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Oklahomans support parents dealing with kids' addictions in person and by phone

Oklahoma City — If you're dreading the holidays because you expect your child will have too many drinks at every party, or you don't want the relatives to know about your struggles, Ann Benson wants you to know you're not alone.

“The holidays, it's an especially hard time for anyone who's struggling with these issues,” said Benson, who has a master's degree in social work.

She helps lead the Parents Helping Parents support group in Norman where parents can learn about addiction and find support from others dealing with the same issues. Parents have a tendency to isolate themselves because they fear being blamed for their children's problems, she said.

“This traditionally has been a shame-based and stigmatizing issue,” Benson said.

Parents can encourage each other to take care of their own health and to address any underlying issues that may be making a family's situation worse, Benson said.

“We all think, ‘If my daughter or my son gets help, I'll be fine,'” she said. “We're all starting to realize you can't treat substance use disorder in a vacuum.”

Some members of the group also are helping with a phone-based program for parents who don't have meetings in their part of the state or who just need more support. The program, through an agreement with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, offers parents tactics to help their children.

Oklahoma has 22 trained peer coaches. Parents who call the helpline at 855-378-4373 could be connected with one of them or with a coach in another state. Over the course of five or six calls, the coaches take parents through the Community Reinforcement and Family Training method, which attempts to get the person using substances to buy into making changes.

The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated 95 percent of the roughly 20 million people nationwide who have a substance use disorder believed they didn't need help. The method is based on the idea that many of those people aren't in denial, but are ambivalent about making changes because substance use provides some benefits, like relieving anxiety or making it easier to fit in with friends.

The peer coach encourages parents to think about why their children use drugs, and to encourage them to come up with alternative ways to meet the needs that drugs fill.

“It's really difficult to have good communication with our kids about these issues,” Benson said. “It's not about talking to them, it's about talking with them.”

The program also encourages parents to praise good behaviors, while allowing children to deal with the consequences of bad ones.

“Life can be a really important teacher,” Benson said. “We tell our kids, ‘Don't do drugs or bad things will happen,' and then they do drugs and we don't let bad things happen.”

Parents can't guarantee their children won't drink or use drugs, but they can create an environment where it's less likely, Benson said. They can model good behavior by not drinking to deal with their own emotions, prioritizing family time and encouraging teens to find healthy ways to take risks, like playing sports, she said.

“At the end of the day, it's about connectedness,” she said.

Parents Helping Parents

For general information, call 405-278-1221. For coaching on how to help your child with addiction, call 855-378-4373 (DRUGFRE) or email The helpline isn’t equipped for emergencies, so call 911 in a crisis.

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›