Substance abuse treatment for young people is full of different philosophies. New innovations come up on a regular basis. In spite of this constant pursuit of a better way, effective substance abusetreatment for young people usually comes back to some simple techniques. Problems surrounding substance abuse treatment for adolescents include:
- a misunderstanding of the pressure young people feel
- a lack of alternatives to the drug and alcohol subculture
- failure to address the whole family
- a lack of follow-up and aftercare
- There is no perfect approach for all young people but there are some key elements a parent can look at regarding a program under consideration.
1. Who Is Being Served?
One issue often forgotten is that an adolescent does not think like an adult. An adult who has been abusing drugs and/or alcohol for several years has suffered a number of consequences . This person has to realize in a clear way the gravity of the problem and must have a depth of willingness to change that an adolescent isn’t capable of reaching. A young person needs to simply recognize the aspects of his life that have been directly harmed by drug/alcohol abuse.
2. What Is the Motivation
When reaching young people the carrot is almost always a better motivator than the stick. This isn’t to say that one must be permissive when counseling a teenager but a young person needs something to look forward to. Adults are often tricked into believing a substance abusing adolescent can be “scared straight.” Any young person abusing drugs and alcohol is desensitized to this kind of tactic. It never works.
3. It Better Be Real
One of the keys to helping teenagers with drug problems is to meet them where they are. When an adult tries to act like a teenager it comes off as non-authentic and condescending. Talk to a young person as a first class citizen. When seeking help make sure the counselor or therapist really understands adolescent substance abuse. It is very easy to mistake a drug and alcohol problem for a serious psychological disorder. If a young person is abusing drugs and alcohol the substance abuse issue has to be dealt with first.
Substance abuse allows a young person to feel accepted, provides a social outlet, and provides a coping mechanism. If recovery doesn’t involve an element of peer support, real social options, and better tools to deal with feelings the chances of it working are slim. Beware of anyone who promises quick vocational, educational, or disciplinarian solutions. Horses will not help a young person stay sober nor will massages, yoga, or diets. Recovery is not fast and easy.It takes time for an individual and a family to heal.
Teen drug abuse continues to be a tremendous problem in our country. Although the substances young people abuse change, the plague of addiction is the same as it has been for decades. No matter how people try to solve this issue it continues to grow. There is no simple answer as to why this scourge remains but there are some simple steps people can take to provide young people with some alternatives.
Remember The Angst Of Adolescence
Most young people can’t wait to become adults. In the mind of a teenager this is the time in life when there are no longer any restrictions. Unfortunately, in society today many teens are expected to act as adults before they are truly capable. Rather than adolescence being a time in life when a person can make mistakes and learn from them, in the age of “zero tolerance” and increased isolation, young people are often left to fend for themselves. At some point almost every teenager will have to face the temptation of drugs and alcohol. It is impossible to predict who will wind up with a serious problem but there are certain factors that increase the odds.
Be Available And Listen
Most of how a person views the world starts at home. Throughout childhood and adolescence other factors start to influence how someone thinks but the foundation is laid early on. In substance abuse treatment the person with a strong emotional footing is more likely to grasp a program of recovery quickly. People that grew up around a lot of dysfunction, instability, or spent very little time with positive family members will have a more difficult time connecting with basic concepts common in treatment. At this point figuring out “why” a teenager has a drug problem is far less important than having a stable and secure environment in which to heal. Most teenagers thrive on friendship, security, and (most importantly) fun. Often what they need more than anything else is to be listened to. An easy response to adolescent substance abuse doesn’t exist but society can make a difference with a shift in attitude.
August has arrived which means school has either started or is right around the corner. For familieswho are new in recovery, this can be very challenging. Some parents desperately want life to be “normal” and the newly sober young person is terrified by the idea of facing old friends and other social situations.These can be daunting circumstances for anyone to handle, much less someone trying to develop a whole new set of coping mechanisms. There is tremendous pressure on everyone. This is a good opportunity to take a longer view. Eventually the family will settle into this new way of life and everyone will be more secure. Facing a drug or alcohol abuse issue opens the door to having a healthier perspective and having a different set of priorities.
Recovery Is A Marathon
Long term recovery is contingent on an addict or alcoholic learning to live on life’s terms. This means reintegrating into “normal” life responsibilities. School, work, and healthy relationships are important for addicts and alcoholics in recovery. However, in order to have success the drug abuser must put “first things first.” This means that recovery has to be the top priority. Parents must remember that for an addict or alcoholic, drugs and alcohol are all encompassing. Substance abuse touches all areas of life. Gaining the maturity to make better life decisions takes time. Over the long haul, relationships within the family need to heal. School, work, and other important activities will fall into proper place in due time.
Some Simple Suggestions
Whether new to recovery or not, it is good to be reminded of some basic tools. Some examples include:
- Manage expectations. Everyone has expectations but it is vital to expect what a person is actually capable of doing
- Seek Outside Help. It is never a bad idea to seek advice from someone who isn’t involved in the family’s situation
- Stay On The Same Page A recovering addict needs stability. If there are conflicting messages this can lead to unnecessary insecurity
There are many other useful tools available. Finding the right support is a key element in recovery. Contact other parents or a counselor for suggestions.
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.