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.
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.