For over seventeen years I have been blessed to work with adolescents and adults as they recover from addiction. Typically, people are surprised when I talk about how much I love for this part of my work. I have been just as perplexed by the lack of knowledge regarding the world of addiction and what it really means. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word addiction? What would it feel like to hear your child is an addict? Would that word mean something different to you then?
So often parents ask me a barrage of questions in hopes of safeguarding their children from becoming addicted. “What are kids using?” “Aren’t they just experimenting?” “How can I prevent my kid from abusing drugs and alcohol?” When I attempt to answer their questions, I am generally met with a bank look and glazed-over eyes. Their sense of fear is overwhelming and often they want to end the discussion before I can get to the most important components of addictive behaviors. I think as parents, we much constantly challenge ourselves to not be overtaken by our fears concerning addiction. We need to educate ourselves and not be in denial about this very important topic.
As a rule, I often guide parents to trust their instincts when it comes to their children, and also to arm themselves with an awareness about the signs and symptoms to look out for, such as: behavioral changes, mood instability, social isolation or changing of peer groups, and changes in their child’s physical appearance. Sometimes parents run into trouble when they don’t trust their instincts. The biggest problem and most typical problems is that far too often parents rationalize their child’s behavior as a means of reducing their own fears. This leads to the initial stages of denial and enabling behavior. “But her grades haven’t changed, so I think she has it under control” or “He’s just stressed out.” Please, do not be afraid to parent your child. You are not their friend and they don’t want you to be! Remember that you are the one in the household with the fully developed frontal lobe.
Many clinicians and researchers, including myself, have been extremely concerned about cultural and societal shifts that appear to be negatively impacting our children’s well-being. Could the desire to provide our children with the best possible opportunity for success actually be to their detriment? The current culture of excellence that is placed on our kids is too often unattainable. The idea that everyone should be the best (win first place, make honor roll, reach the highest possible goal in whatever interest them) is an incredible amount of pressure for a child or adolescent whose brain isn’t even fully developed yet. Do you remember a time you felt more inadequate than when you were an adolescent attempting to navigate the world?
The fact is that addiction often results when child attempts to masks their feelings of inadequacy. With that in mind, the typical question of “How do I prevent my kid from using drugs and alcohol” needs to be re-evaluated. When exploring this question, I sought help from a leading drug and alcohol expert in my community. Mike Joly is the CEO of Clear Recovery Center in Redondo Beach, California. He has dedicated his career to helping individuals and families heal and recover from substance abuse and mental health disorders. Mike reports that 15% of kids in the South Bay of Los Angeles (a very affluent area) are currently suffering from some form of addiction. Whether it is video games, social media, porn, cutting, alcohol or drugs – our kids are hurting. It is time for us to find another way to help them and get over our paralyzing fear of addiction.
Think for a moment how fast pace our world has become. How connected we are to one another, yet very detached. To view the world with the false lens of social media or unattainable expectations can easily distort our ability to cope with daily stressors. Many believe feelings of sadness, failure, anxiety, and insecurity means there is something wrong with them. The truth is that feeling all of those emotions is just part of being a real living and breathing human. “We have gone from being stuck in this bubble to constantly having choices – and as a result, we have forgotten to bring intimacy, vulnerability and emotions with us…we don’t know what emotions look like anymore… when an adult checks-out with a fully developed brain it’s generally less severe than when an adolescent does.” says Mike Joly.
So what is the answer to help our kids? Maybe we can start with ourselves? Let’s get back to the basics people. Remember conversations at the dinner table, family traditions, faith, rules, and structure? Listen to your gut, not to what you think might make your kid happy, but what will make them a kind and fully functioning human being. A full person, one who can cope with emotions which are often unpredictable and confusing. One who can love themselves for who they are not the awards they achieve.
If you are concerned about your child’s ability to cope with drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors, please go to www.clearrecoverycenter.com for support and resources. You are never alone!