Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Convincing Your Teenager to Attend Rehab

When asked, some parents might claim that they can convince their teens to go to rehab programs when they utter four important words: “Because I said so.” While teens who are forced to attend rehab might place their bodies in treatment, their hearts might remain fixed on addiction, and the behaviors that support an addiction might be firmly fixed in place. Teens like this might go right back into drinking or using drugs when their treatment programs are complete, meaning that their time spent in rehab is not as effective as it could be. Convincing a teen to attend rehab isn’t as easy as forcing a child to submit, but there are ways parents can talk to their teens and persuade them that getting help could be the best thing they’ve ever done.

Stressing Individuality

It can be difficult for teens to see the necessity of rehab when everyone they know is using drugs or drinking. Unfortunately, many teens fall into this camp. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 52 percent of high school students know of a place on or near school grounds where students get high while school is in session. When teens are surrounded by substance abuse in this fashion, the behavior seems almost natural and normal, and it’s hard for teens to see why they should be treated differently than their abusive peers.

Parents can help by reinforcing the fact that substance abuse simply isn’t allowed in the house and that some people need help in order to stop abusing their substances. People are wired differently, with different genetic backgrounds and different susceptibility levels for addiction. As a result, some teens really can’t stop abusing substances, even though they might want to do so. A teen with an addiction might be genetically different than his/her peers, and treatment for that teen might be vital.

Breaking Through Denial

Teens might vehemently deny that they have addictions, claiming that they:

  • Can stop anytime they want to
  • Don’t use as much as parents think they do
  • Can limit how much they use
  • Only use it because their friends do

It’s frustrating, but according to a study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, this kind of denial can be blamed, in part, on the brain cell damage an addiction can cause. Here, researchers found that addiction denial was strongest in people who had poor memory and other measures of brain health due to substance abuse. These people were unable to see the truth because their brains weren’t functioning at a normal capacity. Dealing with this level of denial takes patience, but parents can help by reminding the teen of the specific addiction signs they’ve seen. Evidence of drug use, including paraphernalia, arrests, fights, or physical illness is hard to deny, and they could help teens awaken to the reality and accept that they will need help in order to heal.

Showing Compassion

Teens can begin abusing substances for a variety of reasons, but some teens turn to substance abuse because they have very real mental health issues that they just don’t know how to address. For example, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found a link between depression and substance abuse, with depression always appearing before teens turned to substances. Pushing a teen like this into treatment could be frightening, as the teen might believe that treatment means a return to misery.

Teens may not know how addiction treatment works, and parents can help by sharing what they know. It might be reassuring for teens to know that addiction treatments could help them live with a mental illness and that their lives could improve with the proper type of care. Parents can also stress that they will be available, learning, and growing right alongside the teen, so the teen isn’t being punished or sent away for bad behavior. It’s a step the parents are taking in order to make the teen feel better, not worse, and this kind of loving reassurance could be just the prompt a teen needs to accept help.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug abuse treatment doesn’t need to be accepted voluntarily in order to be effective. In fact, a push from a family, an employer, or the legal system could be just the thing an addicted person needs in order to change his or her habits for good. This can be welcome news for the parents of addicted teens, as they may struggle to get their charges to do even simple tasks like cleaning their rooms and washing their clothes. Figuring out how to make these teens do something monumental like enrolling in rehab can be difficult, and in some cases, it might even be impossible. However, there are a few things parents can say, and a few things they should avoid, as they attempt to find a solution that could help their troubled children.

Focus on Motivation

If they’re asked to do so, parents could likely provide a thousand supporting reasons for a child’s entry into rehab, including:

  • Improved health
  • Better grades
  • Stable relationships
  • Mental health improvement

It’s common for parents to outline these reasons when they discuss rehab with their teens, and unfortunately, these conversations are very one-sided and not very helpful. It’s easy for teens to just tune out and refuse to change when they feel as though they’re being lectured. Deep inside, however, these teens might have a tiny bit of motivation to get sober, and questioning can help parents to seek out that motivation and increase its impact. Parents might ask their children how they think their lives might be different if they were sober, or ask their children to describe one event in which drug abuse made something worse. Parents might also ask their children to describe their life goals, and then describe how drug use could allow them to reach these goals. These questions can force a teen to think about the consequences of drug use, and it could allow them to see that rehab could make their lives just a little better.

Ask for Help

Talking with teens can be difficult, even when parents use the right techniques. Sometimes, underlying conditions are to blame. For example, according to a study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, about 75 percent of teens who use drugs have an underlying mental health issue. These teens need help, and their parents may not be able to deliver those solutions. In some cases, it’s best for parents to work with a therapist before the teen enters rehab. Teens might willingly accept a few sessions of therapy, as they think it might be easier than entering a full-blown rehab program, and the therapist might be able to continue to boost the teen’s motivation to enter rehab and perhaps give help for a mental illness at the same time. Therapists are adept at working with reluctant patients, and they can use sophisticated techniques that can break through denial and really help teens improve and get better. For some parents, asking for help is the best way to ensure that the child enters rehab with an open heart, willing to really work and improve.

At Muir Wood, we’ve placed a significant amount of information about our programs online, so parents can walk through treatment options with their children together. The more the child knows, the less likely the child will be to panic and resist the idea of wellness. We also have operators available who are willing to answer any questions a parent or a teen might have about care. Please contact us to find out more.

If you’d like to know more about how rehab works, or you need help in order to help your son enter a program and get assistance, please call us.