How Does Family Culture Impact Treating Adolescents & Young Adults?

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The nature versus nurture debate is fought on many fronts, including substance use by adolescents and young adults. Environment affects behavior and, therefore, family culture, which, unlike DNA, can be changed and adapted. Responsibility and consequences are crucial to help adolescents and young adults with decision-making. An adolescent or a young adult addict deflects responsibility for their own choices, blaming parents who then blame themselves. It is important for parents to own what is theirs. But on the flip side, the family’s culture needs to turn around, so they become personally responsible for their behavior. Consequences are the best way to develop a culture of personal responsibility.

Parents should be clear about what is and what is not acceptable. Drawing up a family contract puts everything in black and white with no ambiguities, so each family member knows what’s expected and what happens when responsibilities are not met. Personal responsibility is part of adolescents’ and young adults’ addiction treatment, and it shouldn’t be abandoned when they enter recovery.

Role modeling is key for recovery success in treating adolescents and young adults. Role modeling is also key. Many parents seem oblivious to the fact that they are watching them more than they are listening to them — how parents talk and cope with their own daily issues speaks louder than words. For example, a parent can remind them to process through their emotions before making a bad decision, but if they then become explosive while driving them around, they have modeled an entirely different message. When there is a disconnect, the modeled behavior rather than the instructed behavior usually prevails in their minds.

Just about every mother and father would like to see their children avoid the mistakes and pitfalls they had to work through. Every parent has made some major errors in life and wants above all to help their child circumnavigate that particular issue, especially parents with a history of addiction. 

Parents are required to warn and stay consistent on discipline, no matter what their past is. Even after a parent has moved beyond previous troubles, the effects of past experiences still ripple into the present. The parent’s own past behavior may prevent them from standing firm when an adolescent or a young adult starts to make wrong choices, feeling like a hypocrite when punishing their child for things they once did themselves. This can lend itself to a permissive atmosphere where discipline is rare. Parents can be almost dismissive about discipline because they don’t want confrontation. A better way for parents to think is that they are doing for their children what someone failed to do for them—warn and protect them.

On the other end, some parents personalize behaviors, as if adolescents and young adults wanted to wound the parent by abusing substances. These parents are the opposite of the non-confronters; they are the over-reactors. Parents of adolescents and young adults in recovery need to examine their family culture to see what changes might be needed for a more positive environment. Just like the adolescents and young adults in recovery, parents need to learn to look at the situation realistically and then come up with a positive solution.

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