Hello everyone! I hope all is well with you! I’ve got Psychologist Gary Cole here today and he’s talking about Teen Addiction. He’s a Clinical Supervisor of Community Based Services and he deals with adults who started out as teens with issues. He’s here to provide some insight for parents so their teens don’t grow into adulthood with the problems that he sees in his work everyday.
So, without further ado…here’s Gary!
How does a parent know the difference between normal teen angst and the actual warning signs of a problem?
- I would say there are two areas to focus on. 1. If you see a significant deviation on their past behavior and mood. Everyone has “bad days” but this would be more long standing and persistent. If the parent starts to become worried they need to ask questions or offer the help of someone who the teenager would feel more comfortable with. Many teens will not talk to their parents about these issues. 2. The circle of friends and interests seems to change significantly. An example would be that kid who loves to play sports, but this year decides he/she isn’t going to play on the team. The answer isn’t to make them play, but to ask what is going on and what has brought about the decision. As kids become more involved in drugs their interest in these types of activities drops considerably.
What are the actual warning signs and what should a parent do?
- There isn’t any one sign that if a parent notices this it would indicate drug use. The parent has to be involved in their children’s lives from day one so they know what a change is for this teenager. I would say there are things to watch for and when seen, it should prompt the parent to have discussions with this teenager. The parent will need to remain persistent because it is likely the teen will not just jump into the conversation willingly. It helps if the parent has had a history since the teen was young about talking openly with them and asking their input. If the parent is noticing the “signs” too late and there is extensive drug use going on, talk with a professional and do not be afraid to set limits with the teen. What I notice is that the parent is often either not paying any attention to obvious things or they are uncomfortable asking these questions, so they just avoid it until the problem becomes worse.
Some of the signs might be:
- -Lying about where they have been. Check up on them, and pay attention to their normal habits. The more you know about your child, the better equipped you will be to know when something is going wrong.
- – Type of friends change. They may keep the friends somewhat hidden from you. So when they come to the house to pick up your teen, make ALL of them come in the house so you can see who they are and if they are under the influence of something. Do not lie to yourself, if the friends look like trouble, they probably are.
- – Using their temper to control you or others in the house. This does not mean trying to get their way, I mean when they have people in the house and you are uncomfortable with asking questions etc…because you are afraid to “set them off.”
- – Criminal behavior. Pay attention to what is coming in and leaving the house or their car. If they all of a sudden have a nice new gaming system and they do not have a job, something is wrong. When they tell you their friend gave it to them because the friend has a new one, make phone calls and find out what is really going on. – LISTEN to your kids. Even when they are young. If you see a change in their attitudes and beliefs through things they say, you should be concerned. The teenager will always show you prosocial behavior and say prosocial things when you are talking with them directly but listen to what is being said when they do not know you are listening. Then do not be afraid to ask about things or restrict their access to certain people that seem to be leading them in a wrong direction.– Pay attention to what you are role modeling to your children. It is never too late to “stop doing the wrong things.” Live a controlled life in which you are not using drugs or overindulging in alcohol use. Get up in the morning and have a schedule. Provide fair and consistent discipline, this includes for a teenager.3. When should a parent seek outside professional help for a problem teen?
As soon as the problem becomes apparent. Most parents feel like they can handle it and they can, but there are probably things going on that the parent needs help with. So the professional help is not only for the teen, but also for the parent. Do not wait until it becomes an addiction and the struggle becomes much harder. Once an addiction is apparent, the parent needs help also.
4. When is it too late?
It is never too late, but life will never be the same either. What usually happens is, at this stage, the parent needs help for themselves. Usually this is to look at how they respond to the behavior they see from the teenager, how to hold them accountable and how to cope with the feelings they are struggling with. Usually accountability is the key. An addict usually only changes when the pain of using outweighs the benefits of using. Where people often have trouble is holding that person accountable and allowing the pain of using to happen.
5. Is there a point when rehabilitation is impossible?
No, never. People overcome addiction every day. It takes a lot of work and dedication on their part. It may require medical help. There are systems in place to help people with physical addiction and counseling to work through the emotional issues that are at work. Part of the problem with working with teenagers, is often they have not had a lot of negative experiences due to their use yet. Also, their brains are still developing so even without the drugs or alcohol use they are impulsive in their decisions. Unfortunately, jail could be a good thing for a teenager. This might be the first negative experience they had because of their use.
6. Is there anything that an outsider can do if a parent is unwilling to address the problem? When I say outsider I’m talking about someone like a teacher, or someone from the extended family.
Yes, but it is likely not enough. Providing the teen with someone who will listen without judgment is helpful. Being supportive and offering to help them with anything that is positive would be another thing that could help. Do not get caught up in providing a place to sleep etc…unless their use is because of things going on in the home that you feel are unhealthy for the teen. Do not be afraid to include the system if something harmful to the teen is occurring in their home. Everyone feels uncomfortable with making such a call, but it is the right thing to do.
7. What steps should a parent take to bring the problem behavior under control? Whether it’s a drug problem or criminal behavior.
Accountability is the one thing that helps motivate people to make changes. It is harder in the beginning as all of the past behaviors that have worked are now being challenged. It is important that the parent do this in a caring manner though, as this is when the teen usually lashes out and try’s other tactics to get the parent to return to their old behaviors also. If the behavior is severe enough, a professional should be brought in to help both the parent and the teen.
8. Are there any types of organizations that can help straighten out these issues and if there are what are the names?
There are many. Each city and town have their own resources. The best thing to do is call 211 and get a list of the agencies in your area. If the first agency or counselor does not seem to “fit” for you, keep looking around. The more information you gather, you will be surprised at the options out there for help.
9. Who are the teens most likely to run into problems? Are there any common denominators that make a teen more susceptible to choosing negative behaviors?
Addiction and criminal behavior can be found in all homes, races and socio economic classes. But, having a home that is safe, secure and stable helps considerably. Many of the clients I have worked with, there is significant dysfunction occurring in the home. Often addiction is present in the teen’s life before they ever picked up or experimented. Teens who have dealt with issues of abandonment or lack of proper supervision as a child often struggle later in life. It should be noted that being raised in a broken home, having a parent with addiction etc.. do not mean that child will become a teen and have the same struggles. There are certain movements within communities which affect the culture of drug use. In Grand Rapids and the surrounding communities there seems to be a rise in the use of heroine and the use of pain killers (pills). As this becomes more prevalent, there is just more opportunity for teens to have access to this. Parents should be aware of what is happening in their specific area.
10. Of the teens who are having problems which ones are the ones who have the best chance of being rehabilitated and which ones are likely to be repeat offenders?
I have no statistics on this, but the sooner the behavior and addiction is dealt with the better. Unfortunately America seems to put a lot of money into corrections when it is extremely difficult to change the behavior. More money should be going into the child welfare system as well as early childhood intervention. I would say, the clients that seem to have a sense that their behavior has become unhealthy and unmanageable are a step ahead and will often do the work toward becoming healthy. If they remain in denial, and do not think their use has become as problematic often struggle more toward really getting healthy. Also, if the same unhealthy dynamics are occurring in the home and do not change, it is difficult for a client to make changes without leaving.
Thanks Gary for being here today. I appreciate your time and your insightful information. And thanks to all of you who stopped by to read this interview! Leave some comments on your thoughts! I’d love to read them!