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Parental Factors in Adolescent Substance Use
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In the last section, we discussed the four kinds of power plays used by chemically addicted teenagers: the avoider, blamer, controller, and protector power plays. We also discussed the 5 Steps to Anger Deflection exercise.
In this section, we will discuss the three types of enablers to chemically addicted teens, and the patterns in which they react to problems caused by the addiction.
As you know, enablers are people who react to chemically dependent persons in ways that shield them from experiencing the harmful consequences of their drug abuse. They take responsibility for and try to control the dependent teen’s feelings, behaviors, and choices. In my experience, the parents of chemically addicted teens can be grouped into three different kinds of enablers, who react based on different primary emotions.
Three Types of Parental Enablers
♦ #1 - Provoker
I have found, the first type of parental enabler of an addicted teen is the provoker. Provokers react out of anger and fear. As you are well aware, parents usually become angry at their children because of how much they care about them. Some parents try to control their teenagers to avoid seeing them get hurt, and as you are aware, these parents find it hard to let go and allow their teens to make mistakes.
Provoker behaviors include shouting, coaxing, nagging, judging, threatening, put-downs, and may even include physical behaviors such as hitting and pushing. As you are aware, other provoker behaviors may include reading the teen’s journals or letters, listening in on phone calls, setting unreasonable and unrealistic rules, punishing without giving choices, and choosing friends for the teen.
Ben’s mother, Anne, was so concerned about Ben’s drinking that she began putting on a wig and following him around town in her neighbor’s car when he went out. Ben told me, "I knew she was following me all along, so I used to lead her around, you know, like go in the back door and out the front so she’d think I was up to something." I have found that provokers tend to overreact, and may threaten so often and come so close to the point of physical abuse that they begin to feel guilty, then back off and try to make amends, thus becoming rescuers.
♦ #2 - Rescuer
The second type of parental enabler is the rescuer. Rescuers react out of guilt, usually after they have overreacted to their teen’s behavior in a way that made them feel bad. As you know, typical rescuer behaviors include being inconsistent with consequences, giving ‘one more chance’, writing excuses for school when the teen has a hangover, paying DWI or MIP fines, paying the cost of vandalism or shoplifting crimes, or letting the teen get away without doing homework assignments.
Darryl, a 56-year-old minister, had bailed his 17-year-old son Steven out of jail 6 times after arrests for minor in possession. Each time Steven had been arrested, Darryl paid the fine and brought his son home to save his congregation the embarrassment. As you are aware, the rescuer ends up doing things for the chemically addicted teen.
As you may have experienced, the teen usually takes advantage of this style of enabling by breaking rules or behaving irresponsibly, for example, refusing to do chores or chronically getting speeding tickets. Parents who are rescuers often start feeling like they have been ‘had’. They then may become the third type of enabler, the victim.
♦ #3 - Victims
In addition to provokers and rescuers, victims react out of hurt feelings. Jane, whose daughter Stephanie was addicted to alcohol, stated, "I can’t understand it! I go out of my way to help Stephanie, and all I’ve gotten in return is her yelling at me and calling me names, telling me I don’t get it. She won’t do a thing around the house, she never thanks me… I feel hurt!"
As you are aware, victim behaviors include feeling sorry for oneself, complaining to a spouse or friend, feeling like a martyr, becoming isolated from or fighting with one’s partner, putting more demands on the nonaddicted members of the family, regretting ever have any children, and possibly making plans to ‘get even’.
I find that parents can move back and forth among these three types of enabling. The victim can move from feeling hurt into feeling angry, becoming the provoker, and start the cycle over again. As you know, teenagers who are chemically addicted are pros at pushing the buttons to keep the cycle going. I find that the more parents feel themselves responsible for their teen’s behavior, the more they feel they can control the teen’s choices, feelings, and actions, and the more they automatically assume these three enabling roles.
♦ "I am Loved" Technique
Since Jane was struggling with feeling hurt by her daughter Jane’s behavior, I suggested the "I am loved" meditation exercise to her. I explained to Jane that when she was feeling particularly hurt by or upset with Jane, she should go to her bedroom or a comfortable space, and ask herself who of all the people in her life had seen her true needs most clearly, and cared enough to fully meet those needs.
I encouraged Jane to take as much time as she needed to come up with this individual, then to get a clear picture of him or her in her mind. Jane decided that she would pick her Aunt Nancy, who had always been able to say the right thing when she felt bad as a little girl.
Next, I explained that Jane should let herself feel enveloped by the love her Aunt had given her, and think about how special and cared for she had felt. I told Jane that she should stay in the loving, safe space she had created until she felt calm and peaceful, and that she could use this same meditation technique any time Jane’s behavior was making her feel hurt and unappreciated.
In this section, we have discussed the three types of parental enabler for a chemically addicted teen. These are the provoker, the rescuer, and the victim.
In the next section, we will discuss the four steps parents of teenage addicts can take to get support for themselves. These are learning about chemical dependence, joining a support group for parents, making time for personal needs, and gathering information on the teen’s behavior.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Abar, C. C., Jackson, K. M., & Wood, M. (2014). Reciprocal relations between perceived parental knowledge and adolescent substance use and delinquency: The moderating role of parent–teen relationship quality. Developmental Psychology, 50(9), 2176–2187.
Bray, J. H., Adams, G. J., Getz, J. G., & Stovall, T. (2001). Interactive effects of individuation, family factors, and stress on adolescent alcohol use. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(4), 436–449.
Miller, S. M., Siegel, J. T., Hohman, Z., & Crano, W. D. (2013). Factors mediating the association of the recency of parent’s marijuana use and their adolescent children’s subsequent initiation. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 848–853.
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