Too many young people are becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol. Our Young Addicts is a community of parents and professionals sharing experiences, resources and hopes on the spectrum of addiction, treatment and recovery.
Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from substance addiction; many children suffer as well. Are you a parent concerned about your child’s sudden change in behavior? Our guest blogger below offers insight on ways to communicate, help and signs to watch out for with your child.
Drug addiction is a serious problem in the United States. It’s not limited to adults; many children have a substance addiction. Sometimes, the signs that a child is struggling with substance abuse mimic the symptoms of mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, or even the signs of puberty. It can be easy to overlook the symptoms, because it’s very difficult to admit that your child may have a problem. The best step you can take is to get professional help if you notice changes in your child’s behavior for which there isn’t another reason.
Watch for these signs:
Problems in school, missing classes, a decline in academic performance or a loss of interest in school
Trouble with the law
Changes in relationships with friends and family, acting withdrawn or hostile
Your child may also have changes in grooming habits, eating and sleeping. When the patterns change for more than a week, you may need to look at the underlying causes. Grief can mimic the signs of substance abuse. You don’t want to rush to judgment, but you do need to take control of the situation.
3 Ways You Can Help
When someone is struggling with addiction, he or she may become deceitful and react negatively to any suggestions of help. You have to be assertive, but not confrontational. What can parents do?
Strengthen your relationship with your child. Ask open-ended questions about what’s going on in your child’s life. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. You want more communication with your child. Ask questions that let him or her express their concerns and struggles. Focus on what’s good and be understanding.
Create and reinforce guidelines. Setting boundaries with a teenager is difficult when there is no addiction problem, but when you have the added pressure of substance abuse, you will have to be strong. Work with your child to create consistent rules that are enforceable. If a certain behavior occurs, then this will be the response. You may not be able to cover every contingency, but you can certainly establish rules and consequences for the most common issues. This lowers the emotionally-fueled reaction that isn’t productive.
Encourage positive behaviors. You will need to help your child learn new healthy coping skills and build better relationships through the healing process. You have to be a cheerleader that encourages your child to change. You cannot solve each of the problems created by drug abuse, but you can focus on positive messages.
You can do it.
You can be successful.
You are important in my life.
What can I do to help?
Many substance abusing teens will be reluctant to enter treatment unless compelled by the court system or their family. An intervention is not always the best method to get a child struggling with substance abuse into a program. Instead, you should encourage your child to talk to a professional about the problem to address their concerns and to find the best solution. Take care of yourself as you care your child’s needs. You don’t need to deal with burnout, stress and depression when your child needs you at your best.
Dan Gellman is the Director for High Focus Centers, a provider of outpatient substance abuse and psychiatric treatment programs in New Jersey.
Today’s guest blog post is by Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, CIP, a Twin Cities-based substance use and mental health professional. Welcome to the #OYACommunity, and thank you for sharing part 2 of a 3-part series with our readers.
Recently I had a conversation with a mom from North Dakota, and truthfully, it’s a typical conversation I have with parents all over the country.
The mom asked, “Would you be able to come pick up my 22-year-old son and bring him to treatment in Minnesota?”
“Sure.” I replied. “I would be happy to help your son get the treatment he needs. What day are you thinking?”
Her reply: “Well that’s the thing, he doesn’t exactly want to go nor does he think he has a problem”
“Oooookay,” I said with an extended tone. “Well how exactly do you want this to happen?”
The parent went on to explain her utter exhaustion with her son’s addiction and reported that she and her husband were simply “done.” She wanted her son out ASAP and in a treatment center by the end of the week.
I asked the mother, “Have you tried to encourage your son to seek treatment, and if so what did he say?”
Her words: “I have told him over and over again that he has a serious drug problem and he is not the son we raised”.
Enough said, I understood.
The Traditional Approach to Intervention Doesn’t Work Well with Teens
In previous years, my common response entailed an immediate plan of action to quickly intervene and remove the young adult from the environment. The plan would have been simple, either he would come with me to Minnesota or exit the home and live independently (potentially with police involvement). Additionally, I would have placed the element of fear inside his head, by letting him believe that he either came with me or he positioned himself near death.
Using this traditional approach, I have conducted countless interventions nationwide. Repeatedly, I showed up at homes around the country and informed young adults that they had two choices: A. Go into treatment TODAY or B. live independently on the streets without the support of family or friends.
Addicted or not, almost 80% made the choice to reluctantly enter treatment. Leveraged into a corner, the young adult considers living independently on the streets, however, generally sees that treatment may be a better option.
That being said, it’s almost never a fairy-tale ending.
An extremely high percent of those admissions did not stay sober or even remain in treatment.
Families would call me a few weeks later and ask for help – in complete despair with the rebellious nature of their son or daughter.
A Realization in the Making
Continually, I was saddened by what I was seeing and it personally effected me. I realized that I was not actually providing a beneficial service to families as THEY, the families, were essentially dictating the course of action.
I posed the question to myself, “Shouldn’t it be I, the professional, to provide the family with the best option to support their son or daughter?” I pondered on that thought and knew that there must be a better way to do this!
Launching a New, Improved Approach to Helping Young Adults with Addiction
In August 2014, when I founded Drew Horowitz & Associates, I decided that my method of intervention would change. My objective would be to incorporate a strength-based, empowering approach to intervention.
The new approach is called the “Teen Environmental Advancement Model” (T.E.A.M) and it’s designed to help teenagers and young adults seek treatment for their existing substance use disorder.
It does not use leverage or force to move them into a recovery setting. Instead, this model works to educate people on themselves, identify values and aspirations, draw discrepancy between existing behavior and goals and learn about steps that best position them to be successful in life.
In my professional opinion, it made much more sense to “meet the client where they are at” and guide them through a process to begin understanding the detriment of their behavior. Not only does this model help the individual make their own decision to enter treatment, but also it increases the odds of long-term sobriety.
T.E.A.M. Work (Teen Environmental Advancement Model)
Let me share the approach with you in with the counselor applies empathy, genuineness, self-disclosure and compassion and in which we continually work to strengthen rapport and alliance with the young person.
Preparation: This consists of the counselor gathering information from family and friends regarding the condition of the identified young person. This process helps the counselor come to understand the person of concern.
Introducing the idea: The counselor provides a suggested script for families to use when they introduce their loved one with the idea of meeting a counselor. The counselor then coaches parents and other family members on how to answer the person’s questions and address their objections, thereafter helping families overcome those barriers and create a segue for the counselor to meet with the person.
Meeting the Young Person: Next, we schedule a first meeting between the person of concern and the counselor. The counselor begins building rapport and establishing trust, taking an empathetic and person-centered approach that differentiates between the people being “sick” versus “bad.”
Building Discrepancy: At this point, the counselor meets with the person of concern to help identify goals, aspirations and personal values, continuing throughout to build rapport and validate the person’s thoughts, feelings and frustrations. While encouraging the person to attain their vision, the counselor begins the process of building discrepancy between the ways the person is living versus their values. The counselor methodically works to help the person see that their current behavior isn’t allowing them to be the person they want to be. In most cases, the person of concern starts to become self-aware of their destructive behaviors and agrees with some need for change.
Making a Recommendation: Now the counselor recommends a course of action. This involves remaining non-confrontational and compassionate while informing the person that the next step in moving forward and accomplishing their goals entails entering a treatment program of some type. Opposition and frustration are typical responses, to which the counselor reminds the person that by seeking treatment they best position themselves to be successful in life and attain goals. However, the person is never forced into treatment, but instead is encouraged to keep an open mind about the process. It is not uncommon for the person to start at a lower level of care and work up to an in-patient setting.
Entering Treatment: The counselor arranges transport to the treatment facility and, in the interim, prepares the person for their treatment experience, investing considerable time in articulating to the person how much courage and strength they’re demonstrating by taking this life-changing step.
Moving Forward: At this point, the person of concern is under the care of the treatment provider and it’s critical that they remain on track. Toward that end, the counselor’s role changes to that of a clinical case manager for the person and a family educator for their loved ones. Ideally, the counselor visits the person in treatment weekly or biweekly, depending on the facility’s location.
Providing After Care: As primary treatment concludes, the person of concern receives a recommendation for continuing care. The counselor supports the treatment program’s recommendation and encourages the person to follow through, applying intervention tactics and working with the family as needed to ensure that they take the appropriate aftercare steps.
Turning it Over: The counselor’s involvement isn’t intended to be long-term. The hope is, after a period of time, the person of concern will no longer be a concern. The counselor defers to the recovery community and encourages the person to lean on their new found community—their sponsor and peers—for ongoing support. That said, the counselor never declines a phone call or meeting request.
Using the T.E.A.M. model, I have seen a massive increase in positive outcomes among young adults: Pleasant goodbyes from home, motivation in treatment to get healthy, abiding by aftercare recommendations and active participation in the recovery process.
In order to be effective with today’s vulnerable young adult population, we must promote autonomy, strength and mutuality. I now leave interventions with a sense of inner peace and hopefulness that I had never experienced in the past. More importantly, our young loved ones and their families are finding a similar inner peace and hopefulness, too.
Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, has a vast range of experiences working with addiction and mental health. He gained a wealth of knowledge through his own recovery coupled with extensive training: a master’s level education from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction and an undergraduate degree in psychology and human development from Hofstra University. Following a career with several substance abuse and mental health organizations, he formed Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health.
The stats are startling. Each one that I read is riveting on its own. Together, it’s downright overwhelming. But stats don’t tell the story, and stats don’t solve the problem. That’s why I’m glad you’re part of the #OYACommunity – we need you, and we need your stories to personalize the stats, and hopefully to see these diminish.
I’m not anti stats, and I don’t want to stop reading these – I just want to do more. I want our #OYACommunity to share experiences, resources and hopes, and the best way to begin by being informed. So, I’ll keep seeking and sharing the stats … as if any of us need convincing that there are way too many young people becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.