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What should I do if my child has a drinking problem?

Answered by Alan Ravitz, MD, MS

Q What should I do if my child has a drinking problem?

The first step is for your child to completely stop using substances. If he has a severe physical addiction, he will need detoxification to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. But that’s just the beginning.

  • Kids have certain triggers that lead them to abuse substances. Identify your child’s triggers and remove them whenever possible. Therapy sessions with a psychologist or an addiction counselor are very helpful during this stage.
  • Turn your home into a supportive environment that is incompatible with substance abuse. Family participation is an essential part of recovery, and your child’s doctor may recommend family therapy to help you understand and effectively contribute to his efforts to change his life. Unfortunately, often parents or someone else in the family is also abusing drugs or alcohol, so the whole treatment team needs to make sure no one is providing “covert” support.
  • Help your child develop new coping mechanisms for handling stress, to prevent him from falling back on drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse specialists can help your child set goals and learn useful behavior modification techniques. Your doctor might also recommend self-help groups for kids and families with substance abuse problems. Children with coexisting psychiatric disorders should be given a treatment plan that addresses both conditions. Finally, a referral to a 12-step program can be very helpful.