What are they thinking? Substance use and the developing brain.

When you spend your days working with parents and kids within a public school district, it helps to know a thing or two about brain development and neuroscience. That’s exactly why we asked Judy Hanson, chemical health coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools and prevention expert, to be part of our From Statistics to Solutions conference. She shared her expertise and experience on a panel that explored how the brain develops and how this correlates with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Thank you, Judy, for being part of our conference and this week’s guest blogger. MWM

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One of the concerns I often hear from parents is how to differentiate between what they might consider normal teen behavior and what we call substance abuse.  There are definite differences but if this is new to parents, they do not have a reference point to substantiate between the two.  I have asked parents what is their gut telling them as they know their child better than anyone else.  They know their nature, personality and what they are like when just hangin’ with the family.  Differences can be subtle or completely out of the norm.

When in doubt, seek immediate help and don’t wait a year to find out.  A year’s time can take experimentation to full blown substance use disorder.

This is a common question I respond to from parents.

I sat recently with a set of parents that firmly believed in allowing their children to experience what it feels like to be intoxicated yet monitored by parents.  I know this is common practice amid the culture of alcohol use in our state and country.  Part of this thinking is to “ready” them for the college experience or post high school plans.  Another part is that they are going to drink anyway, might as well allow it under a parent’s watch.  This is where I beg to explore other perspectives.

Exploring our own expectations around drug/alcohol use first, is an exercise in self-awareness, no matter what the family structure is i.e.  two parent households, single parents, blended and co-parenting situations.  Knowing what it is that you stand for is a building block for parenting.  Next steps include sharing your personal beliefs with your partner, spouse, co-parent to find middle ground if necessary.  The following step is deciding what the expectations are going to be prior to sharing with your child.  This starts at an early age and can help parents avoid “making it up as they go.”  This is not a simple process; not at all.  It takes a lot of conversation, setting the stage of expectations and consistency.

From Statistics to Solutions 2017 – Panel Discussion on Brain Development

FSTS17 Panel 1 with Judy Hanson second from leftThe panel I sat on at the From Statistics to Solutions conference discussed some of the newest brain research and what is happening on a neurological level when substances are introduced to the developing teen brain.  I find myself having this discussion multiple times within a week to students who may or may not choose to listen.  I get it…when their perception is that all their friends are using, it can’t be that bad.  The latest research is fascinating and can serve as a great platform for parents willing to be a student as well.

 

What I do know for sure is that Minnesota has a strong community of prevention, treatment and recovery/maintenance resources and people who “get it.”

Most parents are willing to share their journey as not only does it provide a personal healing aspect it sets the stage to pay it forward to another family.

This tight knit community of parents, professionals and agencies can make all the difference in the world.

HANSOJUD000Respectfully Submitted by:  Judy Hanson, Chemical Health Coordinator, Wayzata Public Schools and conference panel member, 2 years running!

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.

 

©2017 Our Young Addicts                  All Rights Reserved

Guest Blog: Impact of Exercise in Addiction Recovery for Youth

This week’s guest blogger is Fiona Parascandalo of DUO, an Ontario addiction-recovery program focused on youth and the healing value of exercise. For young adults,  in particular, exercise is a key component to recovery. Learn why and how. MWM. #OYACommunity

Exercise is something that is often touted as making people happier and reducing stress, but less commonly discussed is the how the benefits of exercise can be used in the addiction recovery process. Youth especially have a lot to gain by incorporating exercise into their treatment or counseling. Exercise allows youth to take control of their journey towards to recovery, exercise also has significant impacts on the brain in there critical stage of development, and exercise is an easy practice to build into a daily routine.

  1. Exercise promotes active engagement with recovery: It is important for youth to feel in control of their recovery process and be given the opportunity to see the outcomes of their daily choices. In many treatment programs, youth are treated as passive participants and removed from making choices about their recovery or long term treatment plans. This can be damaging to the development of self-identity in a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood. When youth engage in an exercise program as a focal point of recovery, they are the centre of the recovery process and their physical effort has direct ties to their recovery.

The purpose of exercise is to revitalize and develop the body, mind, and spirit. Initiating a fitness regime at any stage of recovery involves making a change to addiction driven behaviours and engaging in new, mindful behaviors. Exercise is an opportunity to tune out stimulus and cravings, and focus on natural sensations in the body.

As youth are developing into themselves and defining who they are as individuals, exercise provides a means to discover the underlying catalysts of addictive behaviors so that addiction does not become a lifelong issue.

  1.  Exercise stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive substances: Addiction is created in the brain by the addictive substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamines) or behaviour (i.e. sex, video games) continuously stimulating the brain’s reward centre. New pathways are created and the user begins to crave the substance that caused the over stimulation of their reward centre. For youth, this is an especially dangerous neurological dependence as their brains are at an important stage of development.

In terms of brain development, late teen and early adult years mark the time when the prefrontal cortex, involved in the control of impulses and decision-making, is maturing. Involvement in substance abuse can delay or damage this development causing lifelong struggles with reckless and irrational behaviour.

In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, establishing a regular exercise regime as part of a stringent recovery process has been shown to reduce cravings and build resistance to triggers.

This allows the youth to take control of their reliance on a substance or addictive behaviour and engage in an activity that will positively affect their future neurological development as well as overall health.

  1. Exercise can be incorporated into a daily routine: For treatment to have a lasting effect it should be easily integrated into daily life and the practices learned should be simple to recall when facing a trigger. Establishing a daily routine will allow for a disciplined approach to facing triggers that can be utilized anywhere and at any time.

For example, if first thing in the morning is when you typically have your first cigarette, switch this behaviour with a morning run or simple body-weight workout; if after school you typically use with your friends, switch this with an after school team practice or start a regular football game with your friends. While this is a simplified explanation of how exercise can be leaned on when facing triggers or cravings, it does highlight the fact that exercise is a tool that can be used by anyone to assist in the recovery process. As part of a controlled and monitored recovery process small behavioural changes can have lasting impacts.

For teens and young adults the ease of integrating exercise into their daily routines is essential to its impact on their addiction. Between the ages of 15-24 daily activities and commitments are continuously changing, and addiction can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with these changes or as a way to escape the burden of increasing stressors.

Exercise is an affordable and customizable tool that has the capability to replace the feelings of relief and escape caused by substances. Chemicals released in the brain while exercising, endorphins and serotonin, reduce stress and increase happiness.

When facing stressful or overwhelming situations, individuals in recovery can learn to rely on exercise rather than abusing a substance to improve their mood and cope with the situation. Youth have the most to gain from engaging in an exercise focused recovery program as they will learn lifelong skills that can be easily integrated into their busy schedules.

Fiona Parascandelo

DUOaddictionfj@outlook.com

www.duoaddictionsupport.ca

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Guest Blog: The Process of Recovery

When Midwestern Mama’s son first went to treatment in 2011, she found online news articles about a young man who had attended the same program and had recently published a memoir about his experience. She emailed him and was pleasantly surprised to get a response. In the long years ahead, Midwestern Mama and Chad Hepler stayed in contact – ever grateful for his insights, support and encouragement all from a young man’s perspective. Today, Chad Hepler is a certified addiction counselor serving adolescents and their parents. Read what he has to say about the process of recovery.

Addiction and recovery is a process. A person does not become a rock bottom drug user overnight. It takes time. Just like the process of recovery.

This “process” is best explained by Prochaska & DiClemente’s five stages of change. In this article, I will examine the first two stages, precontemplation and contemplation, and how they relate to the teenage drug user. I will also discuss how parents survive this “process” of recovery.

The precontemplation stage is essentially denial. During this stage, the user does not believe there is a problem.

They are not considering change and generally do not care what you have to say in regards to their substance use.

A large percentage of users fall into this stage even when their life seems to be crumbling around them. This is the reason, insanity, is paired with addiction.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is painfully obvious the drug use is the problem, but the user just keeps on pushing.

There is no logical answer as to why a person continues to use, it’s simply insane. It’s doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Or as one of my patients said, “It’s doing the same thing over and over, knowing damn well, nothing will change.”

As an adolescent addiction counselor, I am faced everyday with the teenage drug user in the precontemplation stage. My goal is to move them from precontemplation to contemplation.

If I can help the teen reconsider their drug use, then I have succeeded. Nothing will mess up a good buzz more than a mindset of ambivalence.

Like they say in the rooms of AA, there’s nothing worse than a stomach full of booze and a mind full of AA. Sure, I would love to say my goal is long term recovery without a relapse, but quite frankly, that would be insane.

So how do the non-users maintain their sanity, while the drug user goes through this “process?” They work on themselves. They attend a self-help group, such as Alanon, Alateen, Naranon, and Families Anonymous. They get a sponsor, they work the steps, and they love and support their user’s recovery, not their addiction.

Chad Hepler is a Certified Addiction Counselor, working with adolescents for the last five years in a psychiatric hospital setting. He is also the author of two memoirs of his own addiction and recovery, Intervention: Anything But My Own Skin and Beyond Intervention: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery.

From Addiction to #OYACommunity

Sunday night reflection.  Our Young Addicts all started with a single word: Addiction. It has grown into a word that means many, together: #OYACommunity

In what seems like eons, but in reality spans 2009 – 2015, I’ve penned at least IMG_54751,000,000 words;  as of today, nearly 7,000 tweets;  well over 1,000 pages of draft copy, 100-plus blog posts. Additionally, for a few years, I wrote a bi-weekly newspaper column that ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and I continue to write for a feature article here and there for magazines.

How did it all start? It started with concerns about my teen-age son. Thing were happening so quickly that it was hard to keep track of everything, so I began taking notes in simple, black-and-white composition books. From there, I would type up the notes to maintain a chronology of professionals we consulted, of my son’s behavior, words and actions, and of the maze of solutions we pursued.  Later, the notebooks became my journal that I took to Ala-non meetings and to sessions with a therapist to work through feelings, concerns and hopes.

All together, these hand-written pages were the foundation for Our Young Addicts, a concept that is evolving from addiction to community, and I could not be prouder or more excited about the future.

Midwestern Mama

Nothing to Hide

We are a couple of moms creating a community of adults who care and are concerned about the young addicts in our lives. Together, we share our stories. Together, we share our truths. Though experiences, support and information, we are connected. We are together.

With kids born in the late 80s and early 90s, I didn’t jump on the social media train until a few years ago, and of course, it wasn’t even an option when they were little. Thus, they were spared from having baby pictures shared on Instagram. They were spared mommy blogging about spit up and potty training. And, they were spared from having their lives shared with “friends,” “followers” and “fans.”

The absence of social media did not equate with super private lives necessarily. Among friends and family, whether face to face or in letters and phone calls, we certainly shared plenty of details. I remember having daily, hour-long phone conversations with another mother who was part of a volunteer committee. We talked about anything and everything.

At the same time, I like to think I always had good judgment and a healthy respect for family members and family matters about what to share and what to keep within more immediate confines. Maybe that’s my generation. Maybe that’s my set of values. But maybe there’s some real merit in it, too.

When our middle kid, Our Young Addict, began having problems, I was open and honest with just about everyone, especially with teachers, coaches, counselors, neighbors, co-workers and many others. It seemed important to clue them in on our chaos and to share our experience. We had nothing to hide and only the best intentions.

More often than not, we were offered support and concern. Not everyone knew what to say or do, but everyone cared. Some people were grateful to know what was going on. Others had personal or family connections to addiction and recovery. Most were sympathetic if not empathetic.

Sure, there were some people who didn’t understand. Some thought surely I was exaggerating. Some probably were in denial about their kids. Some probably passed judgment on us and on our son. Most certainly, some got tired of getting a truthful response when they asked how we were doing or how our son was doing. They probably wanted to hear that everything was better, that he wasn’t an addict, that he had stopped using drugs, that all of this had just been a phase.

Along the way, I did turn to the internet to find information. Not only did I find volumes and volumes of information (and varying degrees of helpfulness), but I also started to find communities. You’ve read this before – this is how Our Young Addicts started; another mom and I connected as part of an online forum, exchanged our stories, and found value in sharing our experiences. We bolstered each other up. We offered each other the advice we ourselves needed to hear. We supported each other. We didn’t hold back because honesty was the key to success.

We decided that social media would be the best way to create a community with you. That’s way we launched on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. Our intent is to provide glimpses into our own experiences as encouragement for you to share yours with the rest of the community. In addition, we like to share current news and findings so each of us becomes smarter and more informed.

One of the things that Mid Atlantic Mom and I feel strongly about is finding a balance between honesty, transparency and identity. Our sons are in their twenties now. They are legally adults. They have a right to their privacy and that includes their identities. That is why I do not use my name or my son’s name. It’s out of respect for his past, present and future. But that is also why I tell it like it is what we’re experiencing, what it’s like. The anonymity … It’s not for fear of shame or stigma. It’s not for keeping a secret. It’s for what I call being appropriately anonymous. That’s why we use the monikers – Midwestern Mama and Mid Atlantic Mom.

Our stories, not just mine and Mid Atlantic Mom’s, all of ours collectively, are vitally important. These stories create community regardless of whether the young person you’re concerned about is just trying out drugs or alcohol, is using recreationally, is abusing regularly, is progressing toward addiction and or more substances, is experiencing consequences, is in treatment, is in relapses, is in recovery, is struggling or thriving. Our stories are our truth and our truth is our connection.

Midwestern Mama