Recovery Is Possible For Young People Who Are Addicted

Recovery Is Possible For Young People Who Are Addicted

With an estimated 10 million young people addicted to alcohol or substances, according to recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it may be logical to conclude that America’s future is in peril. It is true that addicts who do not get treatment are likely to not only remain addicted, but to get progressively worse. And many young people don’t get treatment for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are stigma, cost, fear, lack of access, and length of time required. Some express fears that treatment won’t do any good. But hidden among statistics is the very real story that recovery is possible for young people who are addicted.

Addiction Starts Early

Research shows that the earlier a person is introduced to harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs, the greater the likelihood that they will experience problems such as dependence and addiction later in life. Armed with statistical data from numerous governmental sources, the very real concern is that young people are starting to accelerate drinking and drug use earlier than they have in the past.

While psychologists, researchers, and treatment professionals debate the many and varied causes of addiction (genetics, family history, environment, peer pressure, curiosity, and so on), the fact is that availability of alcohol and drugs in society today makes it too easy for young people to get their hands on harmful substances. Kids being kids, they’re incredibly tempted to try something new – even if that something is bad for them.

It starts early, and usually with inhalants. Studies show that inhalants are often the first drugs that children experiment with. Inhalant abuse, called huffing, involves behavior where the child inhales deeply, gets high, and continues the habit. Doing crafts, painting, getting involved in various school projects, the child comes into contact with glues, spray paints, aerosols, markers, whiteout, polish and polish removers, keyboard cleaners, and other products. They may like the smell and initiate use on their own, or they and may imitate their friends who engage in huffing.

Inhalant use usually starts by age 13 and peaks by the 8th grade (age 17). The National Institute on Drug Abuse published data from a study which found that 17.3 percent of 8th graders have abused inhalants before. Inhalants are also now considered a gateway drug to other types of drug use.

In contrast, use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, ecstasy, and other drugs usually peaks by the 12th grade.

For many young people, however, the drugs of choice fall in the following order:

• Alcohol – Most young people who do use substances use alcohol.
• Marijuana – Running a close second to alcohol, marijuana use is high among young people.
• Prescription drugs used nonmedically – This is the most rapidly-growing segment of new use with high and increasing numbers of new users coming into the treatment system that used prescription drugs they obtained from relatives or friends.

Factors That Put Youth at Risk

Various factors put our nation’s youth at risk for using substances. These include:

• Underlying mental health issues
• Environmental factors, especially in a community where drug use is highly supported
• Drug use in the home by other family members

Why Young People Use Drugs

A typical scenario of a young person’s introduction to drug use may go something like this. Being around friends and/or family members who consume alcohol and finding it readily available, the adolescent – around age 13 or 14 – starts to drink. He or she thinks it makes him or her feel accepted, a part of a peer group, or believes that it helps alleviate anxiety, fear, and to deal with issues of fitting in. Next, the young person gravitates toward marijuana, which is typically easier to obtain than alcohol when a person starts developing a habit. Many young people find marijuana stashes in their parents’ cabinets and drawers at home, and it’s inexpensive enough to get among their friends who may have a dealer. Pretty soon, drinking and drugging becomes a normal way of life for the young person, who may develop an addiction to one or more of these substances.

Delving into heavier pharmaceutical drugs – prescription drugs and opiates (painkillers) used nonmedically – will ultimately result in negative consequences. The young person may become involved in accidents, fights, get arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), start failing in school or have other school-related problems. Medical health issues may start to surface or get worse, exacerbated by drug and alcohol use.

Often, parents don’t have a clue that their son or daughter is using and abusing drugs and alcohol – until it’s nearly too late.

What Parents Should Look For

Parents need to pay attention to what’s going on in the lives of their children. First of all, parents are the primary influence on the attitudes and behaviors of their children. If parents drink and do drugs – or express tacit or unspoken approval of such behavior in others – they can expect that their children will adopt the same types of attitudes and beliefs.

If their son or daughter starts hanging around with a different group of friends at age 15 or 16 than the ones they’ve had since they were pre-teen (around age 10 or so), this should be a clear sign that something is going on that may be a concern.
Addiction counselors who treat young people also recommend that parents go into their children’s bedrooms and take stock of what’s there. Look for drug paraphernalia, check to see what’s changed in the rooms. What kind of change should parents look for? If your child was formerly conscientious about picking up and making the bed, for example, and now the bedroom is a veritable pig-sty filled with food debris and other detritus, this is one sign that something may be awry. What would cause a child who prizes neatness and cleanliness to suddenly become careless about his or her surroundings?

Without being overtly nosy or acting suspiciously, parents should listen to what their children are saying to their friends, on the phone and in the house or elsewhere. Is their son or daughter becoming paranoid or secretive about their computer use? One solution is to remove computers from the child’s bedroom and keep it in a room where the family congregates. There’s less likely to be inappropriate computer activity in an area with mom and dad and other siblings nearby.

Protective Factors to Help Keep Children from Using Drugs

When children are very young and begin school, parents are often involved in their activities at school and outside the home. They may attend parent-teacher meetings, or go to their child’s dance recitals, science fairs, and school concerts through elementary school. By the time the child reaches junior or senior high, however, many parents feel the teachers are better equipped to handle whatever needs their child has, or the parents’ lives are too busy to continue active participation, or they think their child no longer needs such support. Look around at high school sports events and concerts and very few parents are in attendance.

In the community, parents should watch out for their own children as well as the children of others. Never let your child come home alone from school, day after day. If parents can’t physically pick up or meet their child getting out of school, arrange for someone else to do so – someone trusted. There are also after-school programs and programs at community centers between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. that can provide healthy activities for children. It’s during these hours that children who are left to their own devices frequently get into trouble.

What Parents Can Do When They Discover their Child is Using Drugs

First of all, parents shouldn’t engage in denial over their child’s drug use. Avoid thinking that drug and alcohol use can’t be going on in your own home, right under your eyes, or thinking that it couldn’t possibly happen to your son or daughter. It does happen, and all the time. Statistically speaking, adolescents experience drugs and alcohol in one form or another, having been exposed to it at school, through friends, family members, or others.

When parents find out their child is using drugs or alcohol, there are two typical scenarios. One scenario is that there’s an open line of communication in the family and parents immediately try to address the issue with their children. Another is that parents dish out punishment and feel they’re done with the problem. Obviously, the punish-and-forget-it tactic is less effective. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be consequences for drug and alcohol use. There definitely should be appropriate discipline for repeated infractions. But punishment alone will not solve the problem. It may even make it worse.

Even with open lines of communication – such as the safety call home if a child calls the parents from a party and requests to be picked up – children may not want to tell their parents about their drug or alcohol use. They may fear getting grounded or loss of privileges (the appropriate disciplinary tactics), or they may not want to disappoint their parents. Still, parents need to encourage their children to talk with them openly about their feelings, what’s going on that trouble them, and parents also need to listen without being judgmental and critical when their children do confide in them. While this won’t solve problems, it does pave the way for the family together to work on solutions to the problems.

Treatment Programs and Services for Addicted Youth

Treatment facilities that specialize in providing programs and services for addicted youth are the best bet for getting help for young people with problems of drug and alcohol use. Parents and concerned others should look for facilities that treat adolescents and young adults, and that offer a full range of services. These services should include some or all of the following:

• Comprehensive assessment
• Personalized treatment program
• Gender-specific treatment available
• Evidence-based treatment (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT)
• Substance abuse counseling
• Mental health therapy
• Psychiatric treatment
• Educational programming
• Medical treatment with appropriate professionals (pediatricians, etc.)
• Family therapy
• Working with young people on an in-patient and outpatient level
• Use of different approaches tailored to young people’s needs

Ideally, during the active treatment phase, the young person in treatment can learn to look at things in his or her behavior that needs changing and begin to work on those issues. Key components of treatment include identifying triggers to using, developing healthy coping mechanisms to use when feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and stress occur, and talking with others in a supportive environment conducive to healing.

A huge part of recovery for addicted young people comes about as a result of their interaction with other addicted youth in treatment. A young person may become so practiced at denial and self-justification that he or she can say anything to parrot what they think a therapist or counselor wants to hear. But when young people talk about their problems and issues in group therapy, it’s hard to pull the wool over the eyes of their peers. These young people have built-in radar that instantly identifies truth from falsehood. They call each other on their self-denial.

Recovery Schools are Another Option

The option of a recovery school may be the most appropriate form of treatment for addicted young people. These are schools that offer academic and recovery support for addicted young people and they are becoming more widely available. Currently there are recovery schools in 8 states and collegiate recovery schools in 9 states.

Recovery schools can provide the academic support for young people in early recovery, and help them to make the transition into long-term and sustainable recovery. Embedded support, such as coaching for subjects the student may have been failing in, mental health support, support for addiction recovery, relapse prevention support – all these are essential to help the young person reduce the number of days using and increase long-term abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs.

Recovery Requires Family Support

Successful recovery for an addicted young person is heavily dependent on family participation throughout the process, whether the child attends a treatment facility only or a concurrent or subsequent recovery school. Research shows that young people who have strong family involvement and support have higher rates of recovery those whose families do not participate.
What many parents fail to understand or acknowledge is that there is a great deal of shame and guilt over the fact that their child uses alcohol or drugs. They can try to deny it or sweep it away, but the feelings are still there. And they fester if they’re not dealt with. Treatment professionals say that addiction is a family disease. What this means is that it isn’t just the addict that suffers. Everyone in the family suffers as a result of addiction by one or more family members.

In the family component of treatment, family members learn about addiction. They learn that they are not the cause of their child’s addiction and there is no fault or blame that should be passed around. During family treatment, parents and other siblings learn how their behaviors and attitudes can be changed to be more conducive to their child in recovery. Healing the entire family is the objective of family therapy – but principally to allow them to be effective in providing support and encouragement to their child in recovery.

Community Coalitions Offer Important Support

Another area where parents can find support is through community coalitions. There are over 1,000 such community coalitions in the U.S. today, about a handful in each state. These coalitions consist of people in a community coming together for a common goal. The purpose of these community coalitions is to help connect people to services, to help restrict the availability of drugs and alcohol in the community, to strengthen laws and policies and to ensure enforcement.

How do you find community coalitions? Go to your state’s office of behavioral health, alcohol and drugs, or mental health and obtain a listing of community coalitions.

The Road to Recovery Begins with the First Step

Recovery is possible for young people who are addicted. It is often a difficult and painful decision for parents to make to get their child into treatment and to follow through by becoming educated themselves so they can be fully participating in their child’s recovery efforts, but the results are well worth it. Instead of ruined lives, young people who are addicted who get treatment and have the benefit of family support can go on to realize a life filled with hope and promise.

While they may go into treatment because their parents demanded it, if they fully commit to the program and see it through, they have every chance of experiencing a successful recovery.

No, recovery won’t happen overnight. It will take time, dedication, and a lot of hard work. But recovery is possible. The sooner treatment begins, the sooner recovery can get underway.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

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