When mothers and fathers are struggling with their teens using drugs or alcohol, they may select drug counseling as a solution. After the initial relief, however, comes the surprise at the level of involvement that drug counseling placed right back on their shoulders.
When a therapist is trained with a specialization to work with young adults that are using drugs or alcohol, he has one goal in mind when meeting with the parents: learn the family rules. This may take several sessions, but it’s critical for the counselor to discover what is authorized in the home (respect, compensation for chores, doors locked or unlocked) and what is not allowed (eye-rolling, substance use, failing grades). If the counselor is puzzled by the guidelines, it is likely that the teen is confused too.
Next, the counselor will ask the guardians to pinpoint and rank a couple of behaviors they wish to change. Naturally, alcohol and drug abuse among teenagers is the primary symptom, but often grades, curfew, and deferential behaviors are identified also. The list is kept short to maximize effort and success.
Finally, the counselor will need to know how the mother and father plan to “parent” the identified behaviors (design and enforce consequences). This is important because not only must the parents or guardians have a plan for the other six days their child isn’t in therapy, their influence must increase while the therapist’s influence decreases. Failure to do this can lead to the therapist turning into the “influential figure” in the family (“didn’t the therapist tell you that it is wrong for young adults to drink alcohol?”) and this will lead on to therapy turning into the punishment instead of the place for help and healing.
Leaving a session with a counselor licensed to help teens who are using drugs or alcohol may leave the mothers and fathers confused. The tough work will pay off though, and the guardians will have tools to provide them with help, help their child achieve success, and confirm their teenager no longer participates in youth drinking or substance abuse.
Dr. Kate Walker is a licensed professional counselor in the Woodlands, Texas. Her article discusses the tactics employed in treatment when dealing with youth drinking and drug abuse among teens alongside when teenagers drink alcohol.