Any clinician in this day and age who overlooks and fails to check for drug and alcohol abuse as a primary component of negative teenage behavior is either irresponsible or incompetent.
It is not to say that certain young people don’t have severe or disturbing psychiatric, physiological and physical problems, but there is just as much chance that drug and alcohol abuse exacerbates and maintains problems so that they cannot be dealt with or resolved. The normal struggle of adolescence can be distorted and made pathological by the abuse of drugs.
After being assessed by various professionals and declared lonely and confused, a teenage boy entered these thoughts in his journal while he was in a juvenile detention centre for stealing a car:
“I quit drugs. I didn’t quit for long enough though because I didn’t get help for keeping off it. When you’re on drugs heavily and even after you’ve quit (before it’s out of your system) you don’t care about yourself, to some degree, and not at all about other people. When I was smoking pot I used to make my mother cry, slap my sister and punch holes in the wall. I got arrested for breaking curfew, then I stole the Dean’s walkie talkie , then stole a pickup truck.
Drugs took away my common sense and replaced it with stupidity
I got a job fixing and selling telephones and was making good money. Making money let me be able to smoke pot again because I started hanging around with the same friends as before.
I started taking Valium and tried LSD. I met people at school who could get even more potent pot than I’d had before. I got some LSD and had a “bad trip” in which my whole body got welts and I had asthma. My grades went back down again and my clothes reflected my drug use, as they became untidy again.
I didn’t care about anything anymore, I didn’t love any more. I only had hate. I will tell you what it’s like to be on drugs. It’s a separation of thought from emotion (except hate) and it’s horrid to think of the way I felt when I was on them or trying to get off them.
When you are deeply into drugs you don’t care about crashing your mother’s car or destroying your room your mom let you use by spray painting the door and hanging motors and crutches from the ceiling and driving holes in the wall. I believed I was a genius at electronics simply because I could fix a phone. I’m not a genius by doing that.”
This young man’s clear focus on the nature of his problem and his recognition that drug and alcohol abuse was the heart of the matter enabled him to straighten out his life. His journal reveals a bright young man, but his intelligence did not protect him from becoming trapped in behavior patterns he feared and disliked. The sense of getting over on the adults, partying and living dangerously all create the excitement of the dope world.
Kid’s turn into excitement junkies in a dope world that is stimulating compared to school and families. Doing the dishes or homework, getting up for school or going to jobs become mundane and boring to dopers.
Unfortunately, many young people fail to change their behavior because both they and the professionals whom they are seeing fail to recognize the single most important factor in causing and maintaining disruption in young people’s lives: drug and alcohol abuse.
The very first thing any clinician has to look for in any young person is the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, treatment should be based on the discontinuance of the use of these chemicals. If this does not become routine practice, a large number of children will continue to flounder and perhaps drown in their self-destructive lifestyles.
All of us have tendencies toward certain quirks and crazies. We might tend toward depression, be a little schizoid at times, maybe manic, maybe volatile. Drug abuse heightens those tendencies, especially in adolescents.
Drugs, in effect, dramatize adolescent problems. Eventually, the problems magnified by drugs become the basis for treatment and provide the excuses and manipulations that kids use to hang on to their hurtful lifestyles.
TOUGHLOVE® parents are encouraged to evaluate the services of professionals and programs and to patronize those which are tuned into the commonplace occurrence of drug and alcohol abuse. Parents should be included in the evaluation process and their input respected. Parents have often got valuable information to offer.
We live in a culture that values speeding up, slowing down, tripping, hallucinating and living in other than normal realities. It’s not just a few oddballs taking drugs – its movie stars, sportsmen, politicians and businessmen. Television shows characterize the “druggie” as a lovable misfit, a comic, rather than a tragic figure.
We do not seem to be taking the matter very seriously.
There are recreational drug users who are responsible and productive doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people, etc. They appear to manage occasional drug use, but then the majority of user’s lives become unmanageable due to their drug use.
What has been said here about drugs is also true of alcohol. Many people can use and enjoy alcohol without it becoming a major part of their life, but many others cannot. Those people often leave destruction in their wake – their bodies, their families, wreckages on the highways, etc. All of this is done using a legally sanctioned drug for recreational purposes.
Can you relate to any of these circumstances?
- “I have a fifteen year old son who is destroying himself with drugs and alcohol and is making a shambles of our family life.”
- “We need help with our son George. He is involved with all the wrong people and is using drugs and alcohol. He must be doing something illegal to get his money because he has no source of income.”
- “My sixteen-year-old daughter is beginning to rebel against our rules of the house. She is a straight A student, has a part-time job, saved and bought her own first car. She is beginning to stay out until 3am, come home drunk and has had her first speeding ticket. She tells us because she has a job and her own car she feels she answers to nobody but herself. We would like to get help before she really gets into trouble, worse than her or ourselves can handle”
- “My son, who will be sixteen soon, seems to be showing signs – minor, if that’s possible, of dope smoking, cigarettes, change in clothing and hours unaccounted for away from home. He is always home when he’s supposed to be, he keeps his room tidy, but we seem to have nothing to talk about. I guess I’m the biggest problem because I see so many disappointing qualities in him and I am very critical, but I can’t even get my own son to get a haircut or participate in family activities. What I don’t know is which are NORMAL changes that come about at this time of life and which are the TELL-TALE SIGNS”
It is hard to tell the difference between normal adolescence and early drug abuse. Drug abuse usually shows itself in a series of behaviors or patterns that are connected to a certain drug-induced lifestyle. They often share a dress style, language and values. Early drug use, which may lead to abuse, mimics adolescent behavior. Well developed drug use is easier to see.
Ideas for checking:
Go on your gut feeling. Confront your child and let him know how you feel
Ask your child’s friends families about how they see your child. Tell them you suspect drugs
Check out your child’s attempts to account for time away from home whenever you are suspicious
Check with your child’s teachers to see how he’s doing
Parents who are trying to stop their kid’s drug and alcohol abuse have to change their whole way of relating to their children. They must show a new kind of love.
A Mother’s story goes like this:
“I began to realize that my love was a selfish one. I wanted to do all the giving, to be the good guy, the protector, the home base for all their needs. It took me many more months of heartache before my husband and I really learned how to love. We knew we must make this sacrifice and that she must learn to live in our society, with our laws, and if we continue to bail her out, she would miss the help it could be to her.
I suppose when she was told what would happen if she messed up “one more time”, I was sure she would be OK. But, once again after only three weeks she was gone again. Now the ball was in my court. How could I, the one who had always been there, sign a petition to have her locked up? But I pulled myself together and my husband and I proceeded to do exactly that.
They picked her up and this time she was held until a court date was set. I’m not sure if I could love someone this much, I hurt too much. Then I began to realize for the first time, my hurt did not matter, only some help for her did. I was not sure I was strong enough to pull it off.
Fighting the opposition of my mother and some of her friends, but with the support of my own family, I walked into court three months ago and charged my daughter with grand larceny and incorrigibility! She looked at me through tears as if she would kill me. I felt I would die. Somehow I managed to get through the whole procedure.
She was found guilty and sentenced to a correctional school. We are beginning to develop a new relationship now. She has kicked her drug problem and at last has started to understand why she has ended up where she is. Every day, in every way, she tells me how much she loves me and how much she thanks me for helping her. I learned how to find where true love lies, the hard way.”