When your child lives with a mental health or substance abuse problem, you are undoubtedly worried about their well-being, but you might not know how or when to help. Maybe you doubt yourself, worried that you’re overreacting in response to behavior that is just a phase, or represents normal teenage experimentation. If your teen’s mental health continues to deteriorate, it may be time to stage an intervention. Below, learn what it’s time to hold an intervention, as well as how to do so in the most effective manner possible.
Signs It’s Time to Step In
It’s not always easy to know when to step in on behalf of a teenager who shows signs of a mental health disorder or an addiction. On the one hand, they may be simply showing signs of teenage angst, and intervening will make them feel smothered, so they pull away from you completely. On the other hand, when a teen has a legitimate mental health condition, or they meet the criteria for a clinical addiction, they likely need professional treatment.
So, when is it time to step in and offer help for mental health and/or substance abuse? The following signs can indicate a problem that requires professional intervention:
- Your teen begins to lose interest in their normal activities, such as sports or hobbies.
- Your teen is having difficulty sustaining relationships with friends, peers, and family members, or they’re having frequent conflict with important people in their life.
- School has become an afterthought, or your teen is beginning to skip classes or earn failing grades because of mental health and/or substance misuse.
- Your teen is engaging in dangerous activities, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Your teen is spending a significant amount of time using drugs or alcohol, or they are giving up all other activities in favor of substance use.
- Their physical health is beginning to suffer because of drug or alcohol use, or they are failing to take care of themselves.
- They experience withdrawal side effects when not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- They make statements threatening self-harm, or they tell you that they think about death or dying.
- You notice sudden changes in your teen’s behavior or personality, and these changes persist.
- Your teen is showing aggressive behavior, such as outbursts of anger, that are uncharacteristic for them.
If your teen has developed an addiction, a professional will diagnose them with a substance use disorder, which is the clinical term for an addiction. A substance use disorder is a legitimate medical condition that requires treatment, because repeated misuse of substances leads to changes in the brain, which make it difficult for a person to stop using the substance, even when it causes serious consequences.
It is common for people who have substance use disorders to also have a mental health condition, and vice versa. If your teen shows signs of addiction, they may also struggle with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder. When a person has both an addiction and a mental health disorder, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
Regardless of whether your teen has an addiction, a mental health condition, or both, if they show signs of a disorder, and it’s beginning to interfere with daily functioning and safety, it’s important to reach out for help.
Staging the Intervention: Pros and Cons
If you’re concerned about your teen and feel that they would benefit from professional treatment, staging an intervention is one strategy that can connect them to the help they need. An intervention is a meeting in which concerned family members, and sometimes friends, come together to confront the person about their addiction or mental health disorder, and encourage them to seek treatment.
Such a meeting can come with both pros and cons, which are outlined in more detail below.
Pros of an Intervention
Holding an intervention with your teen can come with the following advantages:
- They’ll get connected to treatment: The ultimate goal of an intervention is to convince a person that it’s time to seek treatment. When you confront your teen about your concerns, they may be motivated to seek treatment, especially if you give an ultimatum. For instance, you might tell them that you will no longer give them money, or allow them to use their car, if they do not seek treatment.
- There’s less opportunity for denial: When you casually mention your concerns to your teen, it’s easy for them to blow you off or deny that there’s even a problem, but when you hold a formal meeting with other family members and friends, they likely won’t be able to minimize the problem, especially if you come prepared.
- You’ll feel satisfied that you took action: When your teen struggles with a mental health disorder or an addiction, you can’t simply sit back and do nothing, especially if they’re in danger. Staging an intervention is one way of taking action to ensure their well-being.
Cons of an Intervention
While an intervention can be a starting point for a person to enter into treatment, it does not always go as planned. Some potential drawbacks of an intervention include:
- Anger: If you sit down with family members to confront your teen, they may feel angry. They could view the meeting as an attack or a betrayal of trust, which can lead to an angry outburst, or even refusal to participate.
- Increased resistance: A teenager who is establishing their independence may not want to be told what to do, or forced into treatment. Sometimes, the coercive nature of an intervention can cause even more rebellion, leading your teen to resist treatment altogether.
- Lack of follow-through: It’s common for an intervention to be a last resort, during which concerned loved ones come together to convince a person to seek treatment. If the person refuses, loved ones come prepared with ultimatums and consequences. In some cases, people may fail to follow through on their stated consequences if the teen refuses treatment, which can cause the problem to worsen.
How to Effectively Stage an Intervention
An intervention can come with both pros and cons, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success. If you’re considering holding an intervention with your teen, the following pointers can help you to be more effective:
- Make a plan in advance. This means deciding what you will say, and what consequences your teen will have if they do not agree to seek treatment.
- Approach your teen at a time when they are calm and do not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Express your concern to your teen, and be prepared to provide them with specific examples of things that worry you, as well as specific ways that their addiction or mental health has affected them or the family.
- Make arrangements for treatment prior to the meeting. This means locating a facility where your teen can go for treatment. You could even call a treatment center to schedule an initial appointment at the conclusion of the intervention.
- If you give an ultimatum, such as telling your teen they will no longer have access to their car if they don’t agree to go to addiction treatment, stick to it. Even if they initially refuse treatment, the consequences of not accepting help may eventually convince them to accept treatment.
Mission Harbor Behavioral Health provides outpatient mental health services for teens and families in the Southern California area. We have offices in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we invite families to participate in their teen’s treatment process, with parent support groups and weekly family therapy. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to complete the treatment process.