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Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

Supporting Your Child in Recovery

Recovery is a journey filled with challenges. For many youth, recovery means developing a new lifestyle with new friends, new activities, and new attitudes.

This can be a scary time. You might wonder if your child can stay away from substances and keep up the new lifestyle changes they’ve made. You may also feel nervous about letting your child make decisions and trust them to make healthy choices. These are normal feelings.

Many people feel a bit afraid when change happens and don’t know what the change will bring. Supporting your child during this time can be hard. But your child needs your love and support to keep up these changes.

Dealing with change

Your child’s recovery is a time of learning for you and your family. Substance use problems affect everyone in the family, and everyone has learned ways to cope. Now that your child is in recovery, change is new and everyone needs to learn new ways to deal with it.

Instead of asking yourself “Has my child been using?”, ask “Is my child doing what’s expected at home?”. This will help you focus more on the role of your child in the family, not their past use of substances. Look at your child’s overall behavior. Are they coming home on time? Are they going to school and getting decent grades?

Pay attention to how you react and cope

It’s normal to forget that changes have been made and treat your child like you did when they were using substances. React to how your child is behaving right now and not to how they behaved in the past. If they break a rule, don’t bring up what happened before.

Because your child may have done hurtful things, it’s helpful to let go of old grudges (the hurt and disappointment you feel from something that has happened in the past). Choose to forgive and start fresh.

Find a healthy way to express your feelings. Remember, if you want your child to be responsible for their behavior, show them you are responsible for yours. This is a great way for your child to see what you want and expect of their behaviour.

Focus on positive changes

In the early part of recovery, some people feel discouraged. They may feel like they’ve worked so hard and still have so far to go. It will get easier.

Encourage your child to look at how far they’ve come and not how far they still have to go. Small, positive steps and choices can help your child live a better and more balanced life.

Ask your child questions to help them focus on positive changes, such as:

  • What lifestyle changes will help you stay away from using substances?
  • How has your life changed since you’ve stopped using substances?
  • What are some good things about not using substances?
  • What changes do you still have to make?
  • What are some of your goals right now?
  • What small steps can you take toward your goals that you can measure and are realistic?

Support your child as they find new ways to cope with their feelings

Let your child know that you understand they’ll have many different feelings, especially early in recovery. Help your child find other ways to cope with feelings instead of using substances. Let them know that it’s okay to have these feelings, but it’s important to find a healthy way to express them. Remember, recovery can be lonely. It’s important for your child to find other activities such as music, sports, or reading that they enjoy. You can help them find healthy activities.

Take every chance to let your child know you’re on their side. Ask your child what you can do to help them. Balance this with your responsibilities as a parent.

Give yourself time to make decisions

You often have to make hard decisions. When you’re concerned about your child, you may worry that you’ll doubt these decisions later. Let your child know that you’ll think about what they’ve said or asked of you.

Get support

Change can be really hard. Encourage your child and other family members to go to a support group. Remember, you can give support, but you can’t force recovery. Family counselling can help everyone cope with change and learn new ways to react.

More information

Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:

  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program (PChAD)

For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811.

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