How to Help a Child With Drug Addiction

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 | By JP Emerald Coast

how to help your child with a drug addiction

Drug addiction has long been a problem in children under the age of 18. Children tend to get exposed to drugs in middle school or high school, if not earlier at home. Unfortunately, children are much more vulnerable to abuse drugs to the point of addiction because their decision-making skills, rational thinking, and self-control are still developing at this time. A child who develops a drug addiction can be difficult to talk to, understand, and/or relate to. If your child is addicted to drugs, this is an all-too-familiar description of what life can be like when addiction is occurring in your home. Thankfully, you do not need to accept your child’s drug addiction for what it is. There are several things that you can do to help them get through this difficult time in their lives and on the path to recovery. 

Ways to Help a Child With Drug Addiction

A parent never wishes for their son or daughter to have anything but a happy, healthy life. So when your child develops an addiction to drugs, it can be completely devastating. Of course, raising children never comes without challenge, but a challenge of this magnitude is often overwhelming, confusing, and scary. However, you have more power than you think when it comes to helping your child end their active addiction. 

You can start helping your child right now by doing the following at home:

Stop enabling behaviors

It is common for parents to enable their children during their drug addiction. Mothers and fathers naturally want to take care of their children by doing things such as giving them food, shelter, money, access to transportation, and so on. But if your child is addicted to drugs, these provisions are nothing more than daily enablers for him or her to keep using. As difficult and unnatural as it may seem, ending all enabling behaviors can help end your part in the continuation in your child’s addiction. In many cases, no longer enabling an addict results in “raising the bottom”, meaning that since you are no longer supporting the addict, he or she hits rock bottom faster. And, for countless addicts, rock bottom is the point in their journey where they finally decide to seek professional help. Therefore, when you stop enabling your child, you effectively end the added comfort he or she has through your provisions, forcing a potential reach for help. 

ending enabling behaviors can end your part in your child's addiction

Protect your medications and potential paraphernalia

The vast majority of children get their drugs right from the medicine cabinets in their own home. Regardless of what medications you may be on, consider locking up your medication or putting it in a secure spot where your child cannot access them. This stops the flow of drugs to your child and protects your health at the same time. Also consider removing things from plain sight within your home that your child may be using to get physically high, like extra aluminum foil in the pantry closet, for example. 

Take all measures that prevent your belongings from becoming fuel for your child’s drug addiction.

Set boundaries

Boundaries serve as a way to protect your wellbeing while also making it clear that your drug-addicted child’s behaviors are unacceptable. Common boundaries for this particular situation can include no drug use in the house and setting an early curfew, for example. The key element of setting boundaries, however, is committing to following through with consequences if your child breaks those boundaries. Setting boundaries but not upholding them is ineffective.

Taking these actions as a means of encouraging your child to accept help can be extremely difficult. There is a probable chance that your efforts (while they may make a difference), may not be enough to stop your child’s drug addiction. This is when seeking professional help is best. Consider the following as methods of obtaining professional help:

Schedule physical exam

Call your child’s pediatrician and ask to schedule an appointment for a physical exam. If your child has already had their physical and your insurance does not cover another one, you can simply ask for an appointment to discuss their health concerns. At the appointment, the pediatrician can share information with you and your child about drug addiction, offer referrals to treatment programs in the area, and provide several other resources to help your child end their drug addiction. The pediatrician can also identify if your child has a health problem related to their drug use and help determine a care plan to treat it (in conjunction with getting professional addiction treatment).

Schedule a psychological exam

Similar to reaching out to your child’s pediatrician, you can also reach out to their therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental healthcare providers for an evaluation. If your child does not have a mental healthcare provider, now is the time to find someone who they can speak to. This type of provider can diagnose your child with the appropriate conditions (specifically substance use disorder) as well as determine the severity of their addiction. They may also be able to help diagnose any underlying mental health conditions that are co-occurring with the drug addiction, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety, etc. Like a pediatrician, your child’s mental healthcare provider can also offer referrals to treatment centers and other specialists who can offer further care.

Contact a local treatment center

In most places across the country, there are accessible addiction treatment programs. If there is a treatment center in your area, feel free to call them at any time. They are there to help people like your child. When you get in touch with them, share what is going on with your child and the concerns you have. Be ready to discuss symptoms, length of time the use has been occurring, and their past medical history. If your child is not willing to accept treatment, ask if you can bring him or her by to just talk with someone. Sometimes, easing a person into treatment can work, especially in those who are younger. If they are ready to get treatment, inquire about bed space and if they can admit your child into their program.

Reach out to an interventionist – Children are notoriously difficult when it comes to getting them to do what their parents want them to do. It is natural for a child to push back against their parents when asked or told to do something. When drug addiction is occurring, this trait becomes significantly highlighted and the pushback you receive can be intense. If you have tried other avenues and they have been either slightly successful or entirely unsuccessful, it may be time to contact an interventionist. An interventionist is a board-certified professional who can help you and your family hold an intervention on your child. The goal of an intervention is to get the addict to accept professional help. An interventionist can help you and your family members prepare for that conversation, moderate that conversation, and help you work through any rough patches along the way. Interventionists are beneficial in several ways, but they are arguably most helpful in keeping the family unified and focused on the end goal. 

During this time when you are trying to get your child the help they need, it is imperative that you take care of yourself, too. Of course, most mothers and fathers don’t even think of their own needs when their child is struggling, but neglecting your needs will only make things worse. Addiction is a family disease, so whether or not you are the one using, you will be affected by it. Relatives of an addicted loved one often grapple with emotions like anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness, desperation, and fear. It is also common for resentments to build, adding another layer of toxicity into the mix. Luckily, you can keep your side of the street clean at this time by doing any or all of the following:

  • Attend support groups — Support groups like Nar-Anon are available to attend in communities across the globe. Within these groups, you can meet with other parents, family members, and friends of people who also struggle with drug addiction. You can obtain support at these meetings, gain strength, talk about your emotions, and build a strong support system of people who understand what you are experiencing. You can also provide these benefits to others in the group, as support groups are all about taking and giving.
  • See your therapist — If you have a therapist, make sure you are seeing him or her regularly. If you need to increase the number of sessions you have per month, do so. A therapist can aid in processing your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, as well as help provide coping skills that keep you from suffering extreme stress and the effects of trauma. Also, if you have mental health problems of your own, ensuring that you tend to them at this time is critical in preventing them from being exacerbated by the effects of your child’s addiction. 
  • Let family and friends help — It is an old, outdated way of thinking to keep something as serious as a drug addiction from your loved ones. When your child is addicted to drugs, you need people to lean on more than ever. Sharing what is occurring in your lives with family and loved ones can invite that support in and allow it to continually encourage you. Additionally, power comes in numbers, meaning that you may be able to garner more support to push your child in the right direction of treatment if you have sufficient backing.

They say, “If the plane is crashing, make sure you put your oxygen mask on first.” When your child is addicted to drugs, the proverbial plane is crashing. Ensuring that you have enough oxygen to take care of him or her is vital for everyone’s survival. 

risk factors for addiction

What are the Risk Factors for Drug Addiction in Children?

Drug addiction is a disease that occurs in people of all ages — including children (or those under 18 years of age). Children face a series of different risk factors that can contribute to the development of drug addiction that are both common and closely related to their age group. 

Peer pressure

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t experienced peer pressure in one way or another. For children, peer pressure often occurs at school, during recreational activities, and/or when hanging out with friends. This stems from the personal need to be liked, wanted and accepted. And while people from every age group can experience peer pressure, children are less likely to manage that pressure in a positive way. One of the main reasons for this is immaturity, as vital behavioral and psychological elements are still developing. As a result, children who are pressured by others to experiment with drugs are much more likely to start abusing them and potentially become addicted to them.

Family history

Addiction is a disease that has deep genetic ties. Someone who has one or more family members with addiction is more likely to also develop the same disease later in life. Through genes, family members pass characteristics like impulsivity and novelty-seeking behavior down, both of which can contribute to one’s interest in experimenting with drugs. And while many people feel that drug addiction is a choice, even in children, it is often heavily rooted in how the brain is structured and what genes a person has. Some families pass down specific structural abnormalities within their brains that make others more susceptible to use, including children. Remember, addiction is a disease, so a child can be predisposed to drug abuse genetically and then experience further changes in the structure of their brains as a result of drug abuse. 

While addiction is genetic for many people, it is also something that can be environmental. Families tend to have behavioral patterns that have been passed from generation to generation. Some of these behaviors are positive, but others can be negative. Therefore, a child’s environment can play a major role in his or her addiction development. Consider the following environmental factors that are often passed down through families:

  • Violent behavior (physical violence towards family members, breaking things around the house, etc.)
  • Emotional abuse (name-calling, degrading language, manipulation tactics)
  • Sexual abuse (molestation at a young age, rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault)
  • Poverty
  • Criminal activity
  • Drug abuse

Drug addiction in children can develop because of these (and other) environmental causes, but it can also develop because of a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. 

Mental health issues

There is no doubt that children are impacted by mental illness. Children are often diagnosed with conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, and conduct disorders, to name a few. Children can certainly develop these mental illnesses on their own, however many children experience them because it has been passed down genetically. It is extremely common to see children with a mental illness have a family member with the same or similar mental illness. The effects of mental illness can be difficult to cope with for people of all ages, but it can be especially challenging for children to do. Children are not usually equipped with the skills they need to properly manage the negative aspects of a mental illness, such as frustration, anxious feelings, problems concentrating, and so on. This makes the abuse of drugs highly appealing, as children may feel that drug use can be a form of self-medicating their problems. Unfortunately, the longer the drug abuse lasts, the more likely it will turn into addiction.


It is easy to brush off the idea that kids can be stressed, especially when you are an adult who is dealing with big-time stressors. But children get stressed on a regular basis, just as adults do. That stress can come from several places, including school, work, sports, friends, etc. It is a normal reaction for children to attempt to avoid the things that make them stressed or avoid the feelings associated with being stressed, which is why they look to escape. When stress becomes too much to manage, children may utilize drugs to escape their reality.

These are just some of the risk factors for children developing a drug addiction. It is important to consider adversities as potentially having a detrimental impact on your child and increase his or her risk for turning to drugs to cope.

Signs of Drug Addiction in a Child

A child who is addicted to drugs can exhibit a variety of signs of their addiction. Children can be hard to read, especially those in their teenage years, because of hormonal changes and general immaturity. So, when trying to figure out if your child is “just being a kid” or has a more serious problem, it is important to know what to look for.

Signs of drug addiction in children can include the following:

Behavioral signs:

  • Lying of being deceitful
  • Impulsiveness
  • Social isolation
  • Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
  • Struggling academically in school
  • Skipping school 
  • Problems with friends (e.g. frequent arguments, no longer hanging out with what were once good friends, spending time with other children who get into trouble frequently)
  • Regularly blaming others for their behaviors
  • Defensiveness when asked about potential use/known use
  • Not fulfilling expected responsibilities, such as chores and attending activities or family events
  • Consistently in need of money, not using money you give them for what they asked for (e.g. asking for gas money but coming home with an empty tank and no money left)
  • Legal problems resulting in illegal behaviors
  • Disappearance of money, belongings, or medications from the home 

Emotional signs:

  • Hostility
  • Irritability 
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings, many of which may be unexpected and/or extreme
  • Increased bouts of sadness or depression
  • Being unusually high-strung 
  • Fear, panic, and/or paranoia
  • Helplessness
  • Anger 
  • Extreme euphoria 

Psychological signs:

  • Using drugs for a specific purpose (e.g. using stimulants to keep up with school work or using benzodiazepines to alleviate feelings of anxiety)
  • Feeling like they have to use in order to function
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia 
  • Confusion
  • Problems concentrating
  • Cognitive difficulties

Physical signs:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach (including stomach cramps)
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Neglect of personal hygiene practices such as brushing teeth and bathing
  • Dizziness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

While these are just some of the most common, baseline signs of drug addiction in children, some signs are determined by the type of drug he or she is addicted to. Consider the signs of the following types of drug addiction:

  • Opioids (OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, heroin, fentanyl):
    • Runny nose
    • Watery eyes
    • Sweats
    • Chills
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Constipation
    • Nodding off mid-conversation
    • Slow movements
    • Appearing lethargic
  • Stimulants (Adderall, cocaine, crack, Ritalin, meth):
    • Extreme spurts of energy
    • Euphoria
    • Talking extremely fast and/or talking a lot 
    • Being unable to sleep
    • Doing a significant amount of things within a small period of time 
    • Fast heart rate
    • Overall sense of being “hyped up”
    • Moving quickly
  • Tranquilizers  (Ambien, Librium, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Xanax)
    • Detached from their surroundings
    • Drowsiness
    • Excessive sleeping
    • Slowed movements
    • Appearing extremely relaxed
    • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
    • Impaired coordination
  • Hallucinogens (ecstasy, diphenhydramine, ayahuasca, peyote)
    • Fast heart rate
    • Aggression
    • Extreme relaxation or extreme energetic output
    • Dissociative behavior
    • Hallucinations
    • Delusions
    • Hearing voices
  • Inhalants (glue, computer cleaner, gasoline, paint)
    • Spasms
    • Chemical smells on clothing or breath
    • Delayed behavioral development
    • Hearing loss
    • Lightheadedness
    • drowsiness

Children who are addicted to drugs are also highly likely to be irresponsible with their paraphernalia, meaning that they are more susceptible to leaving things such as needles, empty bottles, spoons, pieces of burned aluminum foil, residue lines, pipes, and rolling papers around. Finding any of these in your home should serve as a sign of drug abuse, if not addiction.

Does Your Child Need Help Ending Their Active Drug Addiction? Contact JourneyPure Today.

Is your child spiraling out of control? Are you fearful that you won’t be able to help them? Contact JourneyPure right now to get in touch with a compassionate, experienced professional who can answer all your questions and hear all your concerns. 

You do not need to go through this alone, nor does your child. Call us today to learn more about how we can help.

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