Teenage drug | alcohol abuse and experimentation are often viewed as something all kids do – a phase – something the teen will outgrow. But is it? And if it’s not, what should parents do?
A recent article by Samantha Chang, “Experts Slam Kathie Lee Gifford for Calling Parents of Drug Addicts Failures,” deeply concerned me. Ms. Chang quoted Kathie Lee’s statement appearing in the September 2012 issue of “Family Circle,” “I’m not a perfect mom, but my kids haven’t been arrested, in rehab or kicked out of school, so I must be doing something right!”
My first comment on the article read:
Thank you Samantha Chang! You’re conclusion sums it up perfectly, “Using Kathie Lee’s reasoning, it would be logical to conclude that her husband cheated because she was a terrible wife who was bad in bed.” The one positive is the backlash and factual information that her statement has triggered. Addiction is a brain disease. This link to content created by NIDA, NIAAA, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO, http://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/index.html, explains the disease, contributing risk factors, how it happens to some and not others, what it takes to heal the brain (treat the disease) and so much more. Again, thank you Samantha Chang!
Another reader commented on my comment and made several good points, to which I then replied:
Important points to be sure because parents do have a great deal of influence in their children’s lives. And you’re right — we are all guilty of these kinds of statements. Nonetheless they can be devastating and hurt a very important cause. In this instance, it’s the work to end the shame and stigma that surrounds the disease of addiction, which is what often keeps everyone limping along, holding onto the belief that it’s just a phase or something they’ll outgrow. It was for this reason that I took such exception to Kathie Lee’s statement – no matter how flip or rhetorical. Addiction does not discriminate based on parenting. If that were the case, significant numbers of the addicts/alcoholics with whom I work would never have become addicts/alcoholics because they had (have) wonderful, caring, engaged parents. When you meet these parents, they share a pain that’s impossible to describe. Addiction is a complicated disease and one that most people don’t fully understand. If they did, there would certainly be fewer addicts/alcoholics because what person would ever “choose” to become one? Hopefully all of these comments and shares from readers can broaden the conversations and set in motion the actions necessary to bring about what we’d all like to have happen – namely that no one’s child suffer from an addiction.
Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Experimentation – What Should Parents Do?
And so I’d like to share a wonderful resource that offers suggestions for what parents can do if they suspect (or know) their child is experimenting with, abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s from HelpGuide.org, a non-profit resource guide launched by Robert and Jeanne Segal in 1999, inspired by their belief that their daughter, Morgan’s, “tragedy could have been avoided if she had access to unbiased, reliable information that gave her a sense of hope and direction.” Quoting from HelpGuide.org’s piece, Drug Abuse and Addiction, Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse:
When your teen has a drug problem
Discovering your child uses drugs can generate fear, confusion, and anger in parents. It’s important to remain calm when confronting your teen, and only do so when everyone is sober. Explain your concerns and make it clear that your concern comes from a place of love. It’s important that your teen feels you are supportive.
Five steps parents can take:
- Lay down rules and consequences. Your teen should understand that using drugs comes with specific consequences. But don’t make hollow threats or set rules that you cannot enforce. Make sure your spouse agrees with the rules and is prepared to enforce them.
- Monitor your teen’s activity. Know where your teen goes and who he or she hangs out with. It’s also important to routinely check potential hiding places for drugs—in backpacks, between books on a shelf, in DVD cases or make-up cases, for example. Explain to your teen that this lack of privacy is a consequence of him or her having been caught using drugs.
- Encourage other interests and social activities. Expose your teen to healthy hobbies and activities, such as team sports and afterschool clubs.
- Talk to your child about underlying issues. Drug use can be the result of other problems. Is your child having trouble fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce, which is causing stress?
- Get Help. Teenagers often rebel against their parents but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, family doctor, therapist, or drug counselor. [HelpGuide.org]
Please do what you can to help spread the facts about addiction. For more information, check out The Addiction Project, a collaborative effort of NIDA, NIAAA, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO. Cathy Taughinbaugh, Founder of TreatmentTalk.org, has compiled a blog post of 9 parents who are making a difference — an excellent overview and resource, as well.