Parenting Teens Who Have Addictions

Solid suggestions for parenting teens with drug or alcohol problems.

Thoughtful Advice for Parenting Teens With Addictions

Being Firm, Not Angry

Finding out that your teen is addicted to drugs is emotionally devastating. Your first reaction may be anger toward your son or daughter. After the anger, though, parents need to find the strength to parent their teen with firmness and support. Whether a teen with drug addiction or chemical dependency is living at home, at a treatment center, or in a therapeutic residential school, parents need to be proactive about the type of parenting their teen requires.

Helping vs. punishing:
Always focus on the goal which is to help your child heal. It's easy for parents to feel anger toward their teen, to be mad about their child's poor choices, and to want to punish them. However, punishing only has short-term, if any, impact. What will help them heal? Counseling? A support group? A new school? Implement changes that will help your child become the person that you always hoped they would become.

Finding the right therapist is critical. The counseling needs to support and help the teen, as well as parents and siblings. One counselor or therapist with the appropriate training and experience might be able to fulfill all the therapeutic needs. Or, there might need to be a combination of therapists and/or support groups to help the whole family. When searching for effective therapy, look for someone who will work to find the cause of your teen's addiction problems, rather than just treating the symptom, which is the drug or chemical dependency.

Build self esteem:
One of the most common issues underlying teens with drug addictions is poor self esteem. To help teens build their self image and self esteem parents should encourage participation in volunteer projects challenging activities, and exercise. Reinforce your teen's strengths. Find ways to help them laugh and have fun. Re-framing their self esteem and their view of self is important to their recovery, and also to maintaining an addiction free life.

Open, ongoing communication is particularly hard for parents when their son or daughter has compromised a multitude of societal, legal, and health issues. As in all relationships however, communication is key. Find opportunities to listen to your teen. Rather than overreacting to what they share, ask questions and listen carefully. Be cognizant as to if they need support, comfort, new ideas, or just a compassionate parent to listen. Provide opportunities for communication that is in neutral or less intense settings such as while taking a walk or participating in an activity together.

Tighter parenting:
Whatever the underlying cause for your teen's addiction problems, tighter parenting needs to be implemented so as not to enable them to continue their poor choices. If you don't have house rules for your teen, create them. They might include rules relating to chores, driving, school, homework, and curfews. If you already have house rules, they probably need to be made more explicit with details such as who, what, and when. The additional details will help to alleviate misunderstandings. Also, parents should spend time following up on all of their child's plans - checking with other parents, confirming scheduled events, etc. It might annoy your teen, but it will help keep them safe.

Let go of blame:
Parents can become immobilized through issues of self blame. "I should have talked to her more about drugs." "If only I'd been a stricter parent." "I just didn't spend enough time with him." During recovery, your child needs you to be strong and supportive. Focus on what you're doing to help, not what you might have done wrong in the past.

Parent support and self care:
Parenting any child is difficult. Parenting a teen with drug addictions or chemical dependencies can be overwhelming. Parents become emotionally drained and need to find ways to replenish themselves. Put therapeutic respite into place for your teen so that you can spend time with your spouse, work out, go to lunch, or see a movie. A strong, focused parent is needed to help support a teen that is working to overcome addiction.

Parenting your teen through the challenges of addiction will be intensely difficult for you, your teen, and the rest of your family. But with dedication and firmness, you will be surrounding them with the elements needed to help them fight their addiction.


  • by parents for parents

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2022, January 17). Parenting Teens Who Have Addictions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: January 18, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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