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For Parents of Addict Teens

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When your teenager becomes a drug addict, it is one of the most scary, tragic, overwhelming things that can happen.  It breaks your heart into pieces.  You feel like you can’t get your head above water.  Even when you’re having fun with family or friends, you always sense a dark cloud lingering in the background.  Your prayers are desperate, you feel broken, and you feel disconnected from family and friends because they don’t understand the depth of your pain.

 

It can be scary to talk with your friends and family about your teenager’s addiction.  You just never know what kind of reaction you’ll get.  Some people are kind, compassionate and understanding.  Others try and go back into the past to determine where you went wrong as a parent.  When people react this way it’s excruciating and insensitive.  Many, many times I’ve worked with families who truly did everything right.  There are no parents who are perfect, but these families were wholesome, loving, fair and genuine.  Despite this, their teenager still got into drugs.  It’s not necessarily a product of the family system, and it’s very painful that family and friends don’t always realize that.

 

The other thing that parents have said is really difficult for them when their teens are addicted to drugs is feeling like a burden to their loved ones.  What they mean by this is the well-being of their child is always on their mind.  Sometimes parents don’t even know where their addicted child is, which is also very scary.  These parents don’t feel like they can call their friends or family and lament about the same problem every single day.  They have told me they live in a world where their pain is central to their existence, but they’re alone in their hell.  They worry that discussing their heavy heart everyday becomes a drag to those around them.

 

It’s important for parents of addicted children to get support from people who truly understand how intense the battle against addiction is for both the addict and the addict’s family.  A good place to get this support is Alanon, Celerate Recovery, CODA, or some other support group type of environment where it’s okay to voice how much it hurts.  There will be others around who feel the same way.  There will be some who have learned how to live with this and even carry on with their life.  There will be people there who can really understand your fear and helplessness.  There will be people there to gently point out ways you might be enabling your teen’s addiction, and then to support you as you try to stop.

 

Most of you who have an addicted teenager also have other kids.  You have to continue being a parent to the children who are healthy and try to make things as normal as possible for them.  You have to help them through their own pain they experience because they have an addict sibling.  Somehow you’re supposed to do this while fighting through it yourself.

 

Addiction rocks families.  It’s not just a problem for the addict.  For parents it is terrifying.  A child’s addiction has destroyed family finances, marriages, hopes and dreams.  Putting people around you who really understand this, and who don’t blame you, is critical.

 

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

Vaping Among Tweens and Teens

Vaping is becoming an extremely common means of substance use among tweens and teens. Many of my later teen clients are completely addicted to nicotine. It all started innocently enough, and usually in middle school. Please watch the following video on a few basics about vaping you need to know so that you can have a good conversation with your tween or teen. It is really important you weigh in on this topic because otherwise they only learn misinformation from their peers.

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

A Tip for Getting “Unstuck”

Do you ever feel like you can’t find a good solution for a problem?  You’ve tried and you’ve tried to fix something but it continues to challenge you.  One example of this might be losing weight.  You’ve tried a lot of diets and exercise plans, but you simply cannot lose the weight, or you cannot keep it off.  Here’s a tip for getting “unstuck” wherever you are.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT