Teen Use of Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances. Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances.
Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parents, you may or may not be aware of a new trend among teens and young adults.  They are called electronic cigarettes.  They are also known as vapes, vapor cigarettes, e-cigarettes, mods, and e-cigs.  These are devices that create steam instead of smoke.  The steam is inhaled, and whatever chemicals are mixed in with the steam go into the body.  In general e-cigarettes are used to get nicotine into the body, but they are also used for many other things.

 

The main intent of electronic cigarettes is to help someone quit smoking.  The belief is that inhaling steam is far less damaging to the body than inhaling smoke.  Someone trying to end a cigarette addiction might buy an e-cig in order to use a plan that helps them quit smoking.  They would buy various levels of nicotine to put into their electronic cigarette.  They would start out at a higher dose, and then gradually drop down to a lower and lower dose.  At some point the dosage is so low they can completely quit needing nicotine.  This has been successful for a number of people.

 

However, as is true with all things, there is a way to abuse the vapor cigarettes.  One thing I have heard repeatedly from my teenage clients is that they would never try a traditional cigarette because they are disgusted by the smell, taste and health effects of smoke.  However, they do not see any problem with trying an electronic cigarette.  In fact, many of those who would not normally smoke, do use vapes.  This is exposing teens to nicotine who probably would never have otherwise tried it.  If they are exposed often enough to nicotine, they risk becoming hooked on one of the most addictive substances in the world.  The bottom line of what I am trying to say is that electronic cigarettes very well can be a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes for adolescents.

 

The other way e-cigarettes are commonly abused is through the use of “dabs.”  Dabs are little bits of wax that contain cannabinoids.  I’ve also heard of people buying oils for the electronic cigarettes that contain cannabinoids.  Dabs and these oils essentially allow a person to get high from marijuana using an electronic cigarette.  The problem with this for parents is that it doesn’t leave a smell, so it is very, very difficult to detect when your teenager is doing it.  Marijuana is an addictive substance, despite what you may have heard or read.  Numerous studies have shown there are deleterious effects to the developing adolescent’s brain when they abuse marijuana.  Vapor cigarettes have made it easier for teenagers to get high without being caught.  Also, teens seem generally more willing to try marijuana when it is in an electronic cigarette because teenagers perceive electronic cigarettes to be less unhealthy than traditional methods of smoking.

 

The reason I wanted to write about this is because a lot of parents are not yet aware of electronic cigarettes.  So, now that you know, include this on the list of things that you ask your teenager.  You probably already ask them if they ever drink with friends.  Now also ask if they ever use an electronic cigarette, or if any of their friends do.  I’m willing to bet at the least one of their friends uses one.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Meth Abuse

Crystal Meth, Ice, Glass, Speed, Methamphetamine, Meth...A dangerous and addictive substance that ruins lives.

Crystal Meth, Ice, Glass, Speed, Methamphetamine, Meth…A dangerous and addictive substance that ruins lives.

If you’re the parent of a child using methamphetamine, let me start by sitting with you in your fear for a moment.  Your heart hurts like you’ve never imagined.  Every parent’s worst nightmare is the death of their child.  When your kid is using hard drugs, that fear feels a lot closer to reality.  Knowing how little control you have over this situation is also devastating.  Feeling the shame of other people making sympathetic comments but still wondering if they secretly are judging you leaves you feeling lonely and disconnected.  This is a very hard journey you’re on.  My heart goes out to you, and you are included in my nightly prayers.

 

The abuse of methamphetamine is becoming rampant.  It is relatively inexpensive for a hard drug, and the first high is supposedly so wonderful that it is extremely difficult not to use again.  A lot of people report feeling hooked after their first use.  Some estimate there are 24.7 million abusers worldwide.  I think that is probably a conservative guess because meth abusers tend to be difficult to track.

 

Here are some of the signs you might see if your teenager is abusing meth:

  • rapid weight loss
  • periods of intense irritability and hyperactivity lasting several hours to even a few days
  • periods of long hours of sleep and exhaustion
  • dilated eyes
  • they are suddenly out of money
  • selling their things
  • paranoia or intense anxiety
  • paraphernalia in their room
  • inability to meet responsibilities like homework, chores and curfews
  • seems sneaky, like not going where they say they are
  • lying

These are also signs of other problems.  Don’t assume your teenager is doing meth if you see these signs.  Just be aware it’s one of the possibilities.

 

Meth has several names.  It is referred to as ice, glass, crystal, crystal meth, and speed.  The prescription drug form of methamphetamine is Desoxyn.  It is rarely prescribed anymore because of its addictive nature and dangerous side effects.

 

There are essentially five ways to get meth into the body.  The two less common ways are to swallow it, or to take it in a suppository.  More commonly meth is injected, smoked or snorted.  It is possible to overdose on meth.  An overdose can cause brain damage, heart damage or in extreme cases, death.

 

The high from methamphetamine is an intense burst of energy and euphoria.  Many abusers say it helps them think very clearly and to focus.  The high differs based on how and why the user is using it.  Some take it orally in small doses to focus on a long, tedious task such as studying or completing a project.  Most people who are abusing meth on a regular bases are looking for the longer, more intense high that comes from injecting or smoking.  This is usually what you think of when you think of someone who abuses meth.  They go on a “bender,” typically lasting from 1-3 days.  They are wired, hyper, feel invincible, and energetic.

 

After the high ends comes the “crash.”  This is the complete exhaustion that results from not taking care of the body’s needs such as sleep, hydration, eating, and hygiene.  The body can be so depleted that the person might sleep for a full day or even two.  After that the withdrawals include an extreme depression and sadness.  Unfortunately the only remedy for this depression is to either get high again, or to quit using.  Most people elect to get high again because the depression has been known to linger for up to six months.  It is a true colorless pit of depression.  A friend of mine who had been sober for three years once told me it took her about six months before she noticed the sky was blue, flowers had beauty and things stopped generally seeming dingy.  She said her perception of reality had been skewed.  She said the depression that came from the damage she had done to her brain was nearly unbearable and it took everything she had not to use again.

 

For users who become addicted, they rapidly develop tolerance.  This means they need more and more of the drug to achieve any effect.  It also means each and every high is less intense.  At some point all the drug does is stave off the withdrawals even though there is no longer a high.

 

If you are the parent of a child using, I strongly urge you to get into a community of parents who have kids struggling with drugs.  You will find the support you need for the days you feel like you can’t even breathe.  Three good options are CODA, Alanon and Celebrate Recovery.  They all have support groups that might help you walk though how to effectively help your teen.  If you’re not the support group type, another good option is therapy.  A therapist with a background in addiction recovery can help you understand options, point out ways that you might be accidentally enabling your child, and give you the safe space you need to work through your emotions around what has happened.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

Some of the information shared in this blog post was gathered from drugfreeworld.org, some was gathered from my own experiences when I worked on the detox ward of a psychiatric hospital, and some from the clients I’ve worked with over the years who have endured the painful battle with a methamphetamine addiction.

Is my teenager addicted to technology?

Technology addiction in teens is a growing problem. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Technology addiction in teens is a growing problem.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

12 signs your teenager might be a technology addict:

1.  Cannot part with the smart phone: If you are at the dinner table, your teenager has their phone sitting beside their dinner plate.  You cannot get them to give it to you at night and you have caught them texting at 2 or 3 in the morning on more than one occasion.

2.  Is missing sleep to play games/check Snapchat/text:  Teens need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep to function at their optimum level.  If your teenager is getting fewer than that and yet spends multiple hours doing useless online tasks, they are losing sleep for online time.

3.  Has more online friendships than offline:  Teenagers who constantly text, Snapchat, Instagram, talk through Xbox Live, and other forms of online socializing might have this problem.  This is particularly true when you never actually see any friends in person, and when your teenager never seems to go out.

4.  Spends more than 3 hours a day in front of a screen:  They do need some screen time to complete homework.  That’s just the way it goes these days.  However, checking messages hundreds of times per day takes a lot of time, and is addictive.

5.  Is unhealthy in other areas of life as a direct result of screen time:  If your adolescent is not taking care of their spiritual, emotional, academic, family, social and physical health it’s because those things all require a little bit of time and effort.  When all available energy goes into online activity, there often isn’t much left over for the real world.

6.  You are fighting about technology use all the time:  Do you find yourself constantly irritated by how much time your teen is spending on their phone/computer/gaming console?  Are you asking them to stop all the time, or threatening to take away their electronics?  Maybe you wish you could have a conversation about something else for a change, or even a conversation at all.  This can be a sign of electronics addiction.

7.  Sneaks it when you say no:  You’ve turned off the wifi and told your teen they cannot use the internet for the rest of the day.  You catch them using their data plan on their phone, or sneaking to turn the internet back on.

8.  Won’t engage with family on account of using an electronic:  The family is getting together to go out to dinner, watch a movie, or play a game.  Your teenager has no interest in joining you because they’d rather watch Netflix or play video games.

9.  Is better at video gaming than anything else in life:  Your teen’s primary skill is video gaming.  They are extremely talented at playing video games, but cannot cook an egg, hammer in a nail or write an essay.  We are good at skills we spend time working to improve.  If your teenager only develops skills with a gaming remote, then they won’t have much to market to the real world later in life.

10.  Only requests technology related gifts for birthdays and holidays:  Your teenager isn’t asking for new clothes, to be taken to a certain restaurant, or for movie theater gift cards.  The only thing they want you to get for them is the new version of a game they like to play, the most recent version of the iPhone, a new tablet, etc.

11.  Is only motivated by access to electronics:  The only way you seem to be able to get your adolescent to complete tasks is to either bribe them with a new electronic gadget, or threaten to take away their current gadget.  They don’t want to work for money, pride of doing a good job, or to learn useful skills for their future.

12.  Chooses screen time over personal hygiene:  Your teenager really should shower more than they do.  However, shower time is procrastinated because they are watching Netflix, playing a game or can’t put down the phone.  Sometimes it gets so late they end up missing days of personal care.  You now feel like you’re on their back all the time like when they were 3 years old and didn’t like to take a bath.

 

Technology addiction in adolescents is a serious growing problem.  It is difficult for parents to understand because we didn’t grow up with nearly as many distractions.  There was one phone in the house and it was attached to the wall with a cord.  The family might have had a single computer and splurged for 10 hours per month of dial up internet access.  As a teen if we were bored we had to call a friend, read a book, go for a walk, etc.  Now there is an instant way to be entertained and feel good.  Once this turns into addiction, it becomes a huge battle in the home.  It is frustrating and overwhelming for parents.  Getting help to get life back on track is essential to everyone’s well being.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Deal With Video Gaming Addiction

Video Gaming Addiction in teenagers can cause serious relational difficulties. Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Video Gaming Addiction in teenagers can cause serious relational difficulties.
Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something you might be struggling with is how to control much your teenager uses video games.  Teens completely lose track of time while they are playing engrossing and challenging video games.  This can become so severe that they become sleep deprived, stop exercising, do all their socializing with other people playing the games and watch their grades plummet.  You might feel like your relationship with your teenager has gone downhill.  You used to spend time together but now they are always itching to get back on the computer or back to the Xbox.  It’s driving you nuts!  It also has you very worried.

 

What do you do?

 

Before you do anything you have to remind yourself that you’re the parent.  This doesn’t mean you become rude or threatening, but it does mean you know it’s your house.  You’re paying the bills.  You most likely bought the Xbox.  Once you firmly believe this and have truly gathered the grit you’ll need to regain who is in charge, you’re ready.

 

Step 1:  You and your child’s other parent need to remember many times in the past when you set a boundary for your child out of love.  Go back to when they were really small because it’s very straight-forward when they’re young.  You used to make them hold your hand when they crossed the street.  Although they wanted to run into the street, you stopped them because you loved them enough to keep them from being hit by a car.  They might have protested and even tried to pull their hand away, but you held on tight.  When they got a little bit older you didn’t let them go swimming without an adult present.  You loved your child enough to tell them they had to wait until someone could sit and make sure they were safe at the pool.  You loved them too much to let them drown.  They might have protested then too, but you understood that children don’t necessarily see the danger in an activity they really want to do.  When they were even older you made them finish their homework assignments.  You understood that they didn’t want to do it, and you hated to see them struggle and be frustrated, but you loved them enough to ensure they could read, write and do some math.  You get the idea.  Come up with at least 10 examples of when you parented out of love even when your child didn’t appreciate the limits you set.

 

Step 2:  You and the child’s other parent need to define the consequences of what will happen if your child continues to be addicted to video games.  You don’t need to share this with your kid, you just need to know it for your own sake.  You need to know what the metaphorical cars are that might hit your child if he runs into the metaphorical street.  For example, “If my daughter continues to play 5 hours of video games per day, she will not develop the social skills she needs to have healthy friendships.”  Another example is, “If my son continues to spend his whole weekend playing video games, he will not get the exercise he needs to have a healthy body and live a long, pain-free life.”  Keep going with this until you have exhausted the list.  Again, this is essential because you have to know the dangers from which you’re protecting your child.  You have to see how addictive video gaming can lead to emotional death, physical ailment, stunted development, etc.  This has to become scary enough to YOU that you are ready for the fight you will probably have when you set limits.

 

Step 3:  Define the limits and consequences.  You and your child’s other parent still need to work together on this.  Decide together how often your teenager will have screen time, and what the consequences are if your teen sneaks more game time.  Make sure you are both on the same page with this.  If you truly think your child has an addiction then it is advisable to completely eliminate any form of computer and online gaming for at least 6 months.  Your child needs to “dry out.”

 

Step 4:  Present your plan to your teenager.  You will probably get an argument, comments about how you’re stupid, or a lot of tears.  Stay extremely calm and even show empathy (Remember, they’ve just lost their favorite activity and access to online friends).  Do not bend though.  This is not a compromise.  You run your house and you are the parent.

 

I know this is not easy.  Once you really walk through these steps you realize how much of an addiction your teenager has.  It is alarming to realize the dangers your teen is facing.  They are indirect dangers since your teenager is physically at home, in a chair.  They are dangers that come from an isolated, inactive lifestyle.  Stay the course and be patient.  Eventually your child will actually tell you he or she is glad you intervened.  This is once they re-engage in the real world.  Until then, remember that loving your kid well doesn’t mean always being liked.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Alcohol- Teen Binge Drinking

Teen alcohol abuse is scary for any parent. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Teen alcohol abuse is scary for any parent.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Depending in what type of parent you are, it may or may not scare you when your teenager binge drinks.  Some parents think it’s not a huge deal if their teen comes home drunk because “Kids experiment at this age.”  Some parents even go to the extent of allowing their adolescents to drink with friends at their own house while parents are home “because at least then none of them are driving and there’s an adult around.  They’re going to do it anyway.  Now I know they’re safe.”  Other parents are extremely upset if their teenager binge drinks, or drinks at all.  They take away everything and ground their child for 3 months.

 

While there is not a one size fits all way to handle it if and when your teenager tries alcohol, there has to be some combination of understanding and consequences.  However, if your teenager is frequently binge drinking, you might have a budding addiction on your hands; that needs to be dealt with in an entirely different manner than the teenager who gets drunk a couple times per year with friends.

 

One of the many jobs you have as a parent is to teach your child how to responsibly handle alcohol.  Like it or not, it’s a huge part of our society.  It seems like many teens think alcohol is something that exists to create a buzz or get drunk; this is a problem.  It’s important to talk with your children about how adults can have a social drink or two, plan carefully for who will drive, and to understand the risks associated with overuse of alcohol.  If you model appropriate use of alcohol in front of your teens, and keep the conversation open, you will have a lot to do with how they view alcohol.  If you say nothing, then their other adolescent friends will teach them about alcohol…  Some of you have a long family history of alcoholism.  It may make sense for you to teach your child to avoid alcohol completely.  In either case, adolescents need to know the why behind everything you’re teaching them, so explain, explain, explain.

 

A common definition of binge drinking is four or more drinks per sitting for females, and five or more for males.  Binge drinking is linked to much higher incidences of alcohol dependence, car accidents, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

 

This is scary information.  Teens really don’t know what they’re getting into when they abuse alcohol.  They tend to think everything will be fine.  They also are not always likely to seek out help for someone who might have alcohol poisoning.  They worry about getting into trouble so they don’t call a parent or 9-1-1.  Please talk to your kids about this as well.  What do you think about giving them immunity in the situations where they seek out help for someone who might be alcohol poisoned?  Usually that means your teenager wasn’t where they said they’d be because it’s unlikely you’d have given them permission to be around other teens who are getting drunk.

 

Teen partying is here to stay.  It’s been around since our parents were kids, and it will be an issue when our grandkids are teenagers.  Keep the communication lines open with your teenager.  Walk the line between applying consequences for their bad behavior and being understanding very carefully so they feel emotionally safe to keep telling you the truth.  Teach them how to handle alcohol appropriately.  Get help from a family member, a friend or a counselor if you are struggling with alcohol yourself.  Approximately 10% of the American adult population struggles with alcohol in some way or the other.  Admitting this and seeking help will benefit your children who are watching everything you do in more ways than you can imagine.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen E-Cigarette Use

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances. Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances.
Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Centers for Disease Control just released a study that says in just one year the number of teenagers using electronic cigarettes has tripled.  That’s astounding!

 

As someone who does therapy with adolescents on a regular basis I hear about teens using e-cigarettes quite often.  Usually this is in the context of a teen who already uses regular cigarettes and wants to quit.  Often they find quitting to be too difficult, but rationalize that if they switch to an e-cigarette at least it will be less harmful to their lungs.

 

The article about the CDC report expresses concern that the novelty of electronic cigarettes is causing more teens to try tobacco products.  There are a significant number of teenagers who won’t try cigarettes because they are bothered by the smell, smoke and stigma of cigarettes.  The CDC worries that this may not be true of e-cigs.

 

Based on countless hours of counseling with teens who use various mood-altering substances, including tobacco, I can definitely agree with the article that electronic cigarette use is on the rise.  And, of course, like anything out there, if there is a way to abuse it, adolescents will figure it out.  One thing I have heard consistently is that teens use e-cigs to get high off cannabis.  They either use oils, or “dabs” (wax) with cannabinoids in it.  It puts concentrated THC into the electronic cigarette, thereby creating an intense high.  Some teens tell me this has felt more like hard drug use than traditional marijuana use because the high is a lot stronger.

 

Like all things that have the potential to tempt your teenager, have a discussion with them.  Find out if they have used an e-cig, have friends who do, or if they have ever even seen one.

 

As a parent, I encourage you to take a little time to educate yourself.  E-cigs often just look like fancy writing pens so your teen could have had one hidden in plain sight.  You also can’t smell them because they are simply vapor (steam) so if you have a teen with a history of marijuana abuse, make sure they don’t use an e-cig in their bedroom unbeknownst to you.

 

For as long as any of us has been alive, teenagers have experimented with tobacco and marijuana.  Most of the time it’s only a short-lived phase.  It’s not something to just dismiss, but it might not be something to feel completely overwhelmed and scared by either.  However, for certain teenagers, tobacco products and marijuana are truly a gateway into much more frightening substances.  They also both can be addicting in their own rights, and have health consequences.  Regular marijuana use also has consequences that often look like laziness, lower grades, worsening attitude and a change in friends.

 

I know there’s already so many things to keep track of that weren’t around when we were young, but just keep asking the questions and be aware of who their friends are.  This parenting thing isn’t for the weak!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips for Maintaining Early Sobriety

The first days of sobriety after addiction can be intensely difficult. Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first days of sobriety after addiction can be intensely difficult.
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maintaining sobriety in the first 90 days is VERY challenging.  Here are 10 tips to help stay on track:

1. Make sure you don’t have any mind-altering substances in your house.  This means getting rid of all alcohol and cleaning out your medicine cabinet.  Even if you did not struggle with these drugs, it is easy to substitute one high for another if you feel desperate.

2. Get a sponsor.  This means finding someone who has been sober for awhile that will call you daily to check on you.  This is your go-to person when you get a craving.

3.  Put barriers in place.  If you used to buy from the guy who worked the 5 pm shift with you, get your work schedule changed to work with him as little as possible.

4.  Find a social group that is sober.  Often if you have used for any significant length of time, your friendships are built around drinking or using.  Go to Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or Narcotics Anonymous and start participating.  You have to make new friends who know how to have fun without substances.

5.  Rediscover old hobbies.  There are things you used to enjoy doing before you used.  Make a list of them.  Realize that early in sobriety these things will not sound fun.  Go do them anyhow.  You will like them once you are doing them.

6.  Write a letter to yourself.  You will have moments when all you remember is the pleasure of the high or buzz.  You will need to read a letter from yourself to address these cravings.  It helps a lot if you can remind yourself how miserable you got, lonely and desperate you felt, and physically tired you became.

7.  Do not isolate.  Often the process of getting sober is depressing.  While your brain recalibrates, you might feel a lot of anxiety or depression.  It can be hard to reach out to people in those times.  However, spending a couple hours with a friend or family member is very refreshing, and pleasantly distracting.

8.  Do not date anyone who is newly sober.  If you are going to date from the Recovery community, pick someone who has at least 1 year of sobriety.  I have seen a lot of people relapse because they thought, “We can do this together.”  Both you and the newly sober person have to rediscover who you are, and how to live sober.  It is easy to accidentally drag each other down.

9.  Go to counseling.  It is very helpful to work on the why behind the addiction.  Understanding what led you there in the first place helps avoid relapse.

10.  Get to know God.  This is the best and most proven method of getting sober.  All the 12-step programs are based on a foundation that God has made you for a purpose, and you are meant to fulfill that purpose.  To know that the God of the universe loves you, forgives you, and wants you is incredible, especially for recovering addicts who often feel worthless and full of shame.

 

You and your teenager are on an incredibly difficult journey.  There are moments when it feels easy, but there are moments of intense struggle.  It is always a challenge to go through something as hard as getting sober without your preferred emotional coping mechanism (getting high) because that is the very thing you’re giving up.  Do not let go of hope that you will learn how to cope with this, and eventually you’ll feel glad to be sober.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Healing from an Addict Parent

 Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens have to recover from their parents’ addictions too.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For teenagers who have had parents addicted to drugs or alcohol, life has been harder.  It’s overwhelming and can be really unpredictable.  Excessive drug and alcohol use make it hard for a parent to be fully present and available to their child.  They are often parents who are filled with the best of intentions, but are very easily side-tracked by their need to drink, party or use a drug.

 

If you are a parent who has struggled with addiction, but are now recovering, you might wonder how your teen is supposed to heal from this too.  You are astute enough to realize your adolescent does have some healing to do because you understand addiction actually never occurs in isolation, even if it is one of the most isolating struggles a person can face.  You know it has affected your children.  So what happens next?

 

I will base my answer on families I have worked with in the past who have dealt with this.  This answer is predicated on the assumption that you are truly serious about your sobriety.  It assumes you are not continuing to lie to yourself and your family (i.e. you no longer drink alcohol but you take a Xanax every single night in order to fall asleep).

 

The families I have seen where the addicted parent(s) truly change see a lag time in their teen’s adjustment.  Their children have spent years learning to help the family hold it together.  They have had times when they’ve gotten themselves to school.  They have lied to other adults in order to avoid scrutiny for why they didn’t get their homework done, or were late to practice, or why Mom is not at such and such an event she was supposed to attend.  They have possibly driven Dad home from a bar or a party.  There has been a need for your child to create a self-sufficiency that is unnatural for their age.  They are used to functioning this way, and they don’t immediately trust you enough to let their walls down.

 

What I have noticed is with consistency and honesty most of these kids do let their parents be parents again.  It takes a lot of time, and some amount of struggle.  However, deep down all they’ve wanted is for you to be be their safe home base.  Now that you’re capable of being that, they are wary.  However, if you are extremely patient and kind you will make headway.  Help them to know you understand where you’ve fallen short.  Don’t be afraid to apologize.  Ask a lot of questions about how they’re feeling, but never tell them how they should be feeling.

 

You will have times where you sense your teenager trying to almost recreate some dysfunction in your relationship.  Perhaps your son is now acting out, or your daughter is also experimenting with substances.  Your child doesn’t know how to live without a certain amount of chaos.  It takes quite a bit of time to detox from constant crisis.  Create enough structure where your teenager is forced to forego a chaotic life, but expect them to seek it out for a time.

 

Most of all, remember your child loves you, and you love them too.  Express this often, and be humble.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Addiction affects younger siblings

Younger siblings are affected by teen drug use too. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Younger siblings are affected by teen drug use too.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

If you have a teen who is addicted to, or abusing drugs or alcohol, it affects the whole family.  The way it affects younger siblings is often difficult to manage.  Younger siblings have a variety of reactions, but one thing you can count on is that it is hurting them too.

 

I have worked with countless families who have a teen addict in the household.  Invariably when there are younger siblings they suffer.  One of the ways I see a younger sibling struggle is very similar to what happens to siblings when one kid gets a terminal illness.  There is a lot of focus and energy from parents going towards the child who is sick.  The healthy child is overlooked because they are functioning well.  This is the same with addiction.  A younger sibling might not get the attention they normally would because the addict is creating so much chaos within the home.

 

Another way I have seen younger siblings affected by drug and alcohol use in older siblings is to idolize the older sibling.  Sometimes the younger one thinks the attitude and behaviors of the older sibling are kind of cool.  They are introduced to marijuana or alcohol by their older sibling.  This is one of the only times their older sibling has paid any attention to them, and it feels really good.  So, they end up going down a similar path.

 

A third way I have seen younger siblings react is to start acting like a parent.  They try and become ultra-responsible.  They forget how to be a child.  They are constantly on their older sibling’s back for causing problems in the family.  They start helping with household chores.  At first this may seem like a good thing, but if a child takes on parental roles too young then they miss out on crucial developmental stages.  Sometimes this causes problems later on.

 

I have also seen younger siblings develop symptoms of depression, anxiety and other psychological difficulties.

 

When one of your children is struggling with addiction or drug/alcohol abuse, it is extremely important to manage how you parent the younger children.  Make sure they are still getting positive attention, and try your best to encourage them to still be a kid.  Communicate what is going on at an age-appropriate level, but do not make the younger child your confidante.  No matter what, remember the entire family is suffering because of the addiction.  There is nothing easy about this.  Seek extra help if you need it and keep in mind that the younger children might need help too.

 

If this applies to you, my heart breaks for you and your family.  I know it is a huge struggle, but hang in there.  Keep focus on what is going well in your life too, and help the younger sibling remember that too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Marijuana in the News

There is a correlation between heavy marijuana use in teens and poor working memory.

There is a correlation between heavy marijuana use in teens and poor working memory.

There is a stereotype that marijuana users have poor memory.  They tend to forget details of what was said, their work schedules, etc.  Lately researchers have been putting that to the test.  Researchers from Feinberg School of Medicine (part of Northwestern University in Chicago) have found that there is a very strong link between poor working memory and consistent marijuana use in adolescents.

 

The study looked at nearly 100 adolescents.  The results showed that non-marijuana users had an average of 37 times the capacity for working memory than daily marijuana users.  What’s even more shocking is that the study counted someone as a marijuana user if they began using between 16 and 17 years old, and used for 3 years consecutively after that, even if they were no longer using; there were some participants in the study who had been sober for a few years, and their memory was still diminished.

 

The study also looked to see if there was a correlation between marijuana use and a change in brain structure.  They found that parts of the brain associated with memory were diminished in size in comparison to their non-using counterparts.

 

So, next time your teenager wants to argue with you that marijuana isn’t bad for them, and may even be good for them, you’ll know.  On top of that, other studies have shown that marijuana is addictive, both physically and psychologically.  A lot of people who use it continue to function at some level, which is part of the reason heavy marijuana users are hesitant to admit there are problems with the drug.  However, they are not functioning as well as they could if they were sober.

 

After doing counseling with numerous teen cannabis users over the years, I can speak from what I have witnessed.  Many of the teenagers who were heavy users and then became sober made marked improvements in multiple areas of their life a few months after they quit.  It wasn’t immediate.  After several weeks though their familial relationships greatly improved, motivation increased, activity level with friends increased, exercise increased, and overall sense of well-being increased.  Eventually most of them even ended up saying they were glad to have stopped using.

 

Here is a link to the article I referenced in this blog post:

http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/news/2015/03/Csernansky-teen-cannabis-use.html

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help! I just found out my teen is using drugs

Finding out your kids use drugs can be heartbreaking.

Finding out your kids use drugs is scary and heartbreaking.

How should you react the first day you hear your teenager is abusing drugs?

 

You’ve been suspicious that your teen is using marijuana, or some other drug.  You’ve asked your teenager about it before, but they’ve given you plausible stories.  One time you thought they looked high when they came home at night, so you mentioned it.  Your adolescent told you some dust blew into his eyes, and he’s been rubbing them.  You thought that sounded a little strange, but you trust your kid.  Another time you thought you smelled a little bit of smoke on your teenager’s clothes, but you just couldn’t be certain.  When you asked her about it, she told you that her friends invited some kids over that she’d never met before.  She said those kids started smoking.  She even went as far as telling you she’d make sure to never hang around those kids again.

 

Finally, one night you figured out the truth.  What you’ve been suspecting turned out to be right.  Now what?

 

1.  Take the time to process your emotions.  Call someone you’re very close with, who also knows your teen.  Preferably this is your teen’s other parent, but sometimes that isn’t possible.  Talk it out.  Take a few hours to let your emotions settle.  You’re probably feeling a combination of fear, anxiety, anger, betrayal and sadness.  If you immediately react, you’re likely to say something you’ll regret.  The last thing you want in this situation is to have to backtrack with your teen later.

 

2.  Be firm.  When you go to discuss this with your child, do not approach them weakly.  You don’t need to be mean, and yelling doesn’t help either.  However, you do have to be clear about your stance on their drug use.  You need to tell them both what you think of it, and how you feel about it.  People confuse what they think with how they feel.  What you think is the facts you know about their decisions, and the risks they are facing.  What you feel is the emotions you’re experiencing, such as hurt, betrayed, foolish, angry, etc.  Telling them what you feel is very important and tends to sink in more than telling them what you think.  They can argue with what you think, but not how you feel.

 

3.  Don’t be naive.  Your teen is likely to make you all kids of promises.  They are likely to apologize and promise never to do it again.  For you to just believe them because they are crying, or because you really want to believe them is naive.  You need to realize that drugs are stronger than will power.  Initially your child probably will stop using.  However, they will easily slip back into it.  At the very least you should read up on recommended steps for helping your teen stay drug free.  Usually though, you should take stronger steps than that, and insist on some kind of treatment.

 

4.  Get yourself help.  You’ve been unintentionally enabling your child’s drug use.  This is not to blame you for your adolescent’s choices.  However, because you didn’t know they were using, you were still willing to give them money to go out to dinner or the movies.  Without meaning to, you’ve been supplying money for their drugs.  From what I’ve seen, parents often are very surprised by the ways their drug using teens have manipulated them.  You need extra help to avoid this.  Two great, free places to start your education are Celebrate Recovery or Alanon.  These both have groups for codependent [enabling] behaviors.  From there, you may decide to seek out more help.

 

5.  Take your time.  Your initial reaction doesn’t have to include the consequences you will give your teen.  It is completely fine to tell them you’re upset and you need time to think.  It’s okay to tell them you’ll let them know within the next few days what consequences your teen will have for choosing to use drugs.  Immediately telling your teen they’re grounded for 6 months is both unreasonable and rash.  It also puts you in a position where you have to enforce something ridiculous.  From here on out it is essential that you only give consequences you’re willing and able to enforce.

 

6.  Call your child’s physician.  I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough.  There are numerous effects of drug use that both you and your teen don’t know about.  There are risks that you are completely unaware of.  For example, there are problems with the mix of certain drugs with certain medications that are extremely dangerous.  There are also many drugs that need proper detoxification under the care of a medical doctor.  Make sure your teen is cared for by a doctor if they have been using drugs.

 

If you are reading this and find it relates to your situation with your teenager, my heart breaks for you.  Finding out that your child is abusing drugs is one of the most scary things a parent can face.  Take a deep breath and go slow.  Get educated as quickly as possible.  Find out what you need to do to change the home environment to both protect your other family members and to help your teen get sober.  Make sure that safety concerns are addressed first.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Are You Sending Your Teen the Wrong Message?

Are you dependent on a drug or a drink? Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Are you dependent on a drug or a drink?
Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sadly this has come up today, so I feel I must address it.

 

If your teenager is struggling with substances, please examine your own behaviors.  It’s extremely difficult to admit if you might be drinking a little too much, or that you still smoke marijuana, or that you can’t manage your pain on your own so you have to have a narcotic painkiller every single day, or that you can’t fall asleep at night so you use a sleep aid, or that your anxiety overtakes you on a regular basis so you have a daily dose of Xanax or Klonopin.

 

Most of you who do one of these things will easily brush this blog post aside and said that it is prescribed, and that you have it under control.  If you drink too much you’ll say something like, “It’s my one vice,” or “I still function normally,” or, “I always have one glass of wine to wind down, but I wait until the day is done.”  If you don’t drink often, but when you do you always get a buzz or drunk you will find ways to justify that too.

 

Any of these habits are generally unhealthy.  Your teenager uses this kind of thing to justify their behavior.  Believe me, I hear it in my office all the time.  I will be working with a teen who keeps getting drunk on weekends, and I’ll ask their parents to keep a dry house (meaning absolutely no alcoholic beverages in the house).  Parents who have no need for alcohol immediately comply.  However, other parents will make excuses like, “I can’t have company over and not serve wine and beer.  That’s just not done.”  The teenager will tell me they know it’s fine to keep doing it because their parents do it.

 

Just because you have a “vice” or an occasional way to let loose, doesn’t mean I’m calling you an addict.  I’m simply asking you to be gut level honest with yourself if your teenager is acting out with drugs or alcohol.  If asked, would you be able to never smoke another joint?  If asked, would you be able to ask your doctor to wean you off your sleep aid or your Xanax?  Sometimes all it takes for your adolescent to quit abusing substances is to see you quit.  That helps them take it seriously.  Most times if you continue but ask your teenager to completely abstain, they will see you as a hypocrite and you will lose credibility.

 

Teens are at a stage where your actions count for a whole lot more than what you say.  It was easier when your kids were younger.  They pretty much took you at your word and didn’t question it.  Now they question everything and are watching your every move.  Also, if you think you are secretly having a beer a night or secretly smoking after they go to bed, 9 teens out of 10 know it.  They are not stupid, and they are far more astute than we think.

 

So, if this post applies to you, please don’t read this as condemnation.  Please read this as something very serious to consider.  You might make a huge difference in your child’s life, and after a few weeks you’ll probably feel better too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips to Stop Enabling Your Addicted Teenager

codependence, therapy, therapist, addict, addiction, adolescent, teen, teenager, Lauren Goodman

Enabling behavior makes it easier for your addicted teen to get ahold of drugs or alcohol.

“Enablers are some of the nicest people on the planet.” -Dave Ramsey

 

Dave Ramsey is right.  Enablers are some of the nicest people on the planet.  In general enablers mean well.  They are trying so hard to help someone break a bad habit.  Unfortunately their methods of trying to help do not help.  Worse yet, they hinder.

 

An enabler (also called codependent) is someone who accidentally supports a bad habit.  An example of enabling behavior would be if your thirty year old child still lives at home and you don’t charge them rent.  While there are situations where this is helpful to them, in most cases you are hurting your child.  Generally it is better if you force your child to leave and rent their own place.  Though this will cost them more money, they will have the dignity of having their own space.  This also causes them to be more responsible with their money in general because there is nobody to bail them out if their bills aren’t paid.  They also will work harder at their job, or go find one if they haven’t been working.

 

How does enabling apply to drug addiction?  One parent recently told me they will continue allowing their drug abusing teenager access to a joint bank account because otherwise, “he might get the money for drugs doing bad things.”

 

I said to the dad, “Or, he might have no money with which to buy drugs and then will stop buying them.”

 

Enablers take responsibility for their addicts woes even though the addict is more likely to quit using if they would just feel the pain of their choices.  That cliche that an addict has to hit bottom before they will quit is based on truth.  Don’t prolong when your teenage addict hits bottom.

 

So, here are 10 tips to stop enabling:

1.  Do not give them any money for anything at all.  This includes money for gas in their car, money for food, etc.

2. Always call the police if you find drugs in your house, irregardless of the trouble they will be in.  They are better off in trouble than deeply addicted to drugs, or dead.

3. Do not bail your drug abusing teen out of jail or trouble at school.  If they know mom or dad will save them, then they won’t hesitate to continue misbehaving.

4. Stop paying for any extras, such as a cell phone.  They use the cell phone to coordinate drug transactions.  You don’t want to be helping them obtain drugs.

5. Do not allow them in your home if they are high.  Sometimes you can’t tell.  However, when you suspect it, you are probably right.

6.  If you’ve said there will be consequences for a failed drug test, enforce them unemotionally and consistently.

7. Do not pay for a lawyer if they are arrested.

8.  Do not allow them privacy in their own bedroom.  The door needs to stay open and you can search the room at your will.  Afterall, it is a room in YOUR home.  As a rule, addicts are not trustworthy while they are using.

9.  Do not allow their friends over who use drugs.

10. Do not make excuses for your child’s behavior such as calling into their work for them, or calling them out of school.  You might think, ‘If I don’t call them off school, then they won’t graduate.’  A high school diploma is worthless if someone is abusing drugs.  Sobriety and consequences are substantially more important.  A GED can always be obtained later.

 

Remember you’re not helping your kid if you make it so your teen doesn’t experience the consequences of their actions.  Also, it is better to get into trouble as a minor than an adult.  There is more grace for minors.  I know it is breaking your heart and I completely understand that.  I want nothing more than for you to learn how you can most quickly help your teen get healthy, and often that means you need to stop saving them when they aren’t helping themselves.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

My Teen Wants to Party

How do you manage your teen's partying? Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How do you manage your teen’s partying?
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your teen wants to party.  This is good in one sense.  It means your teenager is making friends and socially included.  In just about every other sense, this is bad.

 

For the purpose of this blog, when I say “party” I’m referring to teenagers who want to go to a house where there are no parents, lots of loud music, alcohol, and maybe drugs.  When your teen wants to participate in that, what do you do?

 

If you know ahead of time that your teenager intends to go to a party like this, your knee-jerk reaction is probably to completely forbid it.  If you have a strong relationship with your teenager, this might work.  They will listen to you and grudgingly accept the alternatives you offer.  Don’t show anger that they wanted to go; offer to send them and a friend to the movies or something like that.  Give them an excuse they can give their friends as to why they aren’t going.  You don’t want them saying, “My mom won’t let me go” because then their friends will start to criticize you.  You probably don’t care what their friends think of you, and I wouldn’t really either.  It’s more an issue of it slowly altering what your own child thinks of you.

 

If you aren’t as close with your adolescent, forbidding them to party will just cause them to lie.  They’ll tell you they’re going to Jeff’s house and then they’ll go to the party instead.  You could call Jeff’s parents to make sure they’re where they say they’ll be.  Some parents have to resort to checking on their teens in this way.  However, that shows a mistrust of your teen, and isn’t great for your relationship with them.  Try telling them, “I trust you to go where you say you’ll be.  If you find yourself leaving Jeff’s for another situation, please let me know.  I trust you are a good enough kid to make the right decisions, especially if you’re confronted with drugs or alcohol.”  Let them know that you’ll continue to extend them this trust as long as they don’t break it.  Whatever you do, do not convey that you are doing your teen a favor.  Express that you genuinely trust your teenager, and you’d be surprised and hurt to find out they have broken your trust.

 

For those of you who know for certain that your teenager is partying and breaking the law (underage drinking and/or drug use), you have to set ENFORCEABLE limits.  Enforceable is in all caps because many, many parents I work with set rules they can’t enforce.  You can forbid your child who to date, but how can you know who they’re seeing at school?  You can’t tell your child they are not allowed to attend a party.  Unless you make them stay at home 100% of the time, how can you know what they’re doing outside the house?  What you can do is tell them exactly what will occur if they’re caught.  If you know they’re drinking and driving, you will call the police.  If you know they’re high, you will stop giving them money for anything at all.  If you know they spent the night at a house where parents weren’t home, you will no longer be able to trust them with a car because they’re showing irresponsibility.  If they are picked up by the police when a party is broken up, you will be unavailable to pick them up from jail until the next day.  You get the idea.  Make sure 100% of the responsibility is placed on your teenager for their choices.  Don’t say these things in anger, but matter-of-factly and with love.  Tell your teen these are all natural consequences of their choices, and you’ll simply allow the consequences to unfold without rescuing them.

 

Eventually your partying teenager will get into trouble for their actions.  If they’re unsafe and they’re calling for a  ride home, that’s one thing.  However, in circumstances where they’re in trouble with the law or other parents, do not rescue them.  It’s better for them to get consequences from the world than from you.  They learn more and you aren’t blamed.  It’s a win-win.

 

I know parenting is very challenging sometimes.  It’s hard to know where the line is for when to step-in and when not to.  I’m generally a fan of staying in constant conversation with your teenager, but not rescuing.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

 

When to Send a Teen to Rehab

Finding our your teenager is using drugs is heart-breaking. Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finding our your teenager is using drugs is heart-breaking.
Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For a parent of a child who is using drugs and alcohol, one of the most difficult questions is when to send your child to rehab.  It is an incredibly hard to determine when they need that level of help.  When you consider the costs, disruption to school, guilt you might feel sending them away, emotional distress you know they will feel being sent away, stigma that might be attached with inpatient treatment, and fear you have of who they will meet while in treatment, it is enough to make any parent balk.

 

Here are 5 signs it is likely time for inpatient treatment:

1) You cannot control your teen.  You give them a curfew and they blow you off.  You tell them you will be taking their phone, and they ignore you.  You require them to be at school but they are truant all the time.  No matter what limits you set, they do what they want.  They are willing to go to any length to get their way, including being physical with you.  In fact, the only way you can imagine getting them to obey you is if you were to physically restrain them.

 

2)  They are stealing.  If your teenager’s drug addiction has come to the point that they are willing to steal in order to finance it, then it’s time for intervention.  In fact, it’s past time.  If you’ve noticed money missing from your wallet, guests who come over complain money is missing from their wallets, or your teenager has been caught breaking into cars, etc., please get them help.

 

3) They refuse a drug test.  Teens who are being honest about what they are using, and how often are ALWAYS eager to take a drug test.  Trust me, this is true ALL the time.  They want to prove to you that they are being honest.  When they refuse it is because they are hiding something.  This is a nearly sure sign they are using something they won’t admit to.

 

4) When they are coming down from their high, or sobering up from alcohol use, they are often lamenting about how miserable they are.  They might say extreme things like they want to die.  They might yell at you, or be extremely irritable.  Whatever the case, it’s clear to you they are going through physical suffering as they withdraw.

 

5) They ask for help.  This sounds really obvious, but a lot of parents don’t act on it when their teen asks for help.  There is often a few hour window that a teenager comes to you and asks for help with their addiction.  Quickly the cravings overtake them and they say they are fine (because they want to be left alone so they can use again).  However, if your teenager is asking you (even just for a couple hours at a time) for help, this is their way of telling you they can’t stop using on their own.

 

Addiction is terrifying, overwhelming, upsetting, frustrating, scary, and just plain awful.  It makes everything feel like chaos.  You walk around on eggshells because you are afraid to set your teenager off.  Your teenager is combative, rude, and has completely dropped activities they used to care about.  I know deciding to get them help is really hard, but sometimes it’s the only option you have left.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Sleep and Electronics

Too much screen time leads to exhausted teens. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Too much screen time leads to exhausted teens.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

As you’ve probably already suspected, if your teenager is on a tablet, smartphone, game console, watching TV, etc., they are not sleeping as much.

 

There are several suspected reasons for this.  Here’s a short article explaining a recent study that proved this to be true: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/screen-time-means-sleep-teens-doctors-find-article-1.2101998

 

I’d like to add one theory to the reason teens who use electronics for at least a few hours per day are not sleeping enough.  I believe they are substantially more sedentary than generations past.  Movement and activity makes you more physically tired, which makes it easier to sleep.

 

So, parents now you have an excuse to police your children’s use of electronics.  It’s truly unhealthy for them to use electronics for more than a couple hours per day.  If your adolescent sleeps about 9 hours, they will have better immunity, learn more easily, are less prone to depression, will be nicer to you, have more friends, and have more energy.  Maybe this is why so many parents tell me their teen became much nicer after being grounded from their phone for a couple days.

 

Anyhow, I’m not against electronics.  I use a smart phone, I’m typing this blog on a laptop, and I watch TV sometimes.  However, like all things, moderation is key.  Your teens needs to sleep about 9 hours per night.  Do you think they could sleep more if they didn’t use their phones as much?  I bet you’re right.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Marijuana in the News

It seems marijuana does affect long term memory.  It seems to affect it for a great length of time actually.  A new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine shows it actually shrinks middle aged adults’ vocabulary if they were regular teenage users.  Even if they’ve quit for years, it still seems to have a negative result.  For those who have continued using regularly since adolescence into middle age, the results are even worse.

 

People who smoke regularly have a reputation for being “slower,” and this is apparently based on fact.  Current users are slower in processing, and have a reduced vocabulary.

 

Those who have used since being a teenager, and continue to use into adulthood have slower processing, reduced vocabulary, and poorer executive functioning (Executive functioning is essentially the planning out and completing of a task or set of tasks.  For example, deciding to first brush teeth, then comb hair, then apply make-up, and then following the planned out steps).

 

There were a couple of things about this study that really give it legitimacy.  First of all, people across all strata of life participated.  There were people of different races, sex, and socioeconomic status.  Secondly, the study finished with over 3,000 participants.  I used to teach statistics at Vanguard University.  One of the first things I taught students was that a sample needed a minimum of 30 participants to have statistical significance.  A study with over 3,000 participants from start to finish is a HUGE sample size.

 

It’s important to understand what marijuana does to the brain because many teenagers see it as harmless.  They don’t associate it with other drugs, and some even think of it as “natural.”  There’s such big push it eat naturally these days, that a lot of people assume everything “natural” is healthy.  This simply is not true.  Just because marijuana is a plant doesn’t mean it is okay to use.  A lot of cannabis plants are genetically modified anyhow.

 

If you’d like to read more about this study, you can check out: http://www.wmur.com/health/weed-use-hurts-your-word-skills-in-middle-age/37917626.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Poem About Addiction

Addiction is heartbreaking for everyone in the family.

Addiction is heartbreaking for everyone in the family.

I was browsing the internet today for poetry that captures how a family member feels who has an addicted sibling, child, parent, etc.  I think this poem captured it beautifully.  It is very sad.

The Battle

© Julie
The words that have yet been spoken
The things I need to say.
To voice what’s within my heart
I just can’t find a way.
I’ve fought with my emotions
I’ve held them deep inside.
I didn’t want to face what for so long
You’ve tried to hide.
I’ve been lost within the dark
For so long I’ve seen no light.
Holding on to the memory
of a time when things were right.
I’ve looked upon your face
And seen the sadness in your eyes.
The battle of addiction
You no longer can disguise.
I’ve prayed to find the answers
Of what I myself must do.
And I’ve prayed for the strength to fight
Through the hell that I go through.I’ve held on for so long
But I can no longer watch you die.
I cannot fight this for you
But Lord knows how I’ve tried.

It’s just so hard to watch the ones you love
Slowly slip away.
That’s why I just blocked it out
And held onto yesterday.

I don’t have all the answers
Or the power to save your soul.
You’re broken, lost and lonely
And I cannot make you whole.

This fight is yours and yours alone
No matter what I do.
For I cannot save you
The only one who can is you.

Poem Source: The Battle Of Addiction, Addiction Poemshttp://www.familyfriendpoems.com/family/poetry.asp?poem=19622#ixzz13ayD0CeI

 

Wow!  That is so powerful.  This is a great poem though.  It really helps us understand both the heartbreak family members feel, and the struggle they go through to stop trying to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.

 

Helping teens grow, and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Tips for teens after leaving rehab

Making new, sober friends after rehab is essential.  Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making new, sober friends after rehab is essential.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Leaving rehab is usually a celebratory time.  People discharge rehab feeling very strong and certain they will not relapse on drugs.  They have gone over and over what they need to do in order to stay sober.  Any good rehab will warn its clients how easy it is to lapse back into the old lifestyle.  Plans are set, barriers against using drugs or alcohol are put in place, and the person goes home.

 

Now what?

 

Here are some tips for staying sober:

1. Get plugged in.  Find a recovery group that has strong, consistent members.  Teenagers often feel awkward about walking into new situations.  However, this is truly life or death and it is worth overcoming the embarrassment.  Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery are two types of groups that can be very helpful.  There is a Celebrate Recovery just for teenagers called The Landing.

 

2. Find a new hobby.  Old habits and activities remind teens of when they used to use drugs or alcohol.  New hobbies don’t have the old associations.  If you used to get stoned and then listen to loud music, it’s time to hike instead.  If these are hobbies where a social group can be joined, even better.

 

3.  Recognize that it is easy to stay sober around sober people.  Your teenager no longer has a physical need for their drug because they overcame that in rehab.  There will be a psychological attraction to the drug for a long time after the physical need has disappeared.  Teenagers who come home and immediately get involved with wholesome kids have a much lower rate of relapse.  On the contrary, teens who come home and see old friends have a high rate of relapse.

 

4.  Be honest.  Parents, you need to allow your teenagers to tell you if they are having cravings.  They need to be able to tell you without you getting really upset.  If they can come to you, then you can help them through it.  Discuss your plan for this ahead of time.  Agree that if they are having a craving you will take them down to the beach and just walk with them, or something like that.

 

5.  Do not assume you are immune to relapse.  Teenagers comes out of rehab overconfident.  This means they call old friends and sit to the side while friends use.  Before long they just take a drag on a cigarette.  Then it’s, “I just used pot once.  That’s not really a serious drug though.”  Quickly they are all the way back into it whatever they went to rehab for in the first place.

 

Following these 5 tips will really help your teenager keep their sobriety after rehab.  It is a challenging thing to do.  With the right attitude and focus though, it’s entirely achievable.  Probably the most important two tips on this list are the ones discussing social groups.  Teenagers are heavily, heavily influenced by peers.  Being around clean and sober people makes recovery much easier.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Do I call a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles.  There are some certified to work with teens and children.

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles. There are some certified to work with teens and children.

First of all, a lot of people do not know the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor and therapist.  Let me start by clarifying what those terms mean.  Counselor is the most general term.  It can refer to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.  Counselor is also the term used for a person with an associates degree or certification in addiction counseling.  A therapist refers to either a psychologist or a master’s level person with a license.  A therapist is someone who will spend an hour with you on a regular basis talking about ways to work through your struggles, and can also do psychological testing.  A psychologist has a doctorate (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.), can do psychological testing, and can do therapy.  A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who completed medical school and a residency.  The psychiatrist can do therapy, but typically chooses to refer out for therapy.  The psychiatrist evaluates patients to determine whether medicine can help a psychological condition, and if so, prescribes that medication.

 

Sometimes people hesitate to take medicine for a psychological condition, preferring to address the problem in therapy.  Usually your therapist will let you know when it is time to seek a psychiatric evaluation.  It is also a good idea to see a psychiatrist if you feel extremely depressed, are considering suicide, have been hallucinating, or have extreme anxiety like panic attacks.  There are other conditions where seeing a psychiatrist is advisable as well.  For example, if you suspect your child has ADHD, then you can get a diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist.  Use your therapist or primary care doctor as a guide in terms of when to contact a psychiatrist, and often they will have good referrals to give you.

 

When you go to your psychiatry appointment, come prepared.  Keep a list of your symptoms, what caused them, and what time of day they occurred.  Be extremely honest about any drugs or alcohol you use.  Your psychiatrist is required to keep everything confidential, so don’t be afraid to tell him or her.  If you smoke marijuana every so often, your psychiatrist NEEDS to know this.  The reason it is so important to give your psychiatrist this information is that you are being given medication.  Alcohol and illegal drugs interact with legal medication, affecting how well the medicine works.  In some cases you actually are putting yourself in danger by mixing certain medications with certain drugs or with alcohol.  Your psychiatrist isn’t going to be judgmental of you, believe me.  Your psychiatrist has heard it all, and I mean ALL.  You will not shock your psychiatrist.  He or she has seen some of the seemingly most normal looking people take drugs, have an alcohol problem, lose touch with reality, make poor decisions, participate in extremely risky behavior, and anything else you can think of.  Just keep in mind that your psychiatrist can only help you to the extent that you share everything about what is going on with you.

 

Also come to your appointments with a list of any physical symptoms you might be dealing with.  Remember, this is a medical doctor.  Sometimes psychological problems are caused by a physical problem or a disease.  Your psychiatrist is trained to look for signs of physical disease and help you connect the dots.  They are also trained to look for the opposite (physical problems caused by psychological impairment).

 

So, is it time to call a psychiatrist?  Perhaps, and especially if you’re considering taking medication to deal with a psychological struggle.  Consult with your therapist or primary care doctor to find out.  If you don’t have a therapist or primary care doctor, you can call a psychiatrist directly for an evaluation in most cases.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Porn Addiction In Teenagers

Sexual addiction affects adults and teens alike. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sexual addiction affects adults and teens alike.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More and more teens are engaging in pornography use.  The majority of the use seems to be on their phones.  Adolescents are very private about their cell phones.  It is harder for parents to monitor what they search than when there was a family computer.

 

According to Covenant Eyes, a company that sells a way to block certain web content from either accidentally coming up, or from coming up as the result of a search, the statistics are unsettling.  For teens, a 2010 national study indicated that about 25% of teenagers have viewed nudity online by accident.  Over 1/4 of 17 year olds have received a “sext” at some point.  9 out of 10 teenage boys have been exposed to pornography by time they reach college.  The same is true in almost 6 out of 10 teen girls.

 

Recently in my private practice I have been receiving desperate calls from parents whose teen children are addicted to internet porn.  The parents feel helpless and frustrated.  For starters, there is more shame in admitting you need help to stop a sexual addiction than even a drug addiction.  It seems easier for a parent to call me and say their teenager is addicted to marijuana, alcohol, or even methamphetamine than to online pornography.

 

If your child is struggling with this, or you are struggling with this, the first thing to do is set aside your shame.  Shame makes us hide.  We feel mortified about something we are doing, or some part of who we are.  When we feel ashamed of something, it is very difficult to talk about it.  However, getting it out in the open is how healing begins.  Think about when you have a wound, it needs to be cleaned out and it needs air to heal.  If you hide away your wound then it just begins to spread infection to other parts of the body.  Sexual addiction is like that (as are any other addictions).  If you don’t discuss it, even if that is incredibly difficult to do, it starts to affect other areas of life; addiction makes the most honest people into liars, the most responsible people into schemers, and emotionally closes off the most open and loving people.

 

Therapy is one of the best places to talk about sexual addiction.  It is confidential and free of judgment.  You will not shock your therapist.  Your therapist should be able to help you pick a path back to health.  This is not easy.  Many people assume if you want to stop a sexual addiction then just stop looking at the porn.  If it were that simple I doubt anyone would have the addiction.  Whether or not the images are viewed, they still exist in your teen’s mind’s eye.  It takes a lot of work and time to get to the place where those images don’t pop up each time your teenager thinks about sex.

 

Patrick Carnes is one of the leaders on treating sexual addiction.  He wrote a book called Out of the Shadows that is very helpful for those with addiction, and the people that love them.  If you’re reading this because you want help, but you’re afraid to say that out loud, then I recommend you start with this book.

 

If you or your child is struggling with sexual addiction and you are ready to say that out loud, don’t wait any longer.  Go and get the help you or your teenager needs.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT

Teen sobriety requires a change in friends

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.  Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While this is not California, the statistics from this article are still very interesting to think about.  http://eastwindsor.patch.com/articles/christie-courts-mandatory-treatment-for-drug-offenders-26a17aed

 

In the state of New Jersey it has been found that mandating arrested drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail-time has greatly reduced the repeat offense rate.  When a drug-offender simply does jail time the rearrest rate is 54% with a 43% re-conviction rate.  When mandated to treatment, the rearrest rate is 16% with an 8% re-conviction rate.

 

One thing that is rumored to happen in jail or prison is that an addict learns even more about how to be an addict.  There are a lot of drug users and dealers in prison/jail, and they educate one another in further delinquent behavior.  It is also rumored that there is a pretty significant amount of illegal drugs dealt within the prison system, sometimes making an addiction worse.

 

Whether you believe our justice system should or should not offer treatment centers as an alternative to jail/prison time, this article is a good example that treatment for addiction can be very helpful.  It also demonstrates that who you spend your time around is who you become.

 

While there’s a good chance your teenager isn’t serving jail time for a drug-related arrest, this article still applies to you.  The two important things to get from this is that 1) prisoners who spend time in the main prison population often commit drug-related crimes again and 2) prisoners who spend time around recovering addicts tend to get better.

 

If your child is acting out and participating in drug use, the most important thing you can do is change their peer group.  This is extremely challenging as a parent.  How many times have you told Junior, “I don’t like you being around those kids.  What about hanging out with so and so instead?”  Then you’re rewarded with a dirty look and an accusation that you “hate all my friends.”  This is when you need to start thinking outside the box.

 

If your kid isn’t working, help them find a job.  Teens who work develop friendships with their co-workers.  A job also takes up time that could otherwise be used to smoke a joint.

 

Your child might be farther into their drug use than just getting a job to change their peer group.  In that case, you’ll have to be more forceful and drastic.  Sending your teen to a relative’s house for about 3 months can be extremely helpful.  Do you notice that while your teen talks back towards you, they don’t talk back to your sister?  They aren’t familiar enough with your sister to do that.  It might just work to have them stay with her for a little while.  This is only effective if your relative lives far enough away that your teen cannot see the same friends.

 

If the case is more severe, you’ll have to strongly consider either rehab or teen boot camp.  Both of these methods are effective and helpful.  I’ve found that teens who go to boot camp tend to come back a little bit stronger than rehab.  However, in no way am I claiming to have completed a study on the matter.  Each rehab and each boot camp are different.  What works well with one type of teen may not be the ideal fit for another type of teen.

 

The bottom line is, teenagers begin to act like the people they are around.  Getting your struggling teen around successful teens tends to improve the decisions your teenager makes.  Just like the prisoners in this article, everyone needs someone who will show them an alternative, positive way out.  For teens the most important thing is that they think it is their idea.  This is your chance to be a creative parent and covertly help your teenager come up with a good idea for how they can start making changes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Technology Addiction In Teens

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Teens,

You live in an era where it’s easier to spend time in front of a screen than go do things out in the world.  It’s hard to go more than three minutes without some form of entertainment.  If you look at what you’re parents are doing, there’s a good chance mom, dad or both are also addicted to technology.  They don’t even go to the bathroom without taking their phone!  This means it’s not just your age group, so don’t feel condemned.

 

Here are the positives of being on social media, playing video games, watching Netflix, or spending time on any other app.  First of all, you’re pretty much staying out of trouble.  You could be out doing drugs, or getting into all kinds of stuff; instead you’re at home where mom and dad know you’re safe.  Secondly, you’re probably never bored.  You always have something to keep you occupied.  When I was your age, if we couldn’t get ahold of our friends then we had almost nothing do do at home.  Thirdly, you probably communicate with your friends all the time.  Between commenting on their pictures or messages, and sending them texts or Snapchats, you’re always in contact.

 

Like anything though, there are some negatives to too much screen time.  I bet you can guess what I’m going to say.  First of all, you might not be taking great care of your physical health.  One study came out that said people who use a lot of electronics are more sedentary, and eat more calories than those who don’t.  The combination of not moving much, and eating in front of the TV because you’re bored can equate to carrying excess weight.  The second problem you might have is that everyone looks happy on social media.  They tend to post pictures when they’re with friends, or put up posts that say how much fun they’re having.  You’ve probably heard, but this isn’t real.  Every single person who posts things has times where they lack confidence, are lonely, feel angry, etc.  It’s just not very common to write things on Facebook like, “I’m feeling ugly today because I have a huge zit in the middle of my forehead.”

 

Thirdly, some of you struggle with face to face interactions.  When you text or post things all the time, you get to think before you hit send.  That’s so nice because you have a few seconds or even minutes to formulate your answer.  When you’re in person though you feel awkward and uncomfortable.  You’re not with your peers in person as much as generations before you, so you haven’t spent as much time practicing the nuances of conversation.  It’s really an art to be funny, witty, deep, and thought-provoking in a face to face conversation.  Most people need a lot of practice to get there, and they practiced it growing up with their friends.  Now you don’t do as much of that.  It just makes things harder when you go on a date or interview for a job.

 

If you worry that you might be addicted to technology, here’s a quick self-test.  Put down all forms of technology for 3 days in a row.  Can you do it?  If you can find books to read, enjoy going on a walk, and figure out how to talk with people, you’re probably okay.  However, if you feel a sense of withdrawal, and a little bit depressed without your technology, then recognize that you might have a psychological dependence on it that goes beyond what is within healthy limits.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Coaddiction or Codependency

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

People get confused by the term codependent, or coaddict.  I thought today I’d address codependence/coaddiction to see if it clears it up.  If someone you love is engaging in an unhealthy behavior such as drug abuse, gambling, excessive shopping, etc., it is very noble to want to help.  As relational beings we are called to help others when they are struggling.  Coaddiction occurs when the attempts to help are misguided.

 

Let’s say Jane has a gambling addiction.  Her brother, John, decides he wants to help her stop.  At first he has a good conversation with her, and she agrees she should quit.  However, Jane is unable to quit.  John then threatens to stop talking to her if she does not stop gambling.  She quits for a week and then goes back to it.  He doesn’t stop talking to her.  John consistently sets boundaries he does not keep.  Jane comes to John and says she cannot afford her rent this month.  He gives her $500 to cover the rent with the stipulation that she does not gamble that month.  She gambles anyhow, and the next month tells him she again can’t cover her rent.  She apologizes for gambling and promises never to do it again.  John believes she is sincere.  John continues to give Jane money for her necessities like food, clothing and shelter.  Meanwhile, John’s wife is becoming very upset and wants to stop giving Jane money.  John tells his wife, “If I don’t give her money then she can’t buy food for her kids.”  John’s whole existence and self-worth becomes tied up in keeping his sister above water.  John rationalizes this by telling himself that he is not giving her money with which to gamble.

 

John has become codependent.  His self-value has become entrenched with helping Jane.  If he is helping her then he can assume he is a good, loving brother.  He is allowing his own marriage and financial security to suffer in order to take care of someone else who is not truly trying to get better.  On top of that, John is really hindering his sister’s ability to beat her gambling addiction, albeit unintentionally.  He pays her rent and buys her food, which frees up money for her to use at the casino.  He fears she would use it at the casino and then not be able to pay her rent.  That usually is not what happens, but if it does, she will finally feel the consequences of her addiction, and seek to get better.

 

If your teen is using drugs, or has some other unhealthy behavior, think carefully about the ways you are unintentionally enabling the behavior.  If you recognize your enabling behavior, but are afraid to stop, then you have developed codependence.  A great website to check out is coda.org (Codependents Anonymous).  Therapy is also a good tool for overcoming codependence/coaddiction.

 

It is scary to stop “helping” your own child work through an addiction or struggle.  However, we’ve all heard the old adage about how someone might not get better until they reach rock bottom.  After doing therapy with addicts for a number of years, I believe there is truth to that statement.  If you are trying to help your teenager avoid harsh consequences for their behaviors, you are prolonging when they hit rock bottom.  Let your child experience natural consequences for their choices; the sooner you do so, the sooner they can realize they need help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Approval-Seeking Teens

Wanting approval isn't a bad thing unless it goes too far. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wanting approval isn’t a bad thing unless it goes too far.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post will not apply to every parent.  Some of you have kids who are very comfortable with who they are.  They seem relaxed and self-assured.  What a blessing!

 

There are a large number of you though who have teens that really want approval.  This can take on multiple forms.  Some teens long for the approval of their peers.  Others desperately want to hear “well done” from their parents.  Wanting approval is not actually as bad as it sounds.  It is part of what motivates teens to do their homework and chores, and to comb their hair.  Sometimes though the desire for approval becomes excessive, and leads to anxiety or depression.

 

I have seen teens in counseling who wanted approval so badly that they developed eating disorders, tried drugs or alcohol, or became sexually active before they were ready.  It is really important to recognize a teen who is trying too hard to be liked because sometimes it means they are making unhealthy choices.  A lot of these teens actually do get a substantial amount of approval, but they do not feel it.  Even when there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, these teens feel disliked or negatively judged.  As a parent, what are you supposed to do in this situation?

 

One of the most important things you can do is to help your teen realize the meaning of that famous first line from Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you.”  Help your child gain some perspective.  It is very hard for teens to remember that there is a world beyond their school and social group; expose your teen to it.  Get them out into the community to serve someone else.  Usually once a person dedicates some time and energy to others they stop focusing on themselves.

 

A second thing to try is not allowing your teen to voice the things they dislike about themselves if those things are unreasonable.  Do not let your 3.5 GPA student tell you they are stupid, and do not let your normally sized daughter tell you she is fat.  Learn to respond only when your child is honest about themselves.  One thing we do in therapy is stop believing everything we feel.  What I mean by this is that a teen will tell me, “I feel like nobody likes me.”  Once we establish that there are in fact people who like the teen, we no longer allow that to be said.  Instead the teen has to tell the truth, which is, “I feel disliked by some people.”

 

Try these two tips for approval-seeking teens.  If your teen’s desire to be liked is overwhelming your teen, and you for that matter, call for help.  There is often a way to change their focus.  Sometimes you need help to help them too.  Most parents, even the very best parents, have tried a number of different ways to encourage their adolescent without success.  Sometimes a little tune-up makes a big difference.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Molly is the new Ecstasy- Molly Abuse on the Rise

Molly use, Molly abuse, Ecstacy use, ecstacy abuse, exstacy use, exstacy abuse

100% Pure Methylenedioxymethampethamine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The use of “Molly” is on the rise.  I’ve even encountered several teens coming through my office that have abused the drug.  This is scary because it is MUCH more dangerous than they realize.  If you see your teenager texting about it, or overhear them talking about it, have a serious conversation.  Don’t let your teen either tell you that Molly is just a person, or that it’s not a big deal.  You have to be educated and be smarter than that, and you have to be scared enough to confront them.

 

Okay, so what is Molly?  Molly is methylenedioxymethamphetamine.  What?  At least I’m assuming that’s your next thought.  We’ll just call it MDMA from now on.  MDMA has a much better known format called ecstacy.  Is that a little bit more familiar?  It used to be known as the “rave drug” because it would be taken prior to attending parties that last for 12 or more hours.  It causes feelings of euphoria, energy, comfort, closeness and happiness.  People who take either ecstasy or Molly feel more comfortable touching other people, and feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Sometimes it also has hallucinogenic results, altering a person’s sense of time and space.

 

MDMA is a type of substance that causes increased tolerance.  Herein lies one of its dangers.  People find the high so appealing that they will use it every few hours when they are on a binge (These binges are referred to as “rolling”).  They also often use it on several separate party occasions.  Eventually larger amounts of the drug are needed for the high, and particularly for the hallucinogenic properties.  An overdose of an MDMA drug (either ecstacy or Molly) can lead to elevated body temperature, lethally high blood pressure, cardiac issues and seizures.  What is the bottom line?  It can kill your child.

 

People who abuse MDMA have also been known to become very dehydrated.  In their efforts to rehydrate they can actually drink too much water, which causes a dangerous electrolyte imbalance.

 

Adolescents mix Molly or ecstasy with other drugs.  This further increases the dangers because the chemical properties are altered and possibly made more toxic.

 

Part of the reason you need to talk with your teenager about this is that it will often show up at parties.  It is different than heroin or cocaine in that teenagers know those drugs are dangerously addictive.  They don’t often try those types of drugs without a progression through alcohol, marijuana and other experimentation.  Molly and ecstasy are different though.  I have had teenagers tell me they’ve used it just because it was at a party, even when they are not normally drinkers or drug abusers.  They honestly believed it is not a dangerous drug.

 

Help your teenager understand the risks they are taking if they use Molly or ecstasy (also sometimes called ‘E’).  Tell your teenager to make sure a friend is taken to the emergency room if they seem dangerously high.  Teens are often afraid to take a friend to the ER because they don’t want to get in trouble.

 

Just be in conversation with your teen.  Find out if they’ve ever been offered Molly or ecstasy.  Ask them if anyone they know has taken it.  Remind them there are risks to using these types of drugs.  It’s hard to have this conversation, but even if your teenager acts annoyed, they feel loved that you care.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

An App for Alcohol Withdrawal Tremors

A new app helps doctors know when a patient is "med seeking." Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new app helps doctors know when a patient is “med seeking.”
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s still in its early phases of testing, but one Toronto Emergency Room has put ER doctors on the path to reducing prescriptions given to “med seeking” patients.

 

A fair number of patients who go to see a doctor fake pain or illness in order to obtain a prescription for certain drugs.  These can often include opiates such as oxycontin, benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax, and other drugs.  It can be extremely challenging for a doctor to know when someone is faking or telling the truth if there are no specific tests to help them make their determination.

 

My sister is a nurse on a hospital inpatient unit.  She tells me some patients are constantly asking for medication for this or that.  They are often asked to rate their pain on a scale of 1-5 and they claim to be a 5 so they can have stronger medicine.  They sometimes become combative, rude and irate when they are told they need to wait longer.  She says it can be a real challenge to know when a painkiller isn’t working because the patient already has an addiction to painkillers, and therefore has a tolerance to the drug, and when it isn’t working because the patient is truly in extreme pain.

 

One way that patients “med seek” in the ER is to fake alcohol withdrawals.  According to http://www.ideastream.org/news/npr/344232232, Valium is often given for alcohol withdrawals.  I worked on a detoxification unit at a hospital for a few years before going into private practice, and I remember this was often the case.  Someone who has an addiction to benzodiazepines will often go to great lengths to use again.  Occasionally these people go to the emergency room and fake a tremor in their hands.  They claim to be sobering up from alcohol dependence.

 

Sobering up from alcohol dependence can be very dangerous depending on the level of use.  If the use was consistent and high in volume, a person will experience very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.  Some of these are irritability, anxiety, nausea, headache, sweating, fast heart rate, confusion and tremors.  In extreme cases a person can get delirium tremens (DTs), which can include hallucinations and seizures.  Sometimes DTs cause death.

 

When a patient shows up in the emergency room claiming to suffer from alcohol withdrawals, the doctor has to determine whether these are real or fake.  They then have to decide what to prescribe.  It can be a very challenging decision.

 

It turns out though, that truly faking hand tremors is almost impossible if the doctor knows exactly what to look for.  There is now an app being tested that helps doctors create a score.  A high score means it’s most likely from alcohol.  A low score means it’s most likely malingering (faking illness for some gain).  Most malingerers faking alcohol withdrawal tremors are looking for a benzodiazepine.

 

Coming from someone who sits in therapy with people struggling with addiction on a regular basis, this app is a great thing!  One of the best ways to get through an addiction is for access to the drug of choice to be restricted as much as possible.  This is especially true during the early days of sobriety when the ability to resist temptation is still low.  It is why those of us who work in this field always advise family members to stop giving any kind of money to someone with a drug problem; if you can’t pay for it, it’s harder to get it, which means it’s harder to use it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Marijuana Use in Teens

Marijuana addiction in teens is a growing problem

Marijuana addiction in teens is a growing problem

Marijuana is everywhere.  If your teenager isn’t using it, they know at least five other adolescents who are.  Teenagers have a very lackadaisical attitude towards the drug.  They generally don’t think much about the physical health consequences of inhaling smoke into the lungs, or the mental health consequences of using a drug that fosters dependence and indifference.

 

Here’s the thing with abusing weed.  Teens can usually still function at a fairly decent level.  If they were using heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine, it is obvious that something is amiss.  The effects with cannabis are more subtle.  When a teenager is abusing marijuana, they seem off, but as a parent you might not be able to pinpoint why.  There is a change in their motivation, but that could just be that they’re tired of school.  It’s not so clear that you immediately think “drugs.”

 

With teenagers who regularly abuse marijuana, there are symptoms that really demonstrate why cannabis use can be a problem.  Their grades drop.  They lose interest in spending time with certain friends.  They stop wanting to play sports.  They lie to you more often.  They seem uninterested in things that used to be exciting.  They don’t react with anxiety to things that should make them anxious, such as you being mad at them.  They suddenly become more concerned with money, and yet don’t seem to have much of it.  They also might gain weight.  Despite all this, the majority of teenagers who are consistently abusing marijuana don’t think there are any negative effects from the drug.

 

If you suspect your teenager is using, one of the best tools at your disposal is the over-the-counter drug panel.  It is pretty easy to administer.  Your teenager can fake it out with certain products they can purchase on the internet, at a smoke shop or get from their friends.  However, if you surprise them with the test, it will most likely give you real results.  Teens who are drug tested on a regular basis by their parents, at random, tend to quit using altogether.  If they don’t quit, they often dramatically reduce their use.  Once a few months go by, most of them tell me things like, “I feel the cobwebs clearing,” or  “I think more quickly now,” or “I didn’t even realize how much it was affecting me.”

 

Help your teenager stay drug free.  You’ll help them avoid depression, anxiety, bad friends, demotivation in school, and frustration in their relationship with you.  If you yourself use marijuana from time to time, please understand that your teenager almost certainly knows it, and assumes that means you approve them using it too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Cost of Addiction

Addiction is more expensive than you even realize. Image courtesy of sscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Addiction is more expensive than you even realize.
Image courtesy of sscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are many, many costs associated with addiction.  These range from financial, to relational, to spiritual and to physical.  For this blog the focus is only going to be on financial.

 

The statistics for calculating the cost of addiction are really difficult because there is a lot of fluctuation in the prices of illegal drugs. Even for legal drugs that are being abused, such as alcohol or prescription medication, the costs vary from state to state and by insurance plan.  If we are talking about addiction to gambling, pornography or shopping, the same principles apply.

 

Let’s consider the various costs incurred:

1. The actual cost of the drug.  With a very, very conservative estimate, 20 years of marijuana purchases cost about $20,000 and 20 years of heroin purchases cost about $200,000.

2. The cost of lost productivity.  For example, someone with severe alcoholism is less likely to keep up with their house or car repairs.  This results in further expenses later when major things start to break.  Someone also might be less focused on their job, resulting in lower wages.

3. The cost of a drug or alcohol addicted lifestyle.  Going out more often costs more money, as does the efforts made to obtain the drugs.

4. There are costs associated with increased sickness.  People using drugs tend to get sick more often, with more severe illnesses.  Imagine catching hepatitis C from sharing a needle with another heroin user.  This is a lifelong, chronic illness.  Drug users also catch the flu or cold more often.  This results in more missed work and more visits to the doctor.

5. The cost of legal bills, and tickets.  Most drug or alcohol addicts do end up with a DUI at some point.  Depending on the drug used there is a good chance of arrest and the need for an attorney.

6. There is the cost of loss of earned income.  People who use drugs and alcohol to excess often either take longer to finish school, or drop out.  There is a substantial loss of income from not finishing school.  They also miss more work, and are fired more frequently.

7. The cost of divorce.  Divorce is one of the most expensive processes a person can go through.  The incidence of divorce among addicts is about four times the normal rate according to some resources.

8.  The costs of treatment.  Nearly every addict will seek out treatment at some point.  While Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous is free, therapy and rehab are not.  That said, getting treatment and getting sober save much, much more money than they ever cost because addiction is so expensive and sobriety helps turn around a person’s financial situation.

 

All totaled, 20 years of continued addiction can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when counting both money spent and lost opportunity to earn and save.  It is extremely tragic.  Addiction puts someone financially behind their peers sometimes by decades.  In cases of gambling, pornography or shopping the cost can be comparable or even higher.

 

For several months I worked with a methamphetamine addict who was trying to maintain sobriety.  He told me at the end of treatment that one of the most powerful sessions of therapy for him was when we calculated the cost of his addiction.  We did not even factor in lost productivity or the cost of treatment.  We figured out that over 10 years he had spent about $35,000 on crystal meth.  He then realized if he had applied that to his mortgage, he would’ve saved another several thousand in interest payments.  We talked about lost pay from jobs where he was fired, and the increased cost of car insurance after two accidents he caused while high.  All said and done, the estimate came out to about $65,000.  He was devastated when he heard that because his family was living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes could barely keep the lights on.

 

This is just another angle of how addiction costs.  People spend a lot of time focused on the emotional and physiological impact, but it affects so much more.

 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, count the cost.  Maybe, just maybe, that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and it will finally be time to get sober.

 

Helping Teens Grow and Families Improve Connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Codependency in teenagers- when to end a relationship

codependent teens, adolescent codependency, codependent teenager

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every week in my counseling office, I sit across the room from at least one Orange County teenager who is struggling with codependency.  They do not usually realize this is their struggle.  Their parents call me because their child is feeling a lot of anxiety, or has been having a hard time in their friendships.  Sometimes the teen has been feeling depressed, or is acting out.  Many, many times the call comes because parents are fed up with their child’s association with a certain group of kids, and this has caused some big arguments in the house.

 

This is a common enough problem that if you are my client and you are reading this, you might think I am telling your story.  Well, in a sense I might be; this is true because codependency in teenagers is very common, and very challenging to work with.

 

First of all, what is codependency, and what does it mean when a teenager is codependent?  Codependent behavior is when you cannot let go of someone who needs to make a change in their life.  You feel valued by “helping” someone who actually does not want help.  Let me explain this better with the most common scenario I see.  I work with a lot of teenage girls who are dating a boy that uses/experiments with drugs.  The girl hates this and tells her boyfriend to stop using.  The boyfriend makes all kinds of promises, and the girl feels important.  The girl believes the relationship is saving the boyfriend from spiraling downward into harder, more addictive drugs.  She knows it is not good for her to date someone like this, but she feels value because she thinks he loves her enough to stop.  She says things to me such as, “I can’t break-up with him because then he’d really fall apart.”  (Just so we’re clear, I used the example of the girl being codependent, but boys are often codependent too.)

 

Friendships can have the same elements of codependency as dating relationships.  A great number of teens I work with know they ought to make better friends.  However, they often hold two beliefs preventing this.  The first one is that the “better” people would not want to befriend them.  The second (the codependent belief) is that their friends would do worse things if they were not around to keep them in check.

 

So, now that you know what codependency is, and what it can look like in teenagers, when is it time to end a relationship?

1.  When your teen comes home upset on a regular basis.  Adolescents are often moody, so I am referring to extra moody.

2.  When you notice your teenager is clinging to a friend who only calls them back when nobody else is available.

3.  If your teenager has been giving a lot of money to a friend.

4.  If your teen is consistently asking you how to help a certain person, and you’re not sure it’s a good idea.

5. If your teen begins to lie in order to cover for a friend.

6. I’m sorry that I even have to write this one down, but it comes up more than you’d think.  If your teenager starts asking you to lie to a friend’s parents to cover for that friend.

7.  If you find out your teenager has been picking up their friend from unusual situations.

8.  If your teen’s friends have spent the night and you didn’t even know they were coming over (This doesn’t mean your kid is codependent, it’s just a caution flag.)

9.  If your teen is dating someone and all their friends stop coming around.

10.  If you have a strong feeling of dislike for the person your teen is dating, and their friends agree with you.

 

Codependency in teenagers is common, but destructive.  It raises levels of anxiety for your teen, and it can leave them feeling down.  As a parent, this is very painful to watch.  Despite your best efforts, it is often difficult to get your teen to end their relationship.  Ending codependent relationships is extremely challenging, and requires a whole other blog post.  So, I will comment on that topic in my next blog post, later this week.

How to End a Codependent Relationship

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Ending a relationship in which you get a lot of your value from helping someone who does not necessarily want help is a huge challenge.  You believe this person would fall apart without you.  They might tell you things like, “I will kill myself if you ever break up with me,” or “The only reason I don’t use drugs again is because you keep me sober.”  However, their behavior is still very unhealthy and you are completely caught in it.

 

When you finally decide it’s time to get out of the relationship you need to realize 6 very, very important things:

1. You have value to this world whether or not you are associating with this person.  There are many, many people who love you and think you are worth a million bucks just because you’re you.  You don’t have to earn their love.

2. When you end the codependent relationship, whatever actions the other person takes are not your fault.  If the person goes on a bender and then blows up your phone with texts that tell you it’s your fault, you HAVE to remember that it isn’t your fault.  You are never, ever responsible for what someone else chooses to do.  You didn’t hold a gun to their head.

3.  You’ve been manipulated for a long time.  You are so used to hearing that you’re a piece of garbage when you don’t do whatever the other person wants, and then that you are a savior whenever you show up and save them from themselves.  It’s really hard to get used to just being responsible for yourself.

4.  It is imperative that you cut off contact for awhile, and maybe indefinitely.  Even though you are making a healthy choice for yourself, if you get a call that they are thinking about suicide, your heartstrings will be pulled, forcefully.  You will want to rush into the situation and save them again.  It is really hard to resist.  However, if you give in you will be completely entrapped again.

5. Focus on what you mean to do with your life.  Write down the ways you have given up things you shouldn’t have just to keep this other person sane.  Write down money you shouldn’t have spent, lies you shouldn’t have told, friend you shouldn’t have lost, trust you shouldn’t have broken, etc.  On the other side of the paper write down who you were before this person affected you so deeply.  This is who you can be again if you stay away from the toxicity of a codependent relationship.

6.  Most threats are idle threats just to get you back.  For the most part if you stop responding to these desperate pleas for help, someone else will step in.  This person has always come to you because you have had poor boundaries with them.

 

There are two really good, emotionally safe places to go if you struggle with codependent thinking and behavior.  The first is Alanon.  This is a great place to go if someone you are close with is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and you have helped enable their addiction.  The second is CODA, which stands for Codependents Anonymous.  This is for anyone with any codependent behavior, whether it is being “too” helpful to someone with a drug problem or “too” helpful to someone with mental illness, etc.

 

If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, give your child a lot of support.  It’s very difficult for your teenager to recognize what you can see so clearly.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Does faith play a role in healing from addiction?

Belief in God has helped many walk away from addiction. Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Belief in God has helped many walk away from addiction.
Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Does faith play a role in healing from addiction?  Unequivocally, yes.  Some people do find ways to get over their addictions without faith, but it seems to be rare.  Generally those who quit using have placed their faith in something they believe gives them purpose.  Very often, this is God.  When life has come to the point where it feels as though there is no point without a high, a sober existence seems boring and unpredictable.  It is also usually miserable to become sober.  This is where faith is very important.

 

A person needs a reason to get sober.  If they can come to believe something bigger than themselves exists, and created them on purpose, sometimes that is reason enough.  The addict who is just trying to stop using has to have hope that life will be more meaningful on the other side.  This is hard to believe until faith enters the picture.  It really helps when the addict comes to know that God made them for a specific reason.  The other reason knowing this is so important is that there is no guarantee of happiness.  An addict has often spent a very long time pursuing happiness and good feelings.  Pursuing God’s purpose does not always mean happiness and good feelings, although it does mean fulfillment.

 

If you ask a former addict how they stopped using their substance of choice, most of them will tell you through their faith.  What they mean by this is that they believed they had value because of their higher cause, and they began to pursue God instead of a temporary high.  They learned to accept that sometimes life is unpleasant because they came to place their hope in something better for their future.  They came to know that eventually they will come to a place where there is no more suffering, even if they have to wait for Heaven.

 

It can be really difficult to figure out what to believe in when in the throes of addiction.  The addiction cycle becomes so miserable and depressing that the addict is desperate to escape.  However, what the addict must go through to escape is complete torture.  It takes a real dependence on God to get through the misery of detox and resisting urges to get high.  It takes a complete change in paradigm to leave behind old friends and lifestyle.  This kind of change rarely happens without something dramatic.  Perhaps this is why Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on the idea of giving the addiction over to God.  Perhaps this is why many, many thousands have given up their addiction through the programming at Celebrate Recovery.

 

If you or your teenager is stuck in the horrific cycle of addiction, try everything you can to hold onto the promise of God’s love.  There is no guarantee that you will be happy sober.  However, there is the promise that if you pursue God’s purpose for your life you will feel like you have meaning; you will feel as though you have something to offer the world after all this time of feeling worthless.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Is Codependence/Co-addiction?

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Codependence, also known as co-addiction, can wreck havoc on a person’s life.  It is best explained through a hypothetical example:

Karen is a 30 year old woman who has struggled for years with addiction to crystal meth.  She first tried it when she was 20.  She began to use more and more frequently until she was crashing on “friends'” couches instead of having a home, lost her job, and sometimes went a few days without affording food.  Throughout this period of time she stayed in contact with her mom.

Karen’s mom, Jane, was naturally worried sick about her daughter.  Sometimes Karen would move back in with Jane.  Jane always made Karen promise not to use anymore, but would never stick with her rules.  She justified allowing Karen to use methamphetamine in the house because, ‘At least then I know where she is and I know she’s safe.’  She paid for seven rehabs for Karen.  At some point Jane had to take a second mortgage on her home to try and pay for another rehab.  Jane also would give Karen money when she saw that Karen was hungry.  She paid for Karen’s cell phone bill, ‘so I don’t lose track of her.’  Essentially Jane’s addiction became trying to help Karen get healthy.

On the surface Jane sounds like a loving mom going to any length to help her daughter.  Indeed Jane’s actions are motivated by a combination of love and fear.  The problem though is that Jane is helping Karen continue to use drugs, and has completely destroyed her own financial future.  Every time Jane gives Karen money, pays for her cell phone, or allows her to move home when she is not clean and sober, it frees up what little money Karen gets to buy more meth.  Although Jane does not directly give Karen money to buy meth, she does indirectly.  Also, Karen has not really shown any signs that she wants to get better.  Despite this, Jane has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and fix this.  Jane has paid for rehabs (these are typically quite expensive), cell phone, money for food, etc.  Jane now has an extra large mortgage, which will financially burden her into retirement.

Like many people who struggle with co-addiction, Jane’s entire identity is wrapped up in trying to convince her daughter to get better.   Karen’s addiction did not have to ruin Jane’s life too.  While Karen’s addiction would have always been a source of pain and deep disappointment for Jane, both she and Karen would have been better off if Jane held firm and healthy boundaries.

As a therapist who focuses on treatment of addiction in families, helping to disentangle the web of codependency is one of the main things I do.  And, actually, when the codependent family member or friend changes their behavior to a healthier position, oftentimes the addict decides to get better.  If the story of Karen and Jane feels a little too close to home, firstly, my heart hurts for you.  Secondly, the stronger you get, the more you are helping the addict you love to recover.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to end a codependent relationship

 

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Okay, obviously that is a cheesy photo.  However, once you’re out of a codependent relationship, and have gotten beyond the grief, this is how you’ll feel!

 

Anyhow, let’s get to the point.  Ending a relationship from a codependent position is one of the hardest things you will ever do, or have ever done.  You have recognized your friendship, dating relationship, sibling relationship, etc. has reached very unhealthy levels.  You now realize that you are often drained of time, energy, emotional well-being, and a general feeling of joy after you are around the toxic person in your life.  You feel manipulated, guilty and exhausted after you are with the person.  You have asked yourself repeatedly, ‘Why do I continue to answer their phone calls?’  The person calls you whenever they are in crisis.  The person always needs something that “only you” can give, whether it is money, time, a place to stay, or you name-it.  When you can’t break out of this cycle, you are in a codependent relationship.  Other terms you will frequently hear are enabler and coaddict.

 

So, the big question is, ‘How do I stop this crazy in my life?’  That’s really what it is too: crazy-making.  You always leave a conversation feeling like the crazy one, but your friends all tell you it’s the other person.  To end this kind of relationship takes very drastic measures.  You have to come to a place of strength and reality.  You need to take a very honest look at what has been happening between you and this person.  Is this a truly reciprocal and healthy relationship?  If the answer is “no” or, “It used to be,” then it is time to move on.

 

Once you have really looked at the relationship, you have to tell yourself, “I will no longer enable bad behavior.  I am not responsible in any way for the outcome of this person’s life.”  Truly, the person will get better or get worse with or without you.

 

Next, surround yourself with good friends or family who will keep you busy and keep you grounded in reality.  The crazy-maker in your life is going to call you with a crisis because that has always worked.  You will have to either not answer the call, or simply say over and over again, “You will have to call someone else with this problem.  I have been unable to help in the past because you have not chosen to help yourself.”

 

Finally, you need to maintain firmly whatever boundary or rule you’ve set.  If you told the toxic person you will not call them back in the middle of the night anymore, then turn your phone off at night.  You get the idea…

 

Again, ending an enabling relationship is challenging beyond belief.  However, once you’re through the mud and the muck of it, you’ll feel free.  You’ll feel like the guy in the picture at the beginning of this blog post!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What is Codependence?

Codependent people would literally give away everything to save someone else. Image courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Codependent people would literally give away everything to save someone else.
Image courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Codependence is a problem nearly as destructive as an addiction.  “It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive” (http://mentalhealthamerica.net/go/codependency).  Sometimes it is referred to as co-addiction.Here is a hypothetical example of codependent behavior:  Julia is a mom with a 26 year old son named Trevor.  Trevor has an addiction to heroin.  Julia spends all her time and energy trying to fix Trevor’s problem even though Trevor does not yet want to quit.  Julia has taken out a loan against her house to pay for rehabs, continues to make payments on Trevor’s car so his credit does not go down, buys him food because “at least I’m not buying him drugs,” and constantly begs him to attend recovery meetings.  Julia frequently sets down boundaries she cannot enforce.  She told Trevor last week if he ever used drugs in her house she would put him out on the street.  He did, and then he apologized and promised not to do it again.  She forgave him and told him that was his last chance.  This is the fifth time that has happened.

When you think about people like Julia it is easy to see how difficult it would be to actually stop “helping” Trevor because she loves him.  On a deeper level Julia will feel like a failure if she lets her son go.  Unfortunately many experts believe that is the only way he will really try to get better.  Julia’s addiction is Trevor’s recovery.Codependent people often ruin their lives and relationships to try helping the addict; they frequently wind up in nearly as bad an emotional position as the addict.  Often codependent people find themselves in financial ruin.
www.codependents.org is a good resource for someone who thinks they might have codependency.  Therapy is also very important in this situation.  It requires a lot of support to let someone go that you love and care for.  It is extremely scary, but addicts usually have to experience rock bottom to finally realize their drug of choice isn’t worth it.  If you’re codependent, you might be delaying that moment of truth for the addict in your life.Codependency can also happen in other situations.  When someone you love is doing anything they shouldn’t you can be codependent to their behavior.  Here is one I’ve seen quite a bit:  Your teenager becomes sexually active with their girlfriend/boyfriend.  You are against them having sex at their age, but you also worry about the possible consequences they might experience at their age without adult guidance.  I’ve seen parents in this situation tell their teenage child to start having sex in their own room at home so that “At least there is an adult around if something goes wrong.”  The parent then feels they can control the outcome better by making sure their home is stocked with condoms, etc.  The problem here though is enabling a behavior the parents are not okay with.

 

If you need help determining whether you might be enabling your teen’s bad choices, or whether your teenager is codependent to someone else in their life, send us an email, give a call or just comment on this post.  Let’s see if we can help you sort out the difference between helping and helping too much.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Put Down That Cell Phone

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tired of your teenager using the cell phone 24/7?  Are they answering texts at dinner, during homework, in the middle of the night, etc?   Getting a text message is rewarding in the brain.  It makes the teen feel good, and feel compelled to answer right away.  While it does build friendships and keep them bonded with their peers, it is extremely distracting!   For teens who are addicted to using their phone, their efficiency is terrible.  It takes extra hours to complete any task.  It only takes a few seconds to answer a text, but a lot of teens actually send/receive hundreds of texts each day, and some even over a thousand.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of time when it’s all added up.   When you require some downtime away from electronics, you are allowing your adolescent to develop an important skill.  It is essential that everyone has time for their mind to be quiet and calm.  Having the phone at all times means constant stimulation and entertainment.  It doesn’t force the brain to be creative.  It doesn’t allow time for contentment.   You will probably be the victim of a hellacious argument, but requiring the phone be given to you during homework time and at bedtime will do your teenager wonders.  They will probably find themselves able to complete assignments faster, and get better sleep.  They might also be surprised to realize they are happier.   Studies show that teens who are addicted to technology are actually somewhat miserable.  Teenagers who can wait awhile before answering a text because they want to finish their current activity experience a better sense of accomplishment.  They also don’t feel obsessive-compulsive.  The phone can become kind of like a leash if your adolescent isn’t careful.   You will get another added benefit: more quality time with your child.  Rather than everyone going out to dinner and sitting in the waiting area on their phones, you might actually talk.  You might find you can connect with your child and hear about their day.  Eventually they will even like it!  That takes time though so be patient.   Helping teens grow and families improve connection, Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Sober Ideas for Summer Fun

Sober fun during summer isn't as hard to come by as your teen might think. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sober fun during summer isn’t as hard to come by as your teen might think.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Summer is here.  For most parents this is a relief.  You’re thankful your teenager is out of school because there is so much less stress when they aren’t doing homework, playing sports, etc.  However, for those of you who have a teenager with a history of drinking or drug use, summer is a dreadful time.  Every day of the week is a Friday night, and they spend a lot of time unsupervised during the day.

 

Here are some ideas for sober summer fun that might help your teenager have fun without using substances:

1) Plan a movie night.  Let your teenager invite a few friends over to watch movies late into the night.  Teens like to do things at night, and usually if they have a plan first they make better choices.  You can have snacks ready, and several movies available to choose from.

2) Teens always enjoy a day at the beach.  Again, have some planning in place.  Make sure you’re driving and another parent is picking up.  They’re less likely to use drugs or drink if they know a parent will pick them up.  Pack a cooler of food and sodas/juice/water for them and their friends to enjoy.

3) Go for a hike.  Even if your teenager doesn’t want you there with them, taking them to a spot where they can hike with a few friends can be a great activity for them to do during summer.

4) Swim in a backyard pool, or a busy neighborhood pool.  One place teenagers tend to drink alcohol is at the pool when nobody else is around.  In a backyard pool with a parent home it is hard to get away with this.  The same goes for a busy community pool.

5) Learn to surf.  Any surfer will tell you the best time to surf is very early in the morning.  Teens who love to surf might be less likely to party late because they want to get up early the next day.  I realize surfers have a reputation for marijuana use, but the act of surfing doesn’t really go well with being high or intoxicated.  It takes way too much energy and concentration.

6) Get involved with a high school church youth group.  These groups are always planning fun activities during summer from bowling to camping trips.  Of course these are always sober outings.

7) Volunteer time.  Spending time helping others who are less fortunate is actually fun, and feels rewarding.  It also causes teens to think about something other than themselves.  When teens are getting high or drinking they tend to be thinking about themselves so volunteering is a great way to break through self-focused thought.

8) Play a sport.  I worked with a kid who got high multiple times per day for two years.  When he decided to get sober he realized a lot of his friends played basketball each day.  He started to play with them and then didn’t want to smoke out anymore because he ran better, reacted faster and played smarter when he was sober.

9) Take a class.  There are a lot of interesting, quirky classes offered throughout the community and at the local colleges.  Encourage your child to take a class on pottery or dance.  They’ll grumble at first but they will most likely end up enjoying honing a new skill.

10) Start exercising.  See if your teen can get a friend to work out with on a regular basis.  This is really good for self-confidence and stress relief.  While your teen might not be extremely stressed over summer, they also might use and drink less if they feel better about themselves.

 

If you’re the parent of an adolescent and you’re worried about too much summer free-time, hopefully you’ve found this a little bit helpful.  It will probably work even better if you let your teenager read through the list and see what they’re willing to do.  Sometimes they will say ‘no’ simply because you suggested it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

“Triple C” or Coricidin Abuse

Coricidin, or "Triple C" is just an ordinary cold medicine unless it's taken in excess.  Then it becomes a dangerous way to get high. Image courtesy of https://www.google.com/search?q=coricidin+images

Coricidin, or “Triple C” is just an ordinary cold medicine unless it’s taken in excess. Then it becomes a dangerous way to get high.
Image courtesy of https://www.google.com/search?q=coricidin+images

Lately there has been an upswing in teens abusing cough and cold medication.  As a parent you need to be very aware of this problem because an overdose has potentially lethal side-effects.  One of the most commonly abused cough and cold medications is Coricidin (The kids call it Triple C.)

 

The high comes from one of the chemicals in the drug, called dextromethorphan (DXM).  When taken in large quantities, it causes a euphoric feeling, sometimes hallucinations, and out of body sensations.  When taken as recommended, it is just a simple cold and cough medication for people with high blood pressure.  Teens will often take several doses of the pills at once until they feel high.

 

The side effects of Coricidin abuse are risky.  There can be mild side effects like vomiting, loss of motor control, dizziness, impaired judgement, etc.  However, there are also cases of extreme side effects like seizures, coma and death.  These side effects are often caused by an overdose of some of the other ingredients in Coricidin, such as the anithistamine.  (http://kidshealth.org/parent/h1n1_center/h1n1_center_treatment/cough_cold_medicine_abuse.html#)

 

One question a lot of parents have is, “How is my teen getting Coricidin?”  There are two main ways teens are able to get this drug.  The first is taking it right out of a medicine cabinet at home.  Many of my teenage therapy clients say they just took it from their parents or friends’ parents.  They say it was in the medicine cabinet.  The other way teens seem to be getting Coricidin is stealing from a local drug store.  Coricidin is not usually locked away behind plexiglass even though Coricidin abuse is a known problem.  The kids stick a box in their jacket, go buy a pack of gum, and just walk out.

 

It is really important to ask your teen if they have tried “Triple C” or if it has been offered to them.  It is also important to check through their stuff if you suspect it.  The risks associated with an overdose are very serious.  Please do not take it lightly if you find out they’ve tried it.

 

It’s scary because most teens really don’t know what they’re doing when they’re offered stuff like that.  They have absolutely no idea how dangerous it can be to overdose on something like Coricidin.  In fact, most teens don’t even realize you can overdose on it.  If they do, they think it can never happen to them.  Adolescents are notorious for thinking they are outside the consequences others have faced.

 

Keep having an open dialogue with your teenager.  Keep talking with them about the dangers of various drugs they might encounter.  Keep them educated on what certain drugs look like and what to watch out for.  Some parents worry if they educate their teens on certain, they are just inviting their teens to try it.  I suppose there are all kinds of kids, and in rare cases this might happen.  For most teenagers though, having knowledge helps keep them out of trouble.  You know your child best so use your judgement when deciding how much to tell them.

 

There are two good take-aways from today’s blog: 1) “Triple C” or Coricidin can be dangerous when taken in excess and 2) The most common place teenagers get ahold of things like Coricidin is their medicine cabinets at home- pay attention to what they can easily access.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Uptick in Marijuana Dependence

There has been a steady increase in THC, which makes marijuana more addictive than in the past.

There has been a steady increase in THC, which makes marijuana more addictive than in the past.

Lately I have been receiving a lot of calls from parents about their teens using marijuana.  Teenagers have always experimented with marijuana, but lately something is different.  The teens who are coming in are complaining that they literally cannot quit using.  Marijuana has a reputation for being non-addictive, so why all of a sudden are there teens who feel addicted?

 

The addictive part of marijuana is called “THC.”  The potency of THC in marijuana in the US has more than doubled since the 1990s.  So, while marijuana possibly was not as addictive in the past, it is now.

 

The teens I have been working with say they have difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and a general feeling of discomfort if they stop using.  It is also so deeply ingrained psychologically that they have a hard time changing.  They have made friends around using marijuana, developed rituals and routines, and have become accustomed to lying.

 

Therapy is a good format to confront marijuana addiction.  It is really important for the teen to feel like someone understands how difficult it is to quit using.  A lot of people say things like, ‘Marijuana isn’t addictive, so just stop using it.’  Therapy is also always helpful to the teen’s parents in making changes at home that support sobriety.

 

If your teen is smoking marijuana, it is really important for you to confront them.  Don’t look the other way.  No matter what your teenager tells you, it is easy to graduate to more intense drugs.  Your teenager is also associating with people that you probably wouldn’t like.  Your teen is likely not being entirely honest with you about how frequently they use, or how much.  Marijuana is a deeper problem than people like to think.

 

When you talk with them about it, be gentle and loving.  However, if you set boundaries around drug use, make sure you stick with them.  Do something to hold your teenager accountable such as promising to randomly drug test, or take them to counseling.  Most importantly, do not be swayed by their logical arguments about why marijuana isn’t bad for them.  The newest scientific research coming out says otherwise.

 

Chances are if your teenager is using marijuana there are some noticeable signs.  Perhaps you’ve attributed these signs to them being older.  Your teen may be more argumentative, secretive, trying to have more independence, seems to lack money, is worried about money, often appears lazy, has bloodshot eyes more often than they used to, and eats a greatly increased amount of junk food in one sitting.  These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate marijuana use, but they certainly warrant you either asking or testing your child.  By the way, if your adolescent refuses a drug test, definitely be suspicious something is up.

 

It takes a lot of nerve, and love to confront your teenager on drug use.  It’s a hard thing to do because if they’re using, certainly part of you doesn’t want to know that.  They are very likely to be offended you are asking, whether they use or not.  It’s almost never an easy discussion, but it’s one of those things that has to be done from time to time.  Whoever said parenting is the best thing in life was generally right, but should have included the caveat that it’s also one of the most difficult things in life.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman MS, MFT

Peer Pressure, etc. Part 5

This is the final portion of the interview with a high school student on drugs and alcohol in high schools for her school paper.

Thanks so much, if you have anything else I add I would appreciate it!
Lately there has been a big upswing in the use of “Triple C” or Coricidin.  If you can warn your peers about the danger associated with an overdose on Coricidin, that would be great.  Coricidin is a cold medicine that contains a mixture of several types of medication.  The one that causes the high is not so much the problem as is the antihistamine.  An overdose of antihistamine can cause seizures and death.  Taking a bunch of Coricidin is extremely dangerous for this reason.

The other thing teens have been doing, which really scares me, is taking pills and binge drinking.  There are certain pills that should never, ever be mixed with alcohol.  It can cause permanent damage or even death.  I know people have heard things like that, but might ignore those warnings.  I am asking that they take it seriously.

Peer Pressure, etc. Part 4

Here is the fourth question from a high school student who interviewed me for her school paper:

A few of my interviewees have also said that regardless of whether they party or not, they are judged on their friend’s behavior, which is an unfair representation according to them. Why do you think students judge based on their friends and how does this affect the student being judged?
It has been said, “If you want to be wealthy, hang around wealthy people.  If you want to be thin, hang around thin people.”  Over time, you will be greatly influenced by those with whom you surround yourself.  You may choose not to actually partake in using, but you will still be at the parties and you will not see much of an issue with drug or alcohol experimentation.  You will develop a reputation based on who you choose as your peer group.  This is because habits, both good and bad, rub off on you.  I think a more appropriate way to think about the aforementioned quote is to hang out with the straight-A students if you want to have a high GPA.  You will start to pick up their study habits and your grades will go up.

The judgments from other students affect every teen.  I think it is unusual to come across a freshman or sophomore who is so grounded in who they are that the judgments do not hurt.  I find that at 16, 17 and 18 (so juniors and seniors) these judgments tend to matter less and less.  This is not always the case, but it is what I see in my office most frequently.

Peer Pressure, etc. Part 3

This is the third question from the interview with a high school student for her school paper.

 

What are some reasons why kids might have a realization that they need to stop partying and maybe break an addiction? (Like I have talked to students who knew a student at our school who died in a drunk driving accident, which caused them to stop going to parties. Do you think something traumatic like this often has to happen for kids to realize they need to stop?)
I do not find that traumatic incidents impact drug and alcohol use for the long term except for the people actually involved in the incident.  With the situation of the drunk driving death, some of the friends closest to the victim might truly reconsider using.  For the rest of the school, there is not likely to be much change after a few weeks have passed.  Most often, the strongest impact on slowing or stopping drug and alcohol use behaviors comes from each teen’s parents.  There are a wide variety of attitudes about teen drug and alcohol experimentation.  A lot of parents, sadly, will assume it is just part of teen years and therefore do not address it well.  They say things like, “Just be safe.  Don’t drive if you drink.”  The parents who get serious about it more often have a real impact on changing their teen’s behavior.  Honestly though, a lot of parents are in denial about their own alcohol and marijuana use, so they are not necessarily the best example to their kids.  If a teen has developed a real addiction to something, the signs are always obvious as long as the parents do not sit in denial.  The parents have to have back-bone and do things like stop paying for cars, cell phones, allowances, etc. until the teen straightens up.

Peer Pressure, etc. Part 2

Here is the second question from the interview with a high school student for her school paper.

A lot of the kids I have spoken to say our school has a lot of peer pressure to party, how does this pressure negatively affect kids and start addictions?
Some teens are more concerned with the immediate present instead of the future.  Developmentally a teen, especially 15 and under, still have a difficult time anticipating consequences accurately.  They often know of potential consequences, but dramatically underestimate the likelihood it could happen to them.  Because of this, the desire not to be categorized as “goody-goody” or “prude” is what satisfies the immediate present.  So, teens will try things when a friend offers it; this is even more true when the friend is seen as socially more popular.  Typically addiction does not develop quickly.  It almost always starts with marijuana.  This is substantially more true for people that have tried it in middle school for the first time.  It is rare for a teen to jump straight to a “hard drug” like ecstasy without ever having used marijuana first.  Alcohol can play a role in this, but the problems related to alcohol tend to be more typically alcohol abuse rather than dependence.  To clarify the difference, alcohol abuse is binge drinking, and associated consequences such as a DUI, getting grounded by parents, or a hospitalization for alcohol poisoning.  Marijuana users are more likely to develop dependency on both marijuana and other drugs.  They will use it recreationally at first, and then start to use it more and more frequently.

Peer Pressure, etc.

A high school student interviewed me recently for her school paper.  The interview is kind of long, so I will post one question and answer per interview.

 

Why does high school cause getting into the party scene for a lot of students?
High school does not cause people to get into the party scene.  Getting to an age where increased independence is desired might be more of a contributor.  There are lots of high school students who do not choose to party with drugs or alcohol.  It seems that some teens want to be adults, and to separate from their families.  Drinking or using is one way they can accomplish this.

Safe Teens on New Year’s Eve

Drunk driving is terrifying for parents on New Year's Eve. Image courtesy of gubgib at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drunk driving is terrifying for parents on New Year’s Eve. Image courtesy of gubgib at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Imagine a 17 year old girl.  She’s got a lot of friends, and it is her senior year.  She’s a really good kid.  She doesn’t drink alcohol, and she gets very high grades.  She’s the ASB president of her high school, and it’s a decent sized high school.  She’s a varsity athlete, holds down a part-time job, and is pretty much what every parent hopes their child grows up to be.

 

I was in 5th grade when Noelle was killed by a drunk driver on January 15th, 1995.  We lived in a tight knit community in San Diego called Scripps Ranch.  Noelle was everything described in the first paragraph- she was ASB president, a really good kid, and on to big things in life.  She did nothing irresponsible that night.  The guy who hit her was driving drunk.  In an instant he took a life, ruined the lives of Noelle’s family and friends, and ruined his own life by committing senseless manslaughter.  This incident rocked the entire community and took the joy out of graduation for a whole senior class.

 

This story is absolutely horrible.  I’m sharing it with you because I really don’t want it to be your story.  According to the New York Times, New Year’s Day is one of the worst days to be on the road.  40% of driving related deaths involved a drunk driver.  When we’re talking about New Year’s Day, we’re really not talking about 10am, or 4pm.  When we’re talking about New Year’s Day it refers to 12am-5am, when a lot of tired, intoxicated people drive home from New Year’s Eve parties.

 

So, should you worry about your teenager being out and getting into a little trouble on New Year’s Eve?  Yes, absolutely.  There is a decent chance they will be around alcohol if they are in an unsupervised environment.  However, you also need to think about what time you require them to be home.  When I was 17 I went to a party with all my high school buddies.  I was completely irate with my dad because he required me to be home at 11pm.  I could not understand who was required to come home from a New Year’s party before the New Year.  Now that I am a parent, I 100% understand.  I will actually do the same to my daughter when she’s old enough to drive herself for the same reason; on New Year I don’t trust other drivers.  Otherwise she needs to be going to a place that I feel comfortable with her spending the night.

 

So, when you’re thinking about what your teenager might be doing for New Year’s this year, consider a few different things.  Consider whether you trust your teenager to make the right decision around alcohol and other party drugs.  If the answer is no, then it’s not a night they need to be out.  Will they protest?  Absolutely!  Sometimes being a parent isn’t about being popular with your teenager though.  The other thing to consider is whether you trust the general public to make the right decision when it comes to drinking and driving.  While you might trust your own child completely, can you trust that someone else isn’t going to do something really stupid?  You can’t live your life in complete fear and never let your kids out, but there are certain situations where it might be a good idea to restrict them for their own safety.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT