Medication-Assisted Treatment: A Solution to the Statistics?

A three-part series by Guest Blogger Gloria Englund, MA

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Part III

The availability and use of Suboxone is very different now than when Aaron’s final attempt at recovery took place. Then, health insurance paid for Suboxone only when it was administered through an in-patient treatment facility. It was used mainly as a detox tool, not a recovery treatment tool as it is now. Many addiction specialists now recommend that patients with an opioid addiction may be best served with indefinite MAT therapy.  There were not many treatment centers licensed to dispense it and very few doctors licensed to prescribe it. This continues to be a challenge in the treatment world. Many physicians still choose not to seek licensure to dispense Suboxone because they don’t want to deal with the population of people ill with a substance use disorder. Another way the stigma and discrimination still play into the availability of MAT.

True Recovery

I used to think complete abstinence from methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), or naltrexone used in MAT, was the only marker for true recovery.

Everything I have learned about SUD and recovery since Aaron’s death tells me that I had a very narrow and uneducated view of what may be necessary to keep the person with an opioid use disorder alive so recovery can happen.

The more options available for MAT to those with SUDs who seek recovery, the better are their chances of remission and the more lives we save.

Since Aaron’s death, I have seen and heard many testaments to the effectiveness of all three of these medications when they are used as recovery tools. But the availability, cost and insurance coverage needs to align in support of these life-saving medications that can prevent overdose deaths.

Evidence-Based Treatment

It’s imperative to remember that MAT programs are evidence-based treatment (EBT) protocols. This means there’s scientific research to back up the practice of medication-assisted treatment as a viable treatment option. In general, the research proves that people on MAT have fewer relapses, live longer and stay in recovery longer than those who do not use it. This is especially true for those with opioid use disorder.

We Need More Education & Information

I believe lack of education about addiction being a brain illness and the public not being properly informed about the life saving properties of MAT is what killed Prince along with the additional 128 people who died of a drug overdose on April 21, 2016. Chronic pain might have brought him to where he was with his illness, but in my opinion, ignorance and stigma kept Prince and those close to him from asking for the right kind of the help, at the right time.

This is the third of a three-part series. We are posting the full series in the Resource section of Our Young Addicts.

Saving the lives of those who are ill from this disease will only happen when the general public becomes educated and demands that the people who suffer from these disorders, deserve the same medical treatment and compassion as does anyone suffering from a chronic illness.

About our Guest Blogger: Gloria Englund, founder of Recovering u breaks new ground in the field of addiction recovery and support. As an ally of the recovery community, she honors all pathways of recovery. She is a psychotherapist, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Human Development. As a certified Recovery Coach, she works with individuals and families dealing with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and relationships. Gloria has personal as well as professional knowledge of addiction and recovery; her oldest son, Aaron, died of a heroin overdose in 2007. As an accomplished public speaker, advocate and published author, Gloria brings a message of hope and recovery to others.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

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Addiction Science: The Teenage Brain and a New Online Drug and Alcohol Prevention Program

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Guest Blogger, Kim Bemis, founder of Gobi.

Every human culture has its intoxicating substances—and in each culture there is a subset of users who become addicted.

In the U.S., 21st century addiction problems are appearing earlier in life[1], according to the latest scientific data revealed in May by the nation’s foremost addiction experts at a New York conference I attended.

Addiction science reveals that abuse and addiction occurring in the biologically sensitive period of adolescence can harm a vulnerable brain—so much so that abusers’ and addicts’ brains may not reach their full potential or function normally. This is because repeated and chronic use of substances targets the paired system governing behavior: the brain’s reward center (nucleus accumbens) and the impulse-control center (prefrontal cortex). As the keynote speaker, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, put it: “Addiction and drugs attack the reward centers we need to survive. They hijack that system” by radically disrupting the neurochemical signals to produce constant reward-seeking behavior with no checks or balances from the impulse control center. “When executive function is decreased you are at risk of seeking rewards without sound judgment.”

Dr. Volkow also emphasized that the prefrontal cortex—that brain capacity so critical to making executive decisions in the person’s and society’s best interests—is not fully developed until age 25. Yet in our society, we have 15-year-olds—and younger—at risk of jeopardizing their developing brains with excessive use of drugs and alcohol. Not only do these chemicals have the power, over time, to change the circuitry of the developing adolescent brain, but extensive or continued use robs adolescents of normal and necessary growth experiences central to identity formation, positive affiliation, family/community connection and a sense of purpose.

This concerns me because I am an entrepreneur who has spent the last 11 years working in the drug and alcohol recovery field—and the scientific insights my background gives me suggest we are, as a society, at risk of creating a culture that promotes access to substances in a way that leads to easy use, frequent overuse and, too often, to abuse.

Of course, addiction doesn’t happen overnight; one drink won’t hurt. But the science suggests it is essential to educate the public to understand that teen substance use is a public health problem and that addiction is a complex brain disease that, in most cases, originates in adolescence. Our health systems must work to prevent or delay the onset of substance use through effective public health measures.[2] I want to do all I can to help prevent teens from abuse and addiction, to help them make better decisions. Here’s who I am and what I do:

  • A gratefully sober man for over 27 years, able to enjoy the blessings of family and friends because of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction
  • A former executive of an internationally renowned treatment center helping people get sober, stay sober and reconnect with life
  • Now, the CEO of Gobi, a new, accessible and affordable approach to intervening to help teens who might be in trouble because of their substance use. Gobi (gobi.support) is a novel online tool for teens and their family members. It is science-based and developed by expert clinicians in addiction science, parents and teens, Gobi is intended to reach digital natives in their own space—online, with social media follow-up and support. At the same time, Gobi also supports parents, with research on adolescent substance use and tips on communicating effectively with teenagers. Figures 1, 2, and 3 convey sample findings from our recent user survey during the 60-day course of Gobi online programing.

Figure 1: Fig1_Gobi connects

Figure 2:Fig2_Gobi offers keys to change

Figure 3: Fig3_Gobi results

In May 2016 I had breakthrough experiences at two tremendous addiction conferences: “From Statistics to Solutions Prevention Summit: Addressing Underlying Issues of Youth Substance Abuse,” in the Twin Cities, with sponsors and partners including Know the Truth, Our Young Addicts, Minnesota Teen Challenge, and more, and “The Addicted Brain and New Treatment Frontiers: Sixth Annual Aspen Brain Forum,” sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Aspen Brain Forum in New York City.

Below, I share several key messages from the New York summit. In my next post, I’ll elaborate on my Minnesota conference aha moments, and the tremendously encouraging things happening.

  • Over time and frequent use, substance-induced changes to the brain impair a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, while sending intense impulses to continue to use—just to feel “normal.”
  • Our brains develop from the bottom to the top and from the back to the front until approximately age 25. Brain circuitry during this developmental stage is particularly vulnerable to substances of abuse.
  • Data show that teenagers are more likely than adults to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal/prescription drugs, and also have a higher rate of addiction: Among addicted Americans, 1 in 4 began using before age 18, which compares to 1 in 25 who started using at age 21 or later[3].
  • Underlying youth addiction is a complex network and interplay of neurobiology, psychology, social and family dynamics and genetics.
  • Brains do recover! Never lose sight of this.

Early detection and intervention in teen substance use, with the explicit goal of preventing the progression to abuse and addiction, is really where we need innovative approaches and programs to help youth and families.

My goal with Gobi is to foster better communication in families and to help teens make better decisions around using drugs and alcohol before the “brain hijacking” occurs. I look forward to sharing some preliminary user data that suggests despite worrisome trends in adolescent drug and alcohol use, there is also encouraging news, hope and help.

[1] In my next post, I will share demographics from our early research with teens participating in the program we designed to prevent early experimentation from leading to abuse and addiction.

[2] This is a stance I share with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. http://www.centeronaddiction.org/

[3] Data from a national survey of use patterns, Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem.

http://www.centeronaddiction.org/newsroom/press-releases/national-study-reveals-teen-substance-use-americas-1-public-health-problem

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

Gloria’s Gift of Experience, Resources & Hope

The #OYACommunity continues to grow and each new participant contributes experience, resources and hope. At our May 2016 conference, From Statistics to Solutions, recovery coach and author Gloria Englund, MA, introduced herself and gave me a copy of her book, Living in the Wake of Addiction: Lessons for Courageous Caregiving.

A few pages in, I was highlighting relevant passages and nodding my head in appreciation for Gloria’s gift. It is a gift that I want to offer you – the parents and professionals who are concerned about a young person’s substance use. By sharing her personal experience, Gloria offers up the many lessons she learned in hopes that these will help others who are concerned about a loved one’s substance use. This gift is a resource, a guide, a handbook, and an information source, and I’m certain you will want to share it with others who are “living in the wake of addiction” and serving as caregivers.

Today, I am sharing an excerpt from a short interview with Gloria.

What prompted you to write this book?

Gloria Englund's bookI’ve been a writer my whole life. I have journaled my way through my life events– it’s how I figure out my existence. When my son Aaron was in treatment, I would write letters to him because it was easier than face-to-face conversations. Especially for difficult issues.

After Aaron died, I had reams of journals and grief work. My loss was twofold. First, because of his illness, I had lost the dream of his life and what it had become, but held on for a new dream for his life, if he could  recovery. Then, when he overdosed and died, everything crashed.

I could not believe that I could not save my son.

When he died, I wondered how I could go on. I wondered what the struggle had been about. I kept praying to God and asking, “What am I supposed to do?”

One morning when I arrived at Zumba class and was getting out of the car, God said, “You need to write a grief book for people who have gone through this kind of loss.”

During this time, I had also become a recovery coach through training provided by Minnesota Recovery Connection. This was restoring my hope in recovery and it was time to put together the conglomeration of all I had been writing. It was around this time that the opioid epidemic began to grow and I realized how much there was to share.

The initial manuscript was a memoir about my 20-year journey through Aaron’s illness and the knowledge I gained as a caregiver. It also included my thoughts on how death from addiction is different from any other loss because of encompassing stigma from the illness.

My editor saw this as two different manuscripts for two different audiences. She helped me turn the information about my caregiver’s journey into a handbook that incorporated new knowledge about addiction I had gained since Aaron’s death. I decided to include a glossary of terms, resources, and pull-out quotes so readers would get valuable takeaways.

The main message is education, education, education – know your options. What started out as a book about grief turned into a book about caregiving and self-empowerment. It shares the courage not only needed by the caregiver and lessons learned, but also the courage involved for those who endure this illness.

Within the book, you make an important distinction between being a caregiver and a caretaker. Tell us why this is so important.

I had read and learned about co-dependency and many approaches seemed so black and white and  really didn’t work when I applied it to my relationship with Aaron. In my experience, I needed to find a way to have a relationship with my son even if he was still using. I also believed that a parent’s job is to protect their child no matter their age.

The caregiver concept kicked in for me when I realized that Aaron had an incurable disease and that he could reach a point when he could not recover any further. It changed my entire perspective.  Did I want to continually try to change him, or could I just love him for who he was, my very ill child.   Today, when I speak to others, they are surprised to learn that certain behaviors are symptoms of substance use disorder not the cause; usually, people have this the other way around. Recognizing this helps us give care; we become caregivers.

What’s next?

In the year ahead, I hope to get going on the grief book – the one I originally thought I was going to write. Since writing Living in the Wake of Addiction, I have learned to focus on the positive and to acknowledge what is going well. That’s a lesson I pass along to all the other caregivers out there.

Gloria Englund - recovery u
Gloria Englund, MA, recovery coach and author.

Gloria Englund, founder of Recovering u breaks new ground in the field of addiction recovery and support. As an ally of the recovery community, she honors all pathways of recovery. She is a psychotherapist, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Human Development. As a certified Recovery Coach, she works with individuals and families dealing with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and relationships. Gloria has personal as well as professional knowledge of addiction and recovery; her oldest son, Aaron, died of a heroin overdose in 2007. As an accomplished public speaker, advocate and published author, Gloria brings a message of hope and recovery to others.

Note to readers: If you are interested in learning more about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a topic that she Gloria addresses in the book, she has kindly prepared a three-part series for our blog (6/16, 6/23 and 6/30); following the series, it will be available as part of our Resource section.

 

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

 

Medication-Assisted Treatment: A Solution to the Statistics?

A three-part series by Guest Blogger Gloria Englund, MA. New Protocols, Addiction as a Progressive Brain Disease.

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Part II

Old-school Perception & Protocol – the 1990s

My history with MAT goes back to the 1990s when most people considered substance use disorders a character flaw, and/or lack of will power and motivation. Although the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized alcoholism as disease in 1956 which allowed it to be viewed as a diagnosable condition for which insurance reimbursement was possible, most treatment focused on it being a psychological/behavior disorder. This was the treatment protocol I learned in graduate school in the early ‘90s.

Addiction Recognized as a Progressive Brain Disease

Aaron died in 2007.  It wasn’t until 2011 that The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) first stated that addiction is a progressive brain disease that is fatal without intervention.

This meant both of us went through our 20-year struggle with his SUD without knowledge of addiction being a brain disease – as I suspect many have. It was a wake-up call for me to learn that this illness is about underlying neurology, not outward actions.

The NIDA soon after stated that addiction is “a chronic relapsing …brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”  It was so hard for me to grasp that my son’s was ill not only with a physical dependence – but also a psychological compulsion that would create drug seeking behavior no matter what the consequences.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in a specific priority. Physiological needs such breathing, food and water are at the bottom the hierarchy. In other words – a human’s first priority is sustaining life. The hierarchy culminates in self-actualization at the top. The compulsion that is characteristic of SUD precludes those basic physiological needs.

This is why many need MAT to get their cravings quelled. If the cravings aren’t under control, they can’t even think about meeting those basic needs of life – so they can go on to recovering their life.

Tapering Off or Long-term Maintenance?

In 2007, most people on MAT methadone programs were encouraged to start tapering off the medication once they had been stabilized for weeks or a few months. The yo-yo effect of trying to taper and failing to find the correct dosage created constant turmoil for Aaron as well as frequent relapses. At that time, both of us attended recovery support groups which promoted that if you were on medication-assisted treatment you weren’t really in recovery because you were still using an opioid medication. And this continues to happen today.

Very few supportive services were offered along with Aaron’s MAT program – which I now know is very important to recovery. You can’t just take a pill or get an injection and recover from this illness. Although behavior and psychological issues may not be a CAUSE of this illness, they do result as we try to SURVIVE the illness.

That’s why MAT needs to be offered along with individual or group therapy, peer recovery support groups, classes on exercise, nutrition – basic life skills – keeping a budget and learning how to seek employment.

Minnesota Recovery Connection, like many other recovery community organizations (RCO) in other states – offer many of these resources on their website and support all pathways to recovery.

Note to readers: Part III will run on Thursday, June 30. We will post the full three-part series in our Resource section.

About our Guest Blogger: Gloria Englund, founder of Recovering u breaks new ground in the field of addiction recovery and support. As an ally of the recovery community, she honors all pathways of recovery. She is a psychotherapist, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Human Development. As a certified Recovery Coach, she works with individuals and families dealing with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and relationships. Gloria has personal as well as professional knowledge of addiction and recovery; her oldest son, Aaron, died of a heroin overdose in 2007. As an accomplished public speaker, advocate and published author, Gloria brings a message of hope and recovery to others.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

When You’re Concerned About Your Kid’s Drug And Alcohol Use

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Guest blogger Rose Lockinger gets right to the heart of things with her take on what parents can do when they become concerned about a kid’s substance use. Thanks for sharing your insights. MWM

There are so many things we worry about as parents. We worry about them getting hurt or sick. We worry about accidents, we worry about their future, about their choices and we worry about them when they are sad and scared. As they get older we worry more, not less. They grow up a little and our hold on them has to loosen as they rely more on their friends for company and start to spread their wings.

One of the top concerns for parents of teens today is substance use and abuse. There are other things, of course. Bullying, gun violence, car accidents. But drugs and alcohol are a pervasive issue that teens face every single day, and often times, many of the other concerns parents have seems to go along with drug and alcohol use.

Do All Kids Experiment?

Not all do, but it’s common enough. While it doesn’t always result in negative consequences, it does warrant close scrutiny. Kids are impulsive and tend to think they are invincible. This creates problems when they get caught up in substance abuse. Most people who become addicted start using in their teens. The earlier drug or alcohol use starts, the greater the chances that the problem will turn into addiction.

What Are Signs That Your Child Has a Problem?

So as a parent what do you need to look for when you suspect that your child is using.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between just being a teenager and possible substance use.

Here’s a list of 6 main things to look for:

  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Extreme changes in emotions
  • Changes in academic performance and attendance
  • Always in search of money and not able to explain where it’s going
  • Significant changes in mood and personality
  • Missing prescription drugs and alcohol around the house
  • A lack of concern in their appearance and personal care.

These are some common ones to start with, although you may run into others that are specific to your individual situation.

What Do You When It’s A Problem?

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to address the matter right away.

Things can escalate quickly, and it’s important that you let your teen know you are aware of the behavior.

Because the situation is scary, it’s easy to come from a place of fear and even anger. It’s important to encourage honest and open communication.

 

One of your first steps may be to bring your child to your family doctor so that he or she can be screened for substance abuse disorder and any other issues that may be present.

Substance abuse often goes hand in hand with things like depression, anxiety or trauma, so it’s important that they be screened for these things as well.

It’s Never Too Early For Professional Help

If you’ve addressed the issue through communication, education, a professional evaluation and firm boundaries and consequences and the problem is persisting, it’s time to take the next step. It may be that your teen needs to get help via an adolescent rehab.

 

Teen rehab programs can provide a safe place to recover from substance abuse disorder. Getting away from using friends is helpful, and while they are in rehab they will learn more about addiction and the dangers of substance abuse, they will receive individual counseling to help identify and deal with any underlying issues and they will learn new coping skills that will help them deal with difficult emotions without turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. This is important, because the adolescent years are full of challenges and powerful feelings. Learning how to deal with them in a healthy way can help them make better decisions when things come up.

 

It may feel like you are jumping the gun a bit to put your teen in rehab, but the earlier they get help, the better. Teens and drugs and alcohol are a dangerous mix. Substance use disorder progresses and will only get worse if left unchecked.

 

This is never an easy situation. You’ll feel like it is an uphill battle, and your teen will fight you at every turn. It’s important that the family present a united front and a consistent message for your child so they know that everyone is on the same page.

Remember, your teen is frightened. For the person with substance abuse disorder, the idea of losing their drugs or alcohol is scary. They feel like they have to have it in order to live on a daily basis. Anyone who stands in their way is a threat and possibly an enemy, no matter how much they love them.

 

While some level of confrontation is necessary in order to bring the problem into the open and start the process of getting help, over-the-top, harsh interventions are not only ineffective but can do more damage.

Supporting Your Teen Through Recovery

If you have decided to take the next step in helping your child recover, the most important thing you can do is to continue loving and supporting them. Teens are often consumed with feelings of guilt and shame as a result of using drugs and alcohol as well as their behaviors. It may not look like it from the outside, but on the inside they are hurting. Reassuring them that you aren’t judging them and that you are only getting them the help that they need is crucial.

About Our Guest Blogger:

unnamedRose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

Find our guest blogger, Rose Lockinger, on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

 

 

Life-saving Naloxone

When it looks like rain, half the time it seems like I don’t have an umbrella with me. Invariably, caught unprepared, that’s it when it rains – heavily. Other times, I remember an umbrella and never end up needing it. In fact, bringing an umbrella almost guarantees it won’t rain. Not a bad insurance policy given that you can’t control the weather.

The weather isn’t the only thing you can’t control. As parents, we learn that we can’t control addiction, but we can learn to be prepared for the situations that accompany it. One of those is an opioid overdose.

Before I knew much about addiction, I thought that an overdose meant that someone died. It never occurred to me that someone could survive an overdose, and I never knew that it’s possible to reverse an overdose. Heck, I didn’t even know the signs of an overdose let alone that there was such a thing as naloxone (brand name Narcan®), a drug that can reverse an overdose and save a life.

Today, I carry naloxone and believe that anyone who knows someone who uses opiates, including heroin, should be ready to reverse an overdose. Saving a life with naloxone may be the most relevant action you can take but may represent the most receptive that person will be to consider treatment and recovery.

Signs of an Overdose

According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a person is just very high, or experiencing an overdose. They say, if you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose – it could save someone’s life. Here is some of the information from their website:

If someone is really high and using downers like heroin, or pills:

  • Pupils will contract and appear small
  • Muscles are slack and droopy
  • They might “nod out”
  • Scratch a lot due to itchy skin
  • Speech may be slurred
  • They might be out of it, but they will respond to outside stimulus like loud noise or a light shake from a concerned friend.

If you are worried that someone is getting too high, it is important that you don’t leave them alone. If the person is still conscious, walk them around, keep them awake, and monitor their breathing.

The following are symptoms of an overdose:

  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Body is very limp
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
  • For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
  • Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
  • Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimulus

If someone is making unfamiliar sounds while “sleeping” it is worth trying to wake him or her up. Many loved ones of users think a person was snoring, when in fact the person was overdosing. These situations are a missed opportunity to intervene and save a life.

It is rare for someone to die immediately from an overdose.  When people survive, it’s because someone was there to respond.

The most important thing is to act right away!

Reversing an Overdose

If a person shows signs of an overdose:

  1. Call 911 right away.
  2. Begin rescue breathing, if the person isn’t taking in air.
  3. Give the person naloxone.

Getting Naloxone & Training

Naloxone Kit & InstructionsThroughout the United States many organizations and pharmacies have naloxone available and it does not require a prescription. These same groups offer training on how to administer naloxone. It only takes a few minutes to learn how to use naloxone.

To learn more, I recommend an outstanding organization called the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. This group has become one of the nation’s go-to experts for overdose prevention, life-saving naloxone including getting it into the hands of first responders and to lay people.

Midwestern Mama

©2006 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Recovery

Food, nutrition and eating habits are important to parents. We want to feed our kiddos the things we perceive as the healthy stuff. That’s often influenced by our own upbringing, other parents, the media or even social-media posts that purport the be-all, end-all expertise.

Let’s face it. In infancy, we have control – or choice – over what our children are eating: formula or breast milk. When they are ready for solid foods, we start by spoon feeding rice cereal and then advance to other cereals, fruits, vegetables and perhaps meats. Later come the finger foods: Cheerios, Saltine Crackers, slices of banana … you remember how it goes. That’s the way it’s always been done, so it must be right.

At some point, our kids either become adventurous or picky in their eating, and from that point forward, we have influence but very little control. They are growing, maturing and making decisions on their own.

My son was somewhere in the middle between adventurous and picky. He liked a variety of foods but had his go-to favorites. When he was in high school, he dated a young woman whose family was from Afghanistan. I was amazed at the variety of foods that he tried without hesitation, out of respect for her mom, and ended up finding that he enjoyed these unfamiliar ingredients. At home, he might have turned up his nose if I’d served those same ingredients.

Let me relate this back to addiction and recovery.

During addiction, my son’s appetite and diet changed significantly. Part of this had to do with the change in activity – from playing on a varsity sports team to leading a somewhat sedentary and transient lifestyle. Some of this had to do with periods of homelessness, when he was part of group-living environments, or simply when he had no money. Some of this had to do with choosing or needing the drugs more than food.

From reading this blog, you know that our family reached out to my son daily and that he joined our family every week of so for meals. Ravished, he’d eat just about whatever I had prepared. It made me feel good to fill his tummy with nutritious, home-cooked foods, and as my husband wisely pointed out, it nourished his wounded brain. We hoped it might provide a teeny, tiny spark of possibility that he’d make a wise decision toward help for sobriety and recovery.

In time, yes. Interestingly, as he stopped using drugs – especially constipating opioids – he found that he couldn’t eat everything that he wanted to. Many foods, including lifelong favorites, no longer agreed with him.

Recovery Routine

These days he leads a fairly disciplined and routine lifestyle: college classes, work, going to the gym, taking the family dog on “adventures,” reading and watching TV/playing video games. He still loves a nightly bowl of ice cream or a big ‘ol burrito from Chipotle, but his go-to meal is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As #SoberSon says, “Why mess with what’s working?”

I’ve stopped buying foods he used to like or things I think he might want. Instead, he puts a limited number of things on the list – ingredients for non-dairy fruit smoothies and whole wheat bread, peanut butter and grape jelly. If I buy other foods, these will likely sit untouched; so, I don’t. More often or not, he stops at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the items he needs and takes pride in paying for his own food with hard-earned money from his job.

In many ways, this sums up recovery for parents and twenty-something kids:

  • Support without enabling
  • Provide options without bias or judgement
  • Be open to their choices and preferences
  • Drop preconceived ideas of what’s right or best
  • Love unconditionally
  • Find peace and happiness in “what works”

#SoberSon will soon be two-years sober and in recovery, so Midwestern Mama asks, “Why mess with PB&J?”

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Medication-Assisted Treatment: A Solution to the Statistics?

A three-part series by Guest Blogger Gloria Englund, MA. Suboxone, Naltrexone, Methadone

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Part I

I was very uneducated about medications that are affective for substance use disorder (SUD), especially opioid use disorder when my son, Aaron, was still alive. Although he was familiar with Suboxone and methadone, now I believe both of us could have been better informed about how to use methadone along with other support tools that were needed in order to make the treatment the more effective.

Prince’s death has brought the use of Suboxone, a medication that is used to treat opioid use disorder, and the idea of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders to the forefront of the opioid overdose epidemic. The latest statistic from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is that 129 people are dying every day in the United States from drug overdose; 80 of those deaths involve the use of an opioid.

I believe the stigma and discrimination that accompany substance use disorders, also accompanies the medications that can be used to quell withdrawals symptoms and lesson cravings for those with substance use disorders as they seek recovery.

MAT can greatly reduce the possibility of relapse which often lead to drug overdose that can result in death.

Suboxone

Suboxone, the MAT treatment that didn’t get in Prince’s body soon enough, is one of these medications that is often used to quell withdrawal and cravings for opioids. What exactly is Suboxone? It’s referred to as a partial agonist because it doesn’t bind to the opioid sites as does a full agonist so it produces much fewer endorphins. Because of its “partial” nature, it is much easier to withdraw from than a full agonist like methadone. Suboxone is the commercial name for buprenorphine (partial agonist) combined with naloxone, an opioid antagonist which is very effective at blocking euphoria when combined with the buprenorphine.  Used alone, naloxone (Narcan®) is used to reverse an opioid overdose if administered in a timely manner. Suboxone is also available as a film which is dissolved under the tongue thereby lessening the potential for abuse even more. In May of 2016 the FDA approved a buprenorphine body implant that will dispense medication for up to 6 months but has not stated when in will be available for use.

Methadone

Other readily used medications are methadone (mentioned above) and naltrexone. Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist medication that is very effective in treating heroin and prescription pain medication addiction. It can only be distributed at specifically licensed clinics. Initially it needs to be dispensed every day requiring the user to make daily trips to the clinic. When the specific dose is determined that stabilizes the patient, then patients can begin to lessen their visits by receiving seven days of doses divided between two or three days a week and eventually, only coming in once a week to receive all seven days for the next week. This daily commitment combined with the difficulty many have in tapering off the medication (and its potential abuse as a full agonist that can be sedating) often outweighs, for some, the positives of its effectiveness in quelling withdrawal and cravings. Methadone is also much less costly than Suboxone if the user needs to pay out of pocket.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is another MAT drug, but is an antagonist. This means it blocks any opioids from connecting to the receptor sites and can only be used after a patient has completed detoxification from all opioids and all opioid medications like Suboxone or methadone. If a patient uses it while any opioids are in the body, they will go in the immediate withdrawal. Naltrexone is not addictive or sedating and does not result in physical dependence as does Suboxone or methadone. However, poor patient compliance with the daily tablets has limited its effectiveness. A long-acting form of naltrexone called Vivitrol® is now available in a once per month injection eliminating the need for daily use which improves patient compliance. Unlike methadone or Suboxone, anyone licensed to dispense medications can prescribe naltrexone, but the cost may be prohibitive for many.

Note to readers: Part II will run on Thursday, June23, and Part III will run on Thursday, June 30. We will post the full three-part series in our Resource section.

About our Guest Blogger: Gloria Englund, founder of Recovering u breaks new ground in the field of addiction recovery and support. As an ally of the recovery community, she honors all pathways of recovery. She is a psychotherapist, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Human Development. As a certified Recovery Coach, she works with individuals and families dealing with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and relationships. Gloria has personal as well as professional knowledge of addiction and recovery; her oldest son, Aaron, died of a heroin overdose in 2007. As an accomplished public speaker, advocate and published author, Gloria brings a message of hope and recovery to others.

Three-part MAT Series 6/16, 6/23 & 6/30

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It’s about time we talked more about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), and it starts with straight information and open-minded consideration. The next three Thursdays, we will run a series by Guest Blogger Gloria Englund, MA, from Recovering U.

  • June 16 – Defining MAT; Learning about Suboxone, Methadone and Naltrexone
  • June 23 – Ditching old-school perceptions and protocols; Looking at addiction as a progressive brain disease
  • June 30 – True recovery; Evidence-based treatment

We will post the full series as a printable pdf on the Resource section of Our Young Addicts.

Midwestern Mama

 

 

The Ride

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With a son currently in treatment for drug addiction, this week’s guest blogger Charma Carpenter shares a story of recovery – in progress. It’s a “ride” many of us are on yet is full of hope that the ride is going in the right direction. MWM.

When my son first started using drugs, I was in denial and believed everything he told me. His eyes were red because he couldn’t sleep; he was acting differently because of his migraines.

Once I opened myself to the fact that my son was an addict, I isolated myself. I had no one to talk to about his addictions, and didn’t know what to say anyway. It’s not easy talking about your son if it isn’t about his accomplishments on the team or in the classroom or at work. I was drowning myself in tears and suffocating in my own isolation.

Once his name became a repeated name on the local radio and in the local newspapers, I put on the badge of humiliation for years. The stigma that attaches itself to “the parent of…” brought about more shame and guilt than I ever knew existed. As I worked through these feelings, I became aware that I held the same stigma. The reason I was feeling guilt was because I too, felt that addicts came from bad families. Add another medal of humility to my daily wardrobe.
Some people avoided me, almost like I was contagious. Others were more nosy than a reporter for a trash magazine. Still others pretended that nothing was different. I had too many other things going on with my other children to address any of it.

I just kept it all inside, while my mind was screaming, “Please, someone ask me about ME! Someone please, just tell me what to do!”

Years went by and I tried to reject the feelings of guilt and shame. They were no longer a part of my daily wardrobe, but I would still drape them over my shoulders every once in a while.

I would receive wedding invitations or baby announcements from young adults that had gone to high school with my eldest son, and the curtain of depression would engulf me.

This is what my son should be doing with his life now! Instead he was couch-surfing and drug seeking and looking worse EVERY time I saw him.

If only we could get him into rehabilitation. If only the time spent in jail would be long enough to take the cravings away. If only he would listen to what we parents were telling him! Guilt and shame were replaced with anger and frustration. I wore those emotions for many years! And those articles of emotions would come out of no where on some days. I would attack anyone who was around when the anger flashed through my mind and erupted.

I finally began to journal my emotions so I could try to gain some control of myself.

I began to read and study the Bible. And yet, the roller coaster continued to take twists and turns I was not ready for. I still worried and stressed, but the more I read the Bible, the more at peace I felt. I began to understand that God was in control, not me. I committed my son to the Lord and slowly began to get involved with activities again.

I broke the silence of my son’s addiction.

I began talking about it with members of my church. I began bringing up the topic at family functions, to avoid the awkwardness other family members were feeling. I opened myself up to the emotions and let the tears fall freely. And I leaned on God even more. I now had people from my church praying for my son and my family. I had a strong support group that realized addiction is a family disease. It affects the entire family.
I joined Nar-anon online and I’m re-learning how to take care of me. I am letting go of my control issues and allowing God to be in control. I am admitting out loud that my son has an addiction, and that does not make him a bad person.
And yet the roller coaster flips upside down again. My son chose to enter rehabilitation on his own. He entered after being in jail for three months, and has been there for four months. He is clean, learning coping skills, and working. But now the stress of graduation is upon him. He is worried about getting a job and a place to live upon graduation. And he is still just a crawler when it comes to handling stress and anxiety without the comfort of drugs. And the helplessness is trying to overtake my wardrobe. It is emotionally challenging to listen to my adult son crying on the phone because he is so stressed out. I continue to encourage and praise and yet my heart finally admits that graduation of rehab will not be the end of the ride.
I did not get on this ride by my choice. I do not like the ride. I am never going to be able to fully unbuckle and step away from this ride. In one way or another, I will be on this ride for the rest of my life. But I have learned to slow it down.

I have learned to embrace the good thrills that are on this ride: The strength in the hugs I get when I visit him; the smile that shines from his eyes when he teases his little brother; and the healthy look that reflects his hard work.

My son chose to use drugs the first time. My son became addicted. My son chose rehab. I chose to enable out of concern. I chose to let go of the control. I chose to take care of me and slow the ride down.

My son and I are both in recovery. And we are learning to take each day one beautiful moment at a time.

The author of the book, Just Commit Me, Charmla Carpenter lives in rural Iowa. She and her husband have three sons in three totally different places in life: One in rehab, one in grad school, and one in elementary school. Charm’s faith keeps her focused on living each day in honor of God. Follow her on Twitter @charmcarp1

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

 

Good Summertime Reading

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Summertime is a wonderful time to dig into insightful, thoughtful reading material. While we won’t be offering the latest in fiction, mysteries, sci-fi or fantasy, we do have an outstanding line up of guest bloggers this summer.

Our guest bloggers include parents, addiction professionals and people in recovery who used substances during their young adulthood. They share experience, offer resources and provide hope on the spectrum of addiction, treatment and recovery. Be sure to check out these upcoming posts on Wednesdays.

  • June 15 – Charma Carpenter: The parent of a young person in treatment and author of a book about keeping faith.
  • June 22 – Rose Lockinger: A frequent guest blogger for Our Young Addicts, she is a parent and person in long-term recovery.
  • June 29 – Kim Bemis: An addiction professional, a father and a person in long-term recovery, Kim is the creator of a digital prevention program for parents and young adults.
  • July 6 – Jason Reed: An eating-disorder counselor at Melrose Center, he has a keen understanding of co-occurring substance-use and mental health disorders. Jason was one of our speakers at From Statistics to Solutions this past May.
  • July 13 – Lisa Grimm: A 30-something person in long-term recovery.
  • July 20 – Sherry Stewart-Gaugler: An addiction professional who leads family and spirituality programming for The Retreat. Sherry was one of our speakers at From Statistics to Solutions this past May.
  • July 27 – Lindsey Smith: A regional prevention coordinator in Minnesota. Lindsey has been a key team member/participant for our parent-awareness events with Anoka-Hennepin Schools and was a speaker at From Statistics to Solutions.

I am grateful to each of these authors and the varieties of perspectives they offer. This is the spirit of the #OYACommunity.

Midwestern Mama

 

 

 

 

Proud MAT Mom

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My youngest son is a wrestler – athletically and intellectually. Wrestling didn’t come easy to him, but he simply loved the sport and being part of the school team. At first I would watch his matches with my hands covering my eyes just peeking through my fingers and praying he wouldn’t get hurt. It was a foreign sport to me, but I made it to as many wrestling matches as possible and began tagging Facebook photos with the hashtag #ProudMatMom. He became a better wrestler and I became a more comfortable spectator and supporter of his choice to wrestle.

When he started wrestling in sixth grade in 2011-2012, his older brother (affectionately known in many of my blog posts as #SoberSon), was struggling with addiction and losing the battle. Little did I know that in July 2014 #SoberSon would eventually find his sobriety on a “mat” of his own: Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)*.

Today, #ProudMATMom has double meaning and I am an avid proponent of MAT as a viable, preferred – and even necessary – treatment for opioid-use disorder.

 Finding a Solution

Not unlike his younger brother, #SoberSon got pinned and lost quite a few matches before experiencing a “win” and committing himself to ongoing training.  After trying several different treatment approaches, and experiencing relapse, #SoberSon through his own anecdotal research came to the conclusion that he wanted to try Suboxone, a form of Medication-Assisted Treatment. He had some other criteria, too: not 12 step and not in-patient.

That trifecta proved a difficult find. Ironically, the option that we found was one I’d never encountered in the years leading up to this and it was within a few miles of our home. Imagine that! Sometimes the solutions are so close, but we don’t even realize it.

Suboxone (Buprenorphine combined with Naloxone)

Gloria Englund, MA, a recovery coach and author of Living in the Wake of Addiction – Lessons for Courageous Caregiving, defines Suboxone as follows:

Suboxone is a partial agonist because it doesn’t bind to the opioid sites as does a full agonist so it produces much fewer endorphins. Because of its “partial” nature, it is much easier to withdraw from than a full agonist like methadone. Suboxone is the commercial name for buprenorphine (partial agonist) combined with naloxone, an opioid antagonist which is very effective at blocking euphoria when combined with the buprenorphine. Used alone, naloxone (Narcan®) is very effective in reversing opioid overdose if administered in a timely manner. Suboxone is also available as a film which is dissolved under the tongue thereby lessening the potential for abuse even more. In May 2016 the FDA approved a buprenorphine body implant that will dispense medication for up to 6 months but has not stated when in will be available for use.”

Note to readers: I’m excited to share an upcoming blog by Gloria on MAT and also an interview with her about her book, which is a must-read for parents.

Be Open-minded to Treatment Options

For my son, Suboxone has provided the stability he needed to focus on his recovery. He tried Naltrexone (also available as Vivitrol) during an in-patient treatment program but didn’t find relief; he was still craving opiates, which meant his head was anywhere but the treatment group. All he could think about was getting out so he could get his fix. He was just passing time, counting days, and was convinced he could moderate his use upon discharge.

Of course, he couldn’t and he returned to use within a few months of completing in-patient treatment. He was overwhelmed with freedom, a poor-fit after-care plan and insufficient means through employment, housing, and support. He wasn’t interested in coming home and we weren’t sure we were ready either. It was an awkward, difficult time of transition that went the wrong direction quickly.

From Relapse to Recovery

That relapse and its devastating demise unified our family and son’s friends. Together, we conveyed our concern for his well-being and voiced our very real fear that he was going to die soon.

He said, “Thanks but no thanks” to returning to treatment.

He wasn’t ready to stop using, but with hindsight, he was shifting from needing to stop to wanting to stop, and he learned that Suboxone might just be the best way for him to treat his opioid-use disorder.

Suboxone accomplishes three things for my son: 1) It takes away withdrawal symptoms; 2) It eliminates cravings; and 3) It makes it impossible to get high (for at least 48 hours) if he were to use an opiate. This combination provides incredible stability as he actively works an integrated treatment plan.

Right away, he enrolled in a high-intensity out-patient (HIOP) treatment program offered by the MAT clinic. In addition, he met one-on-one with a counselor. He has progressed from dosing daily at the clinic to picking up a week’s supply at a time. He passes all of the random, monthly UAs and sees his counselor regularly. More importantly, his self-confidence and self-esteem is returning: He got a job within a few months of starting Suboxone and has held it ever since, and he enrolled in college courses and has gotten straight A’s.

Stigma from Unexpected Sources

Unfortunately, like many aspects of addiction, Suboxone users, proponents and supporters encounter stigma. Interestingly, the stigma – from my perspective – comes from the broader recovery community and not from the general public.

These folks (certainly not everyone) seem to feel that recovery must not include medication assistance – they say it’s trading one drug for another, that it’s just another form of addiction.

This simply isn’t true as my son and many others will attest.

More encouraging, however, is the open-mindedness that friends, family and the general public seems to take regarding Suboxone, and perhaps more so with the news that Prince was about to start using Suboxone. They are amazed to learn that such an option exists. They see it as comparable to taking an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication to treat those brain disorders. They see it as taking insulin for diabetes, as taking cholesterol-lowering medication … they see medication as a form of treatment for a chronic disease. In this case, the chronic disease is a brain disorder known clinically as substance-use disorder or opiate-use disorder, or more familiarly as addiction (which takes us down a whole other rabbit hole of lexicon vs stigma).

Like any medication – prescribed, over the counter, or illegal street drug – Suboxone can be abused, it can be used to get high, and it can be sold on the street. UNLESS, it’s being used with integrity as prescribed and under the care and guidance of a physician who specializes in opiate addiction. AND, when it’s used in conjunction with other treatment protocols – group, individualized therapy, mental health, support, etc.

Future Plans

We’re fairly new to Suboxone – just two years in July 2016 – but the benefits are amazing. I understand that some physicians and people believe in life-long maintenance; others believe it’s possible to taper off Suboxone, slowly and with full support.

My son’s clinic believes in an individualized approach to MAT offering a general guideline that it takes 18 to 24 months for a person to stabilize (their life) using Suboxone in conjunction with ongoing counseling services. My son would like to taper off, very slowly, at some point. Our family will support him in that decision and remain open minded to the possibilities that it brings.

But, as he says, “Why mess with what’s working?” I wholeheartedly agree.

With MAT, Suboxone in particular, our family is no longer wrestling with opioid addiction and that makes me a very, very #ProudMATMom.

*Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): This is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that when treating substance-use disorders, a combination of medication and behavioral therapies is most successful

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

More than a slogan, One Day at A Time

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Slogans are a big part of the addiction and recovery community. These help us put things into perspective and inspire us to stay the course. Today’s guest blogger took her personal experience to heart and created a tool for others, especially for people in early recovery. Below, she shares her motivation for creating ODATCards™. Thanks, Mardi, for telling us your story. MWM

My name is Mardi M. and I am a recovering addict/alcoholic from NY and the creator of ODATCards™!

ODATCards are daily Slogan Meditation Cards that actually came about by accident.

One day a friend of mine who was coming back from a relapse told me she was gonna start her 1st step and I suggested she work on the Slogans. I went home and printed up a bunch of Slogans, cut them and placed them in a box to choose from every day.  When people saw them they asked where I got them from, so I started printing them on cardstock and selling them.  From there I researched if there was anything out there as inclusive as this, and to my surprise there wasn’t!  So after researching manufacturers, a company was born with the incentive to help people.  I especially focus on the Beginner Decks because, I know for me I wanted to be part of and needed something to focus on in the beginning of this journey.

This has truly been a labor of love and has had its growing pains, so we live and we learn.

We’ve expanded the Beginner Decks to use Fellowship specific language, (Addict, Alcoholic) along with a Slogans deck for people not in recovery.  At this time, we are in several re-hab facilities throughout NY, and donate proceeds to different recovery organizations with the hopes of growing worldwide!

Special Thanks to OUR YOUNG ADDICTS For the opportunity and support!!!  XOXO ~M

Note to readers: Mardi is kindly offering a 20 percent discount on orders. Use the code:  OYA20

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

How About Planning A Cool Summer Sober Party…

Here’s a great blog post from some Twitter friends. #OYACommunity #SoberSummer MWM

Planning a Sober Party That’s Actually Cool By: Guest Writer, Darci Maxwell   Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean that your social life has gone out the window.  You can host sober parties …

Source: How About Planning A Cool Summer Sober Party…

Serenity Summer

Parenting a young addict is exhausting – emotionally and physically. Serenity is the solution, but achieving that takes some effort. Midwestern Mama shares a summer approach to finding serenity amid chaos.

Summer conjures up leisure time and taking a break from routine.

A few summers back, I was exhausted. The past few years had been a whirlwind with our teenage son’s addiction.

There had been broken curfews and late nights trying to figure out where he was (which was never where he said he’d be). There had been sleepless nights when he didn’t return at all. There had been morning alarm clocks that reminded us that we still had a younger son to wake up for school and for us to get ready for work. There had been unexpected but no longer surprising phone calls from the high school telling us our son had skipped classes and that he was at risk for not graduating –and a last-ditch (and successful) effort that allowed him to graduate.

As the chaos continued and the drug problem prevailed, there was more arguing and even more energy-draining efforts to convince him he needed help.

He finally decided to go to college in January that year to escape the stupid rules at home, which included being drug free and not bringing drugs or paraphernalia into the house. The very first weekend at college, he took pills, smoked weed and drank alcohol to the extent that he passed out in the snow. This landed him in the ER and detox. Everything spiraled from here and we were at our wits end.

It’s not that we couldn’t keep on doing what we’d been doing – it’s that we declared that we wouldn’t keep on doing it. I had been holding it all together trying to address the problem while trying to fulfill my other obligations. It was time to get some help – for me, and in turn for the rest of the family.

In searching a database of therapists on Psychology Today, I found an exceptionally good fit – someone who had experienced addiction and recovery first hand. Through conversations, some of which offered guidance on how to help my son and many of which focused on how to help myself, I started on a path to find and practice serenity.

One of things I did was find an Al-Anon group. Mine happened to be called Steps to Serenity. Each meeting, along with readings and a member-led discussion, we also said the Serenity Prayer. Although I was familiar with the verses, I had never really applied it to my life or thought about its meaning.

The Serenity Prayer in and of itself became a calming mantra, and I repeated it with heart and soul many times throughout the days and nights ahead. In many ways, it prompted me to embrace spirituality in new ways.

Additionally, I began studying the basics of meditation and the writings of Buddha. Both brought me a sense of peace amid chaos.

During summer 2011, I was searching for meaning and purpose in order to make sense of our son’s addiction and of my life at that point, which until then I considered just fine. It was difficult to think straight and I was beginning to stress with what my goal really was –I had always led a goal-centered life.

Then it hit me! My goal was to have no goal – at least for the summer. It took all the pressure off me to put things into perspective.

Here’s what I did: I blocked off each Friday afternoon for the entire summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day. From 1 p.m. until whenever, I sat outside. With a journal and a stack of books. These were everything from philosophy and poetry to religion. I would read a bit, write a bit, and just sit.

In quieting my mind, a sense of calmness returned. It was entirely different from the calm, cool-headedness that I had before when trying to manage our son’s addiction. Instead, this was serenity.

From there, all manner of new ideas surfaced. I seemed to have a better sense of what to do, what to say, what not to do, what not to say, when to act and when to wait. It was amazing and transformative.

Through this renewal, I felt inspired – even compelled – to begin writing about our experience of parenting a young addict. And, I felt like reaching out to other parents to share experiences, resources and hopes.

The outreach spawned a community of parents and professionals manifesting as Our Young Addicts. Today, I am awed by the power of quieting one’s mind in order to find a better way forward. I am grateful for that summer of serenity.

©2016 Our Young Addicts           All Rights Reserved

Cause for Alarm

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Addiction is anything but fiction and it is most definitely cause for alarm as today’s guest blogger, Jeff Vande Zande, so eloquently shares. Jeff teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Delta College and is the author of Detroit Muscle, a novel that explores the challenges of a young man in early recovery. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your perspective – as a parent and as a son.

In my family, we often waited eagerly for five o’clock in the afternoon. You see, five o’clock was the arbitrary time my father set for himself before he could have any brandy for the day. Up until five o’clock, my father was often very grumpy but, regardless, it was very rare for him to break his five o’clock rule. I guess it was a way for him to have some kind of control over his addiction. Once he would start drinking, he used a very small glass – probably to be able to tell himself, and to show us, that he was only having a little. It wasn’t lost on any of us that he refilled the glass at least a dozen times or more an evening.

Of course, we didn’t say anything. We were living with a myth… the myth of the innocuous alcoholic.

When drinking, my father was quite happy; brandy always affected his mood in a positive way. He would laugh more. He told great stories. He smiled. And then, by nine or so, he’d go to bed. We didn’t begrudge him his drinking. He’d had a hard life. In fact, I don’t think we gave his drinking much thought. He drank, he became happy, he went to bed.

It seemed harmless enough. Do we have to raise alarms about everything?

It strikes me that this might be the question in parents’ heads when it comes to their teens and weed. Marijuana has been in the news quite a bit lately. Some states are legalizing it; others are considering. We hear many stories about the medicinal uses of marijuana, and many of them can’t be denied. The upshot? Well, for some of us, when we discover those rolling papers in our kid’s car, or the pot pipe in the jacket pocket, or smell the unmistakable smell… maybe we turn a blind eye. Maybe we reprimand, but with a wry smile that says, “Just go easy on that stuff.” Maybe we punish, but then don’t follow up. Maybe we don’t say anything. Maybe we are relieved that it’s “only” weed… that it’s not the countless other hardcore drugs that we’ve heard about: cocaine, heroin, oxy, crack, etc.

Maybe what we do is buy into the myth… the myth of innocuous marijuana.

We’ve heard that you can’t get addicted to it. We’ve heard that it’s not really a “gateway” drug. We’ve heard that it helps people with their pain, with their insomnia, and with their appetite. No doubt about it, used correctly and for the right reasons, marijuana has its benefits for some. Just keep in mind, your teen isn’t using it for the right reasons. If you catch your teen with weed, you’re on the brink of something that could end up being a very painful journey. Most stories of addicted teens are told by parents, and that story often begins with weed. Of course, traced back farther, those stories actually begin with curiosity, boredom, or a desire to fit in. Many of those stories also begin with peer pressure or confusion or emotional pain or disconnection or the myriad other sources that can put our teens in an existential hell.

Maybe chemically marijuana isn’t a gateway drug, but it is a gateway into a world where access to harder drugs becomes easier.

Many of the folks that can get your kids weed can get them just about anything else that they would want. And, the folks that your kid is smoking weed with? Well, many of them do much more than weed. Just because your kid is self-medicating with pot doesn’t mean that all of their stress has gone away. It doesn’t eliminate the peer pressure, confusion, pain, or disconnection that lead your teen to weed in the first place. It just masks it. Everything that made weed appealing (even if it’s just boredom) is still there. Your teen was already bold enough to try weed. Why wouldn’t he try a pill that a “friend” has used for a “delicious high?” Why wouldn’t she try heroin if her boyfriend promises that it’s going erase everything that she’s going through? The world and people that introduce your teen to weed are the world and people that can introduce your teen to almost any other drug. If your teen is smoking weed, the red flag has gone up, and it’s begging you to pay attention. It’s time to get vigilant. It’s time to punish with consequences. It’s time to randomly drug test. It’s time to get your kid out of that crowd.

For a teen without the developed brain capacity to truly weigh consequences, there’s no such thing as a harmless drug.

Despite our clinging to our myth, my father’s relationship to alcohol wasn’t harmless. Over the course of his life, he developed Type II diabetes, which was directly related to his alcohol consumption. Sadly, his nightly brandy consumption also lead to him wearing down the lining of his esophagus and eventually developing esophageal cancer. He died at 68 … much too young. I miss him every day and sometimes wonder if we, as a family, should have intervened.

It’s a terrible question to live with… Could we have done more?

It’s the question the mother in my novel Detroit Muscle lives with. Robby Cooper, her son, is recovering from an OxyContin addiction. She’s worried for him although she doesn’t really understand what he’s going through. Everything that lead him to Oxy is still there: his life that is seemingly going nowhere, his lost love, his disbanded garage band. The pain and stress our teens feel is so real to them. We need to find out what they are going through and help them find a different way to deal with the angst and suffering of those teen years. If they show signs of helplessness (like using weed) then we have to turn up the volume on our efforts. Weed is cause for alarm. Period.

About our Guest Blogger:                              Jeff Vande Zande - guest blogger

Jeff Vande Zande teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Delta College. His books of fiction include Emergency Stopping and Other Stories, Into the Desperate Country, Landscape with Fragmented Figures and Threatened Species and Other Stories (Whistling Shade Press). His novel American Poet won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author and a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. He maintains a website at www.jeffvandezande.com.