Adolescence and young adulthood are times when people are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and other substances. There are many factors at play in this experimentation, such as traumatic childhood experiences or other mental health issues. One factor is common to many instances of adolescents getting into drugs or alcohol: parental divorce.
The first two decades of life have a significant impact on a young person’s mental health and other health issues, including substance addiction. Researchers have found that parental divorce or separation is among the most common adverse childhood events (ACEs). ACEs, especially divorce, can increase the risk of adolescent substance abuse. Parents should educate themselves on this topic so they can decrease the risks for their children.
How Does Divorce Affect a Youth?
Children’s emotional well-being is highly dependent on the quality and consistency of the parenting they receive. Divorce means the crumbling of a previously stable marriage structure, which has implications for parenting responsibilities and the child’s stability. Young people such as teenagers and adolescents can go through confusion, sadness, disillusionment, and even anger.
Even if the divorce was amicable, these emotions can still be present. Divorce always impacts the emotional and mental health of a young person in some way. Experiencing parents get a divorce is a form of intense stress and even trauma for many young people, and it increases their risk for mental health issues. It may lead to self-medicating efforts through substance use.
What Does Divorce Bring?
Many couples fail to see their divorce as a loss or even a grieving experience for their children. They are subjected to powerful emotions associated with the loss of a stable family structure and familiarity with co-parenting. An adolescent child may express this sense of loss through agitation, anger, silence, or even indifference and numbness. If left to their own devices to deal with these things, the child may turn to drugs or alcohol as either a way to lash out or to cover up their feelings.
Divorce may also impact a young person’s academic achievements and increase behavioral problems at school. Many experience trouble sleeping or getting along with peers. Some even develop suicidal ideas or severe depressive disorders.
Grief can be consuming and stressful. Parents and educators need to observe the behavioral changes in the child who undergoes this emotional turmoil. If the child’s school has a counselor on staff, it may be a good idea for the child to see that person and let their feelings out to be validated in a safe environment. If the child continues to struggle, they may need more professional counseling.
Why Does Peer Pressure Increase Risk-Taking Tendencies?
Although most instances of parental divorce have temporal effects on youth, these moments are still critical in shaping a young person’s choices in building future relationships, such as with their peers. Sometimes, when a family’s secure foundation is rocked by a stressful divorce, an adolescent or teenager may become more invested with their friends, or seek out people who don’t have their best in mind, allowing peer influence to guide their life.
Peer socialization and support are important for the emotional development of a young person, but that peer influence can become negative peer pressure in an age group when risk-taking behaviors, including experimenting with drugs and sex, are often encouraged. Some young people use these ways as a kind of rebellion against their parents’ choice to dissolve their marriage.
How Do You Develop Strategies to Cope with Divorce?
Every family member needs to have a coping strategy in the event of parental divorce. First, there needs to be a safe space, either at home, in school, or with a professional therapist, for the young person to talk about their feelings. Most importantly, a young person needs to be guided through this difficult process. Some informed adults, either family members or educators, should accompany them and engage as much as possible with these conversations.
Many adolescents and teens tend to blame themselves for parental divorce. If you are walking alongside a young person, one way you can help them cope is by making sure they know the divorce is not their fault. Tragic as it is, a young person has limited power to change the situation. Acknowledge the pain and frustration, but encourage the child to weather the storm with some understanding of its complexity.
Sometimes getting family therapy from the onset of parental divorce might help every family member sort out their feelings in more constructive ways. Parents should not underestimate the risk of substance addiction in their teen child during the divorce process. It is when emotions don’t have an outlet that young people are more likely to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol.
Did you know that parental divorce can increase the risk of addiction for any children involved? Divorce can be a form of trauma that may bring grief and stress in a young person. Parents and educators should watch for early signs of mental health issues in the child to mitigate the risk of substance use. There are therapies and counseling techniques to guide a young person through this difficult emotional terrain. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists know how to walk alongside youth who struggle with parental divorce and its related family conflicts, especially if this has led them to experiment with drugs or alcohol. If this is the case for you or your family, consider our inpatient and outpatient programs that address addiction and its co-occurring mental health issues. Our residential facility offers a range of treatments including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and custom treatment plans. Early intervention is key. Call (866) 906-3203.