs and alcohol. The younger a person starts abusing drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. However, exposure can also mean being around family members, peers, or other loved ones who are engaging in unhealthy behaviors around alcohol or drugs.
- Mental health issues, including depression, ADHD, and anxiety. In many cases, young people turn to psychoactive substances to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol can temporarily relieve the symptoms of emotional distress associated with mental health conditions, though it tends to exacerbate these symptoms in the long run. The result can be a vicious cycle.
- Early childhood trauma. Exposure to what clinicians call “Adverse Childhood Events,” or ACEs, significantly increases the likelihood of substance abuse later on in life. These events can range from physical abuse to neglect. If your child had a rocky upbringing of any kind, they are certainly more vulnerable to the lure of drugs and alcohol.
- An addictive personality. The term “addictive personality” is often used in a colloquial manner to refer to a set of behaviors that people with addictions commonly engage in. In most cases, it means that a person struggles with impulse control in general. They may have difficulty following rules, engaging in goal-setting behavior, passing classes, holding onto jobs, or managing finances.
How Can I Help My Addicted Adult Child?
If you are concerned about your adult child’s behavior with drugs and alcohol, it is often best to speak to them directly about your worries. Keep in mind, however, that there is no guarantee that they will be 100% upfront and honest with you about their struggles. In most cases, people with substance use disorders go to great lengths to conceal their struggles — either out of shame, or with the idea that they will lose access to drugs or alcohol if others find out.
However, even if your adult child does not open up completely about their substance abuse, the fact that you voiced your concerns is still significant. First and foremost, it is a way of letting them know that you care — and that they’re not alone. If they reach a point of desperation where they are willing to seek help, they will know that you are there for them. Secondly, talking to your addicted adult child may put a crack in their armor of denial. They may still deny having a problem, but the more loved ones voice their concerns, the harder it becomes for them to avert their eyes from their substance use disorder.
Getting Help for a Child’s Addiction
Your adult child may not yet recognize their substance abuse problem. Even so, it is never too early to have resources available. It is often helpful to let them know that if they are ready to make a change, recovery options are available. In many cases, young people are not even aware that help is available at all. When they are ready to face the facts, you can point them in the right direction.
In many cases, the best recovery option for young people in a sober living home. Sober living homes are residences where individuals in recovery live together while trying to stay sober. Quality sober livings not only provide room and board, they also offer a great deal of structure and support for people in recovery, from 12-step meetings to life skills training. While sober living houses do not offer clinical addiction treatment, they are often recommended as transitional programs for people who have recently graduated from rehab. Moreover, studies on sober livings show that the peer support systems that residents develop there decrease their chances of relapsing for years afterwards.
Design for Recovery is a sober living home for men located in Mar Vista, a neighborhood in West Los Angeles. At Design for Recovery, we believe that recovering from drug and alcohol addiction means more than just abstaining from substances. It entails a commitment to a new set of core values, including responsibility, integrity, honesty, and accountability. Our sober living home is firmly rooted in the principles of the 12-steps, and we work with all residents to ensure that they get the resources they need to address any underlying issues. Every day, young men at Design for Recovery take positive steps to rebuild their lives in sobriety: enrolling in college, beginning new careers, healing damaged relationships with loved ones, and rediscovering their passions.
For a free and confidential consultation with one of our staff, contact Design for Recovery today.