Why you want to control your teen or young adult child when they are abusing substances and why it doesn’t work

I often wonder where the perception of control comes from or why we think we should be able to control other people.

When my daughter started abusing substances and I couldn’t control her behavior or get her to change it, I felt like I was failing as a mother.

Why couldn’t I figure out how to fix (control) the situation?

The more I tried to control her, the more she did to escape my control. 

It was a battle I couldn’t win. 

Sometimes I received advice about how to control my daughter from people who had good intentions, but no idea what dealing with a teen who is abusing substances is like.

The advice was usually something like my friend Sally has a cousin who has an uncle that did this one thing and now his daughter sings in the church choir and walks on water.   

They were under the same illusion of control I was because their friend’s cousin’s uncle’s daughter that now sings in the church choir and walks on water was choosing to allow her parents to control her.

It looked like they had control, but they didn’t.

They weren’t the parents with all the answers. 

They were the parents whose daughter decided to change.

Each teen/young adult is different though and what works on one won’t work on another.

If you have a teen that refuses to be controlled, you know what I’m talking about. 

I tried everything. 

Nice conversations, loving support, trying to understand and compromise, forcing her to participate in a sport, grounding, no phone, no computer, no bedroom door, no car, written behavior contracts to earn back privileges and probably a few more things I can’t remember. 

The result was always her running away from home. 

That’s what she could control

Every time she ran away, I felt even more powerless. 

After nearly losing my mind in the battle for control, I learned to accept that me and my experience of my daughter’s substance abuse were the only things I could control

I thought I had control over my daughter before she started abusing substances because she was choosing to do the things I asked of her.

It seemed like control to me, but it wasn’t. 

The more I grasped at controlling her life, the more I lost control of her and my own life as well.

I wanted to control my daughter because I thought if she did what I wanted her to, I would get to feel like everything was going to be OK again.

I would be able to breathe again. 

I could smile and feel lighthearted again. 

I could stop worrying about her future (so much).

She’s not the one who changed though, I did. 

No matter what she was doing, I had to learn to be OK, breathe, smile and feel lighthearted, and have faith in her future.   

I had to learn how to manage my thoughts and feelings about having a child who was abusing substances and refusing to make changes. 

Tolerating my discomfort and pain about what she was choosing to do with her life is a skill I had to develop.   

I managed my thoughts and feelings by focusing on me and my life.

I educated myself about addiction and I reached out to get support for me. 

I learned to set proper boundaries.

It took time and effort for me to figure it all out.

Those skills served me in every area of my life.  

Skills I may not have learned if it wasn’t for my daughter’s substance abuse.


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