What to Do If My Teen is in Denial

4. May 2016

It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to understand addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Before we accumulated research on addiction and made decades of observations, addiction was widely believed to be a moral affliction. In fact, people who developed problematic consumption behaviors were considered bad people who were weak in character and lacking in a relationship with God. As a result, many of these individuals were imprisoned or confined in mental institutions, which was meant to force them into sobriety while the fear of any additional punishment would encourage them to remain abstinent; however, that’s not exactly how it worked.

Instead, people who’d been punished for their indiscretions quickly returned to substance abuse upon regaining their freedom. Despite being completely aware of the consequences that were awaiting them, they defied logic and reason to continue abusing alcohol or drugs.

So what’s the takeaway here? It’s important to note that becoming an addict causes functional and even structural changes in the brain, which results in a person’s being less and less in control of his or her own behavior. More specifically, an addict is increasingly able to talk him or herself into pursuing alcohol or drugs despite the consequences. In many instances, they will also be assuring themselves that they don’t actually have a problem and that they’re in control of their own behavior, but in reality, that’s far from the truth.

The altered perception and cognition that are caused by becoming addicted to alcohol or drug is particularly concerning to the parents of teens are approaching or have reached the point of addiction. With alcohol and drugs being particularly rampant in today’s society, rates of abuse among teens are as high as ever; however, it’s not likely that a teen would “come clean” with his or her substance abuse to his or her parents for fear of repercussion. Therefore, the following will offer some insight as to why teens are in denial of their substance abuse and some tips for their parents.

Teenage Substance Abuse & Denial

Anyone who has either experienced addiction personally or had a loved one who suffered from addiction will have experienced firsthand what the drug does to one’s mind. The effects of alcohol and drugs on a person’s demeanor and behavior can be profound and occur because of how mind-altering, chemical intoxicants change the brain’s chemical levels. In particular, most of these substances cause a flood of neurochemicals in parts of the brain that are associated with reinforcement of behavior, pleasure, and memory. As alcohol and drugs become increasingly central to a person’s daily life, he or she likewise becomes increasingly desperate to sustain the unsustainable substance abuse habit.

This works much the same way for teens, but teens have the added pressure of needing to hide their indiscretions from their parents who could make it extremely difficult for them to continue their substance abuse. In fact, a recent study surveyed a number of teens, asking them whether or not they abused drugs while collecting hair samples to validate or invalidate their responses; according to the results, teens abuse drugs more than 52 times more often than they admit.

What Can Parents Do?

When parents believe that their teen or teens have been abusing alcohol or drugs, hope is not lost. As difficult a time as this might be, it’s essential that parents resist the urge to immediately confront the teen; a confrontation in this emotional state will cause the teen to be more defensive and less likely to come out of denial. As such, the following tips can be used when a teenager who has been abusing alcohol or drugs has been in denial.

Educate yourselves

In such a situation as having a teen who’s on drugs, it’s essential to become educated about substance abuse. In particular, learn about the situations that facilitate teenage substance abuse—i.e., where or from who they’re obtaining the substances, where the teen is abusing the substance, circumstances that may cause a teen to want to abuse alcohol or drugs recreationally—so that you can get a better understanding of how this occurred. When you know the answers, it’s easier to calm down and address the situation more effectively.

teens using drugs

Keep track of your suspicions

Do you remember the first moment when you thought your teen might be abusing alcohol or drugs? What was it that triggered your suspicions? It’s important to make note—either mentally or even physically on a notepad—of what has made you suspicious that your teen is abusing alcohol or drugs. In some instances, it may be little more than a “gut feeling”, but those instances are important, too. Make sure to document as many of these suspicions as possible.

Observe changes in behavior, appearance, and routine

It’s basically inevitable that a person who has begun abusing alcohol or drugs will eventually start to show some observable signs of his or her substance abuse. These signs are especially apparent to loved ones who live in the same household and can entail things like changes in clothing and style, spending less time grooming, sudden changes in routine, noticeable changes in appetite and sleep habits, increase or decrease in weight, and so on. Take a mental note of these changes and remember that such changes, especially when they’re abrupt, are almost never arbitrary; in other words, there’s some type of source.

Trust your instincts

Every parent will have times when they can just sense that their child needs something, is scared or lying, or the parent has some other type of instinctive feeling. In some cases, it’s because the parent has perceived some very subtle sign that something is amiss, but there are also many cases when there’s no explanation for the “gut feeling”. When you have the feeling that something is wrong, trust those instincts.

Have a calm, straightforward conversation with your teen

After becoming knowledgeable about alcohol and drug abuse, tallying your suspicions, noting behavioral and appearance changes, and having a gut feeling you’ve followed the clues correctly, it’s time to have a talk with your teen. Obviously, the teen will start off denying the accusation. It’s important not to become angry and take an accusatory stance. Instead, explain to your teen how you came to your conclusion, offering the compelling evidence as a means of stating your case, so to speak. Once the teen realizes that you have enough evidence for a conviction—and you’ve also shown that you’re capable of having a calm conversation—it’s likely that he or she will come out of denial. The ultimate goal is to understand why and how your teen came to be an alcohol or drug abuser, and then eliminate those factors so that they can no longer cause your teen’s substance abuse. You may also need to adjust your parenting style, perhaps becoming more strict or observing your teen more frequently if that’s necessary.

Consider contacting a professional intervention specialist

If the substance abuse has been going on for an extended period of time, it’s possible that you may need to follow the talk with your teen with an appointment with his or her primary care physician to determine whether any level of addiction treatment is necessary. Additionally, if the teen is unresponsive to your conversation and continues to deny his or her substance abuse, it’s probably a good idea to seek the help of a professional intervention specialist from Intervention Services.

Intervention Services is Here to Help You and Your Teen

If you have reason to believe your teen has been abusing alcohol or drugs, or that your teen is becoming addicted, Intervention Services are here to help. Call us toll-free at 877-478-4621 to speak with one of our intervention specialists and begin your family’s journey of healing.