By Richard Capriola
Adolescent substance abuse continues to invade too many of our children’s lives, leaving
parents, grandparents, and other family members confused and without a roadmap to guide them
in finding help for the child they love.
Today, more than 40 percent of seniors and one-third of tenth graders are vaping a substance like marijuana. Twenty percent of teens report abusing prescription drugs like Xanax, Ritalin and Adderall.
As the parent or grandparent of a child abusing alcohol or a drug like marijuana, feelings of helplessness, blame and even fear can drown out any sense of hope. But in the pages of The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse parents and other family members including grandparents can receive the information that helps them through the difficult times of assessment, treatment and recovery.
During my tenure at Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas I assessed dozens of children who were using substances like alcohol and marijuana. When I sat down with their parents and grandparents to describe their child’s history of using substances, the most common response I heard from both parents and grandparents was, “I had no idea this was going on.” If you’re the parent or grandparent of children please become familiar with the warning signs of alcohol and drug use. These warning signs are listed in The Addicted Child.
Alcohol and drugs have the power to change children’s brains and influence behaviors many find objectionable. These substances work within the brain to minimize the negative consequences of their use and give children a pleasurable experience. Parents, grandparents and other family members can help by learning how drugs work within the brain to influence drug seeking behaviors.
Because the best treatment starts with a comprehensive assessment parents, often with the support and encouragement of grandparents must insist upon a variety of tests. These assessments go beyond looking only at a child’s history of using substances. Helping a child and their parents through the difficult time of substance use starts with a comprehensive assessment including a complete physical exam, psychological and neuropsychological assessments and a detailed addictions assessment.
It’s not unusual that a child will oppose these assessments but parents with the help and support of grandparents and other family members should insist they be completed.
When you look beyond children’s alcohol or drug use you may find their struggle to manage intolerable thoughts, feelings or memories is a core issue that drives their substance use and needs treatment. While not all children using alcohol or drugs have an underlying psychological issue like anxiety or depression, for those that do, treating the alcohol or drug problem without treating the mental health issue can be a treatment plan doomed to fail. Issues such as eating disorders and self-injury can accompany a child’s use of alcohol or drugs.
. The Addicted Child lists many warning signs for these disorders that parents and grandparents should be familiar with knowing. If a child has an eating disorder or is self-injuring and also using alcohol or drugs it’s important that both issues be assessed and treated.
Parents often need guidance and support when looking for treatment options. Grandparents can play a major role in supporting and helping parents navigate the complicated road of treatment There is no “one size fits all” treatment approach to helping children and their families through substance abuse treatment. All family members can become familiar with the different treatment programs and options available to help a child. They can also become familiar with the principles of effective adolescent treatment for substance abuse.
Very few things are more destructive to a family than having someone, especially a child, addicted to alcohol or drugs. For most parents and grandparents, it can be a heart-breaking experience. Their desperate search for help often leaves them feeling alone and without a roadmap to guide them through the process of helping the child they love through assessment and treatment.
It’s for these families that I wrote The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse. You can find information on the book and a companion parent workbook that will help all family members including grandparents. The book and parent workbook are available on Amazon and the following website:
Richard Capriola has been a mental health and addictions counselor for over two decades. He recently retired from Menninger Clinic in Houston where he worked as an addictions counselor for adolescents and adults diagnosed with psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.
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