A common misconception is that if addicts were more aware of what they were ingesting they would be more likely to stop using. The reasoning is that this form of education would scare the drug abuser into sobriety. The problem is that addicts are either aware of what they are putting into their body and don’t care or they simply don’t care. In fact, many addicts are very well informed as to what they are using. Some have a vast pharmaceutical knowledge. In order to achieve sobriety an addict needs to have the proper motivation. No amount of education can provide this.
First Things First
Most addicts enter treatment because of external factors. The most common reasons are:
- legal consequences
- loss of employment
- being caught at school
- family intervention
More often than not an addict will say anything to get out of trouble. If this includes completing a treatment program, so be it. An addict’s willingness to change cannot be based on entrance into a program. The true test comes after a period of sobriety once the initial crisis has abated.
Recovery Is a Process
Every addict is different and some take longer to develop strong recovery tools than others. It generally takes an addict or alcoholic about 18 months to stabilize. This doesn’t mean that someone in recovery can’t reintegrate into “normal” life prior to this time. This simply illustrates there will be some challenges along the way that are directly related to learning to live sober. A person in early recovery (up to 36 months sober) needs a lot of support from family, friends, and an understanding peer group. If sobriety isn’t the addict’s top priority he or she will likely sabotage any success experienced in the beginning stages of his or her new life. Coping with life’s challenges without a chemical crutch is very challenging for any addict or alcoholic. With a strong system of support someone with addiction issues is more likely to maintain long term recovery.
Over the past several years a great deal has been reported about the opioid crisis in America. It seems everyday there is a story about a young person who possesses boundless potential succumbing to an overdose. Far too many people have fallen victim to this epidemic and many are searching for the best way to approach this deadly problem. Certainly the efforts to bolster prevention, improve treatment, and harm reduction methodology are worthwhile. Addiction impacts individuals, families, and society as a whole. In order to effectively tackle the crisis all areas must be addressed. However, one approach does not work for all facets. Some factors to consider:
- Adults are different than adolescents
- The role of a spouse of an addict is not the same as the role of the parent
- Social change is not created by good treatment
- Regarding young people, opioid abuse usually begins with alcohol and/or marijuana experimentation
Placing all addiction issues under the “opioid crisis” umbrella doesn’t repair anything. Understanding the addict, creating environmental change, and helping people find better coping mechanisms lays a foundation for transformation.
Why Do They Get High?
It is vital to remember that young people get high because they love how it feels. By the time a young person’s use progresses to the point of abusing heroin or other opioids drug education is irrelevant. Although education is a useful prevention tool and can be beneficial through treatment, an addict who is using does not care to hear about the potential destruction that can happen as the result of prolonged substance abuse.
When an addict or alcoholic enters recovery it may take a few days, or in some cases weeks, for the dust to settle. Once the initial crisis that leads an individual into treatment subsides, the challenge really begins. For the person in recovery, there can be a feeling of hopelessness due to becoming aware of the damage that has been created. For a family member or loved one, it is normal at this stage for anger to come to the surface. This is the point at which recovery tools become a high priority. Without a new manner of coping, an addict may resort to using drugs and/or alcohol again. A loved one is likely to try and control the behavior of the person in need of help. This stage of recovery is scary but with some awareness deep levels of sabotage can be averted.
Ride the Pink Cloud
When a person enters treatment everyone involved breathes a sigh of relief. Even when someone starts their sobriety reluctantly, physical abstinence usually allows for a degree of relief. Early recovery is usually the first time in a long time that a loved one, especially a parent, has had any sense of solace. This period of time is sometimes described as “the pink cloud.” This break from the insanity of addiction should be welcomed. This is also a good time to start implementing aspects of the 12 steps. Once the pink cloud subsides, it is vital to have a safety net of support. This is created by forming relationships with other people on a similar journey and by developing a basic connection with a Higher Power.
It Is a Rollercoaster
There are definitely lots of ups and downs in early sobriety. It is never a smooth ride. There is a lot to learn and many issues of which to become aware. It is not abnormal to feel a bit overwhelmed. Don’t take temporary for permanent. As scary as the journey up the hill can be, it is exhilarating to rush down hill and discover what is around the corner. If everyone involved stays engaged in a personal program there is endless joy that awaits. There will be ups and downs but the adventure will always be rewarding.
The cultural environment today is not exactly conducive to sobriety. It is extremely difficult for young people struggling with drug and alcohol problems to stay focused on recovery. Even though there is a heightened awareness with addiction issues among adults, teenagers have a hard time relating to the danger associated with drug abuse. What is confusing is that some drugs are seen as bad while others are viewed as innocuous. To an adolescent there is no such thing as an innocent drug. While society is hyper focused on opiate abuse, as it should be, marijuana and alcohol have flown under the radar. Not only is it irresponsible to convey the message that marijuana and alcohol abuse are “normal rites of passage” it is dangerous.
Adults vs. Adolescents
Marijuana advocacy has become increasingly popular. Much has been written about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization. In the context of adolescence there is nothing positive about pro-marijuana messaging. Teenagers smoke marijuana for one reason and one reason alone: TO GET HIGH. A young person isn’t smoking pot to “relax” or for pain relief. Similar to how marketing has normalized alcohol abuse, we are now at the point that marijuana use has become so socially accepted that many parents are shrugging it off as “something teenagers do”. Not all teenagers who experiment with alcohol will become alcoholics and not all teenage marijuana users will wind up drug addicts. The question to parents becomes: are you willing to take that risk with your son or daughter?
Where Does It Lead?
The fact is that the majority of adolescent heroin addicts began using marijuana long before opiates came into the picture. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances.” (NIDA: Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?) In the Insight Program the vast majority of opiate addicts admitted to using marijuana as their first drug of abuse. Many adults rationalize their child’s use of marijuana by stating that they themselves “smoked weed” in high school or college. What they fail to realize is that the pot smoked today is vastly different from what they smoked and the normalization of marijuana consumption has enabled potential addicts much more freedom to use.
What To Do
The first suggestion for any parent who is concerned with a child’s marijuana use is to have the young person evaluated by a professional. This is not an over-reaction and sends a clear message that drug abuse isn’t accepted behavior. Like any other child rearing issue change has to begin at home. Social acceptance doesn’t equal “healthy, normal, and good.” Parents succumb to peer pressure as much as teenagers. No parent should feel that just because social acceptance of marijuana has changed that they need to change their opinion. In reality there may not be a more dangerous drug for a teenager to experiment with than marijuana. Not necessarily because of the immediate danger but due to the treacherous road that lies ahead.
Anyone who has spent any time in 12 step addiction recovery meetings has at least heard a version of the term: “let go.” The actual meaning of this term can depend on either the speaker or the listener. To some, the act of letting go involves withholding affection. To others, letting go means looking the other way. Neither of these extremes has a positive effect. True letting go involves a process of clarifying priorities, learning how to respond, and expressing love positively.
The Myth Of Tough Love
Love is not always pleasant. Sometimes the act of love means taking actions the other person doesn’t like. Bishop Robert Barron says love is “truly wanting what is best for another person and then concretely doing something about it.” When a parent or loved one of an active addict or alcoholic finally says without equivocation: “We cannot continue to live this way”and offers the user a choice between getting help or leaving home they have demonstrated love and begun the process of letting go. A loving act like this is reinforced when a clear plan is laid out and followed through with. Sometimes when people try to act on tough love they do so from a place of anger and resentment. When “tough love” comes from an emotionally charged perspective, the person who needs help may only feel the animosity.
Feelings vs. Reality
The Carl Buehner quote: “They may forget what you said-but they will never forget how you made them feel” is helpful to remember when communicating with an addict. The ultimate goal is to help facilitate recovery. Addiction is a disease. Although a drug abuser can, and should, learn from consequences, he or she needs to know that help is available. Sometimes the person in need of help has a difficult time asking for it. Letting go without love can leave a person feeling lost and abandoned. Remember when letting go to do so with a spirit of love and compassion.
Drug addiction and alcoholism destroy innumerable areas of an abuser’s life. An addict will suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Despondency, anxiety, anger, and guilt are emotions regularly experienced by a drug abuser. Many substance abusers feel alone and that no one else understands what he or she is going through. Most connections with other people, especially family and friends, have been severely damaged. The idea of “sharing” with someone else or asking for help is rarely considered. However, in order to achieve recovery the suffering addict must form real and meaningful relationships with those who can help.
The first year of substance abuse recovery is a challenge for both the addict and the entire family. Not only is the recovering drug abuser trying to stay sober, there is also the challenge of mending relationships and cleaning up other areas of life. An addict’s first holiday season can also bring about new emotional demands. In particular New Year’s is known for its parties and alcohol fueled revelry. It is important to find ways to replace all that is being “missed” at this time of the year.
What To Do?
Enthusiastic sobriety programs hold a major event on New Year’s Eve that includes meetings, games, a dance, and tons of fellowship for the entire family. It is a great opportunity for everyone who attends to start changing some of the associations with the holidays that center on drug and alcohol abuse. For a lot of families it has been a while since the new year provided hope and optimism. Having something to do that everyone can enjoy helps the process of healing for the family. Plus, it is an opportunity to make more connections with people on a similar path.
What To Think
Ending the old year and beginning the new year with an attitude of gratitude goes a long way. For a newly sober addict it is easy to look back on the year with a lot of remorse and regret. This is dangerous because if an addict is caught in self-pity the tendency is to fall into a pattern of depression. Reflection doesn’t have to be morbid. It can be an honest assessment of past events with an awareness of new emotional tools to improve one’s life. Starting the year sober gives a clear perspective on how much possibility exists. Recovery from substance abuse is truly a great opportunity for a new lease on life.
Thanksgiving is an important day for families in recovery. For many of us the holidays used to represent much of what was wrong in our lives. Addicts and alcoholics used holidays to excuse over-indulgence while family members hoped and prayed that somehow “this year will be different.” The acknowledgment of a drug or alcohol problem gives the opportunity for wounded families to begin the process of coming back together.
Every year at Insight we have the Gratitude Meeting the night before Thanksgiving. This tradition has been a significant part of enthusiastic sobriety programs for over 40 years. It is the one meeting a year that the entire family is together in the same room. Young addicts and alcoholics, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and any other significant family members participate. There is nothing like seeing families express gratitude in a real and meaningful way. For many, this is the first time in a long time, if not ever, communication has been this real and honest. It can be an inspiration for long term sobriety and family health. If you are in Greensboro, Charlotte, or Atlanta I would highly recommend attending this important meeting. It could make a difference for you and your family on this very important holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!
It is common for parents of kids with substance abuse problems to believe they are somehow at fault. These parents convince themselves that if certain circumstances were different, or if other decisions had been made, that somehow their child would not have a drug problem. It may be true that some parenting techniques or childhood events may have contributed to emotional factors that predispose someone to a drug or alcohol problem. However, when a young person chooses to use for the first time that decision is almost always motivated by peer acceptance and a desire to have fun.
Not What You Think
On a regular basis I challenge parents to think about their motivation to do certain things when they were teenagers. Whether they drank alcohol or used drugs is irrelevant; most young people find ways to rebel. Almost everyone who is asked admits that even though they may have been taking actions that would be construed as defiant, they weren’t thinking about their parents when deciding to cross the line. Not everyone who grows up in a difficult environment develops a substance abuse problem and not everyone with a substance abuse problem has reason to blame his or her family. I grew up with an alcoholic parent. I often explain to people that this was the greatest form of prevention I could have been exposed to. Living with an alcoholic is horrible. However, when a group of kids who I thought were cool gave me the opportunity, I drank. In spite of everything I knew about the consequences of alcohol abuse, I drank. This developed into a serious drug and alcohol problem for which I needed a lot of help.
Get Help For The Right Stuff
I understand why my parents felt guilty. In fact, I manipulated their emotions as a means to do whatever I wanted to do. But once they realized that my actions were my responsibility and let go of their guilt, recovery for me and for my family became possible. Their are certainly issues a parent needs to resolve. Any family scourged by substance abuse knows this. At the same time, there is no way to go back in time and fix past issues. Self-pity and remorse attached to past parenting blocks a person from being able to heal the relationship with the addict. There is no perfect parent and anyone can look back at the past and recognize all kinds of things that could have been done “better.” This awareness cannot change anything if the focus is not on building a better relationship today.
It is not uncommon to hear stories about “at risk youth.” The term is often used but at times misunderstood. There are so many circumstances that put young people in potentially dangerous situations that in some ways young people are “at risk” all the time. Normally, parents compare what teenagers experience today through the lens of their own life but today’s world is a very different place. Every generation has its version of “these young people just don’t get it” but in reality things have changed significantly in the past three decades.
Information Changes Everything
Access to information has radically changed the way young people react to life. In most cases this is a good thing but there are exceptions. For teenagers prone to drug and alcohol abuse or other forms of self-destructive acting out this can be devastating. People that get high are in constant search of justification. Now it is possible to build an army of support for any behavior without any pushback. This is extremely dangerous for young people who are suffering because if they successfully find others to validate dangerous forms of acting out, they are less likely to find help when it is really needed. A drug or alcohol abuser is an expert at showing the world what he or she wants others to see. The isolation and internal torture a young person lives with is difficult to recognize. Receiving validation from “friends” online only perpetuates the problem. This was not the case in the eighties and nineties.
Same Mindset, Different Circumstances
Teenagers are still teenagers. Anyone can understand that simple fact. Many parents of teenagers today had their own bouts with drug and alcohol abuse in high school or college. However, it is dangerous and naive to think this provides the knowledge needed to help a struggling young person. The drugs of today are different. They are far more powerful and much more available. The social acceptance for drug abuse is rampant. These facts don’t make the situation hopeless. No one needs to accept a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol or convince themselves their child is “going through a phase.” If you are concerned about someone you love, ask for help. If this is an overreaction, so be it. With a problem this serious an exaggerated reaction is better than waiting until it is too late.