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My Teen is an Addict, Is It My Fault?

When our child is an addict, our natural reaction is to ask: Whose fault is it? Is it my fault? What did I do to cause this? Who should I, or can I, blame? In my experience, parents fall into 2 basic categories:

  1. It’s not my fault. I can’t believe I did all this for them and they messed up.
  2. This is my fault. I’m heart broken and feel so guilty. If only I would have …

For some, you have done your best to give your child a safe and loving home. You have tried to instill morals, good work ethic, provided them with a good education, and tried to role model and teach them to be Godly decision-makers. And yet, your teen is an addict.

For others, your situation might be different. You struggled a bit, maybe were/are an addict yourself. At times you or their other parent didn’t role model good skills and your decisions created a lot of stress, hardship, or even trauma in your child’s life.

Either way, the reality is you are partly at fault. We all could be better parents, me included. Life is hectic and we can make many excuses, but the bottom line is, in what we role modeled, verbally taught, and exposed them to, we could have done better? No brainer.

Am I Responsible for My Child’s Addiction?

Ok, now we’ve confessed we all made mistakes and should have been better influences on our children. It is a sad realization owning up to not being the dream and ideal parent we envisioned or hoped we’d be when our child was born. So the next question is, “Ok, I messed up and bear some fault, but am I responsible for my child’s addiction?”

The Bible is very clear we are each accountable and responsible for our own decisions, good and bad. Regardless of the great or poor parenting we provide our children, they make their own decisions. We cannot force them to love us, use drugs, or anything in between. Nor can we stop them from engaging in any of those activities. We do have significant influence when they are babies and great parenting allows that influence to be positive and continue as they grow into adulthood, while poor parenting leads to us having minimal or destructive influences on our kids’ decisions.

Regardless of what kind of parent we were, our kids make, and are responsible for, their own decisions. All of them, including their decision to be addicted.

Addiction is Caused by Many Factors

First of all, remember addictions do not discriminate. People of all races, ethnic groups, ages, upbringings, life experiences, vocations, and financial backgrounds suffer with addictions. Also remember, except in rare situations, most of you did not make your child start using drugs or alcohol or introduce them to this popular but inadequate and dysfunctional coping skill. Hopefully, you certainly don’t encourage your teen to continue using. You may never know all the causes of your child’s addiction, but if you look closely, you’ll find some contributing factors. These realizations are things that may make you uncomfortable as you contributed to some of them, but they need to be understood and addressed for the transformation process to start and move forward.

Addiction doesn’t come from out of the blue or from using a substance (alcohol or drugs, etc) or engaging in a behavior (porn, gambling, eating, etc.) just one time. Addictions evolve when a person, while experiencing some stress or issue, receives some immediate relief from a substance or behavior, then continues to turn to it for soothing or escape despite the unhealthy or dangerous effects/consequences of that substance or behavior.

The basic recipe for addictions are struggles in all 3 spheres – spirit, mind, and body –and a person’s misuse of these spheres in interpreting and responding to the memories, experiences, and situations in a person’s life. So let’s look at some of these components.

Misplaced Worship. God designed us to worship Him, and through that worship, all our needs will be met. Unfortunately, our focus easily gets diverted from worshipping our Creator to worshipping the created to meet our needs. No matter what we pursue, when we leave God out, not only will our needs not be met, but we incur loneliness, frustration, guilt, brokenness, and emptiness, let alone the consequences from the objects we pursue.

Genetics. Our genes are the blueprint for our biology, especially our brain chemistry. This biology is the raw material and hardware our psychological and spiritual spheres work with. No gene predisposes anyone to addiction, and in fact, as we talked earlier, God does genetically wire us to worship, and He designs (genes and life experiences) us for good works. Sometimes though, our genes can play into addictions by:

  1. Life events, especially psychologically harmful events, can affect our gene expression that can short circuit how the brain processes life and emotions, remembers, weighs risk and reward, and makes decisions. Compromises in any of these areas increases the probability of dysfunction and the “quick fix” of addiction to cope.
  2. The genetic wiring and biology might get misused. Example: a person with a sensitive temperament/personality is bullied or abused as a kid. Being sensitive, they have intrusive memories of those past abuses, or their radar is finely tuned to potential bullying in their environment that others don’t notice. As a result of genetically determined sensitive personality plus past abuse, mixed with present potential (or real) bullying, leads to heightened anxiety that is soothed with alcohol.

Stress and conflict. Addiction, although occasionally bringing quick relief, is a destructive coping mechanism a person uses to manage stress or conflict. These troubles can come from inside their mind or outside in the situations, or can be from the present or their past experiences that get re-opened by a present-day occurrence. The more stress and conflict a person experiences, the higher the probability of seeking a quick fix, which fuels an addiction starting or growing.

Unhappiness, uncomfortable feelings, and pain. People begin using substances as a way to soothe or escape unpleasant feelings or the pain caused by past or present hurts, losses, letdowns, abuse, neglect, relational dysfunction, or traumas. Some of the pain is from current pressures such as parental, peer, financial, academic, or extracurricular performance expectations. When these uncomfortable feelings are more than the coping skills, addictions are often born and grow.

Ineffective coping skills. Life is fast-paced with many forks in the road. A person’s life can get easily off track. Having skills to assess situations, know when you’re slightly off course, and then implementing a strategy to get back on a course to life fulfillment is essential. When we don’t have these skills, we look for shortcuts to our goal, and these are often addictions. Instead of getting us closer to our goal, addictions take us down a tortuous path and farther away from our goals. Lacking good stress or conflict management skills is a key ingredient in the recipe for disaster that is addiction. The double whammy of using addictions as a coping skill is they also hinder the development of the more healthy coping skills we need.

Believing lies. We all have many life experiences, some great, and some difficult, even traumatic. These experiences can build and strengthen us into a mature person, or they can shove us down a destructive path. The key to determining the direction we take is how we interpret that experience. Using accurate lenses (or the input of clear parents, mentors, coaches, etc.) will allow an accurate processing and interpretation, but immature or me-centered lenses allows a number of misinterpretations and thus lots of misinformation, lies, or “baggage” to be stored in our memory banks. More misinformation increases the probability addiction will occur. When lies replace truth, addiction replaces peace.

Bad influences. Bad influences are prevalent in our homes and in society. Why are they bad? Because they fill our kids minds with lies by worshipping people, appearance, power, approval, sex, sensuality, substances, extreme behaviors and push a self-centered agenda and mind-set. Do what makes you feel good. Right doesn’t exist. If you think it’s right, then it is. These are all lies and as we discussed, lies lead to dysfunction which leads to shortcuts and quick fixes like addictions.

Lack of belonging. We all want to belong. Belong to God, belong to parents, belong to a special someone in a marriage and family, belong to a community. We dress to fit in at school or wear the same uniform to belong to a team. God built us for relationship. We don’t do well with isolation or being disconnected. To me, the opposite of addiction is belonging. As a person’s island drifts or is pushed away from others, they look to connect to something and addiction becomes their trusted, old reliable friend. As relationships dwindle, they have less people to pray, encourage, or help them in the areas I described above. Beware when your child doesn’t have a sense of belonging, whether to people or activities.

Lacking spiritual insight and application. When viewing our situations, stressors, feelings, and evaluating our options, we need the clearest lenses. This is where the Biblical teachings “the truth will set you free,” or “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” or “He gives him peace whose mind is fixed on Thee.” When we have an understanding of God’s teachings and principles, and then see our situations and adversities through those lenses, it is easy to see what decisions are helpful and what are harmful.

I Messed Up!

Looking at the causes of addiction above, you as the parent might feel at least some degree of responsibility. Did you contribute to conflict in your child’s life, allow abuse or neglect to go on, or model poor coping skills? Were you at times a bad role model for your teen when it came to peers, stress, and disappointment? Did you help them interpret and process difficult experiences so truth and not lies would be in their memory banks?

What part did you play in their self-esteem and confidence and joy of life? Were you a spiritual leader and mentor for your child, teaching them about God and the Holy Bible? We are all sinful and struggle with shortcomings in life and in parenting. This doesn’t mean that your teen’s addiction is your fault. Sure you could’ve been a better influence, but your child and many others have played a part in their addiction.

So What Next?

We are at fault and they are at fault. We can sit here and blame each other till the cows come home. Or we can say, “We got a problem, how can we improve ourselves and solve it?” Instead of agonizing over who screwed up, you now need to focus on how to help your teen. What things in your life and your child’s life can you improve so they can achieve sustained recovery and transformation? Ideally, we all take an honest look, identify areas in which we struggle as parents, identify where our kids struggle in handling life and why they choose addiction to cope.

How to Change Your Lifestyle to Help Your Teen

Looking at the causes above, your goal is to address those. While in treatment or rehab, your teen will identify some of their present and past stressors and learn new skills like stress management, conflict resolution, and spirit, mind, and body renewal and transformation to cope better.

You need to also do some inventory as you look at the list of causes. The areas you struggle, you might not have an addiction, but you want to personally grow as strong as you can. Having an addicted child is draining and “contagious,” leading to dysfunction in you. So some self-care and working on yourself, whether with a professional or other resource, will be powerful and bring much hope. Obviously the spiritual focusing is the foundation for the rest of your transformation.

The great part is, your own personal growth will also help your child’s transformation. You will lessen your contribution of the causes, role model and teach better awareness and life management skills, and help them to reduce the causes and pursue the PsychoSpiritual remedies they are yearning for. By reducing stress and conflict in your lifestyle, incorporating other positive role models and healthy habits, and recognizing the benefits of Bible study, prayer, and spiritual growth yourself, you will help your child when he or she comes home from rehab.

Getting Help For Your Teen

Finally, if your child is in a Christian adolescent rehab program, you will notice a life change in them as they develop eyes that see and ears that hear the truth. The best way you can aid in your child’s recovery is to engage your own psychological and spiritual transformation so you can encourage and embrace theirs. Put your past, with all its mistakes and shortcomings, behind you. Focus on the forgiveness that our Savior Jesus offers, and learn how this can completely change your life for the better. Only through the renewal that God provides can you experience true hope, peace and joy.

Lighthouse Network offers specialized adolescent rehab with a Christian focus. We help teens and families experience the benefits of following God’s will for their life and achieving their God-given potential. Contact one of our Care Guides at 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242) to learn more and let us do the logistical work for you in finding the best fit for your child.

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