A guide to realizing if
your child is at-risk, displaying
self-destructive behaviors, and
needs your help and intervention.
Total Transformation, an at-home program for parents, can help your
troubled and struggling teen and heal your family
Learn more how Total Transformation, an at-home program for parents, can help your troubled and struggling teen and heal your family
How can I help my ADDICTED TEEN?
How can I help a teen who is GRIEVING?
How can I deal with the ANGER
in our family?
Is my teen's BEHAVIOR just normal teenage rebellion?
What do parents and teachers need to know about BULLYING?
How do I find a THERAPIST for my teen?
What is EMOTIONAL ABUSE?
How can I help my OVERWEIGHT daughter?
How do I find a good OUTDOOR PROGRAM for my teen?
Help! My teen is a RUNAWAY!
My teen is cutting. What do I need to know about SELF-INJURY?
What is 'normal' teen SEXUAL BEHAVIOR and what is cause for concern?
Is there a link between DEPRESSION & USING ALCOHOL OR DRUGS?
When You Lose Your Child To Drugs
by Charles Laurence
How do you cope with an addict in the family?
A despairing father and drug-addict son put their sides of the story
Yesterday morning I drove 100 miles to collect my son James from the inpatient programme of a New York de-tox and addiction clinic called Arms Acres. He is only 18, and delivering him to the camp of low, blue-painted wooden buildings filled with ruined people had been heart-breaking. Collecting him again offered at least a sliver of hope.
In the past few weeks, James had persuaded the housekeeper I hire when I travel for work that he has been prescribed "medical marijuana", and so shared his "spliffs" with her in front of the fire. Then he skips his evening job at the local convenience store, lying as usual even after I have confirmed his absence, and driving my car to lord knows where. He comes home to nod off in bed, his eyes far away and so much older than his years. This is nothing in what has become of my single-dad household in New York. It follows the party he threw without permission, at which he passed out so early that his confreres – "friends" is far too good a word – ran riot, stealing every bottle of wine, smoking their dope-filled cigars on my bed, vomiting in the sitting room, smashing up the bathroom.
And that followed the car crash in which he broke every pledge he had made to me before driving into a tree in the early hours, running from a fight. James – I am using that name to protect my son's privacy – crawled away in a trail of blood, rescued hours later by an ambulance crew, half-dead from loss of blood. I held him in the trauma unit, staring at the shredded flesh of his left arm, the splintered bones sticking out like arrow shafts, the arteries visible and pulsing, and I wept for my beautiful boy. He looked up at me, and mumbled: "Sorry."
There must be thousands of parents who have experienced the agony of seeing a child lost to drink and drug addiction, and the dreadful behaviour that goes with it. Each one of us will have our own thoughts on the hows and whys: the strength of engineered "skunk" compared with old-style marijuana; the cornucopia of drugs available to the very young; the trend on both sides of the Atlantic for binge-drinking; family genes and family life.
Susan Gale, a British mother, yesterday revealed that she had "shopped" her son Oliver Perves-Gale, 22, to the police, hoping that the 18 month sentence he is now serving for dealing ecstasy will be "the turning point in his life". Earlier this year, the writer Julie Myerson published a book,
The Lost Child: A Mother's Story, revealing how she had thrown her teenage son Jake out of the family home as a result of his cannabis addiction. Their approach may be different to mine, but I can understand their pain.
I have come to dread the telephone ringing in the night. "Mr Laurence?" the first such call began three years ago. "We have your son in custody." James had climbed out of his bedroom window, joining an older boy with a car, and they were caught with marijuana and stolen prescription drugs. The next arrest came for spraying graffiti on a wall in the bohemian docklands of Red Hook. James was at a gig with his teenage rock band when he sneaked off with his spray can – "tagging", as they call this particular art form, is so cool. It is also the target of a zero-tolerance clamp-down, and I found him squatting on the kerb, hands cuffed hard behind his back. He took the rap for his black friend, who would have faced worse consequences – a haunting testimony to James's good side – and was hauled off to the squalid cages of Central Booking. Why can't they learn? Recognise the limits? Why don't they know when to stop?
Discipline is our job, and the guilt for its failure is ours, too. Did I miss my opportunities when James was just a child? Playing "mummy-daddy" – his name for our relationship when, at three years old, he was left in my care – I was more interested in being nurturing mother than firm-handed father. I enjoyed the rough-and-tumble side of his nature – cowboys-and-Indians, bicycles, risk-taking scrambles in the woods – in contrast to the sissy-culture of New York's educated elite. But then no amount of suspended privileges, cancelled movies, penitent essay writing, confinement to barracks, boot-camp regimes or confiscation of keys has made a difference. While we all have our own ideas on how to deal with it, most experts in America caution against "tough love".
"This tough-love business – throwing him out of the house, calling the police – is just rejecting the child all over again," says Sheenah Hankin, a British-born psychotherapist on Manhattan's Upper East Side, who has a celebrity practice including the "brat pack" kids of the very rich. She argues for better understanding and tackling emotional issues that trigger teenage addiction.
"The first thing we have to realise is that high school is a drug supermarket, and all kids are experimenting," she says. "They all try it. The ones who get into trouble are the ones with problems; they've lost a parent; they've suffered a family trauma; they've suffered abuse. The kid feels angry, anxious and sorry for himself – and the addiction comes from using the very worst way of managing those emotions."
Hankin points out that we all live in a world of Big Pharmacy, where there is a pill for everything, and pills are drugs. She says parents should take a careful look at themselves: do they shout, scream, sulk and worry? Do they drink to calm down? "There is over-diagnosis," she says. "That encourages addicts to believe they have a disease, so it's not their fault. That's wrong: they have to learn that they do have power over their behaviour."
But there are addiction counsellors, often those dealing with teens from the urban "street culture", who do endorse calling the police. "It can be a reality check," says Perry Savino of the Bridge Back programme in Kingston, New York. "And I make it clear to kids in the programme that if they are selling drugs, then they are harming others. For that, they deserve the consequences."
The best bet, says Hankin, is to put adolescents into an in-patient facility for a few days, just as long as it takes to get the drugs and drink out of their systems. The family should rally round: a good start is to hold a meeting every week to discuss "what's good, what's bad and what's annoying", and learn to listen calmly to each other. And then the addicts need professional help, with several meetings a week if possible, to learn how to deal with their emotions without using drugs.
Linda Lebelle, the director of Focus Adolescent Services, has come to much the same conclusions. Parents, she finds, often say it is the child who has the problem, not them: they need to "take a long, hard look at themselves".
She sees adolescents using drugs because, feeling afraid or rejected by other peer groups at school, they find a "community of users" with whom they feel accepted and safe. And they want to escape, to avoid painful emotions and the struggles of life. "How would making life harder help them?" she says. "It can be very, very difficult to treat a child. But I have found that if parents really love their child, they will do anything."
For all the heartache, I agree. Therapists have told me to "disconnect"; I have read medical papers telling me that, "Parents cannot be responsible for whether their children live or die." I will not believe that. However far James is lost in the coming years, there must always be shelter for him in my home.
Back from Arms Acres, James says he accepts that he has a life-threatening problem, and his remorse is real. He says he is determined to "stay clean". All we can do is our best to help him keep his word.
Part of me just wants to be left alone to decide my own fate. But then I also feel that I have nothing to show for my 18 years except a life in turmoil and chaos. I wake every morning in angst, for not even I can foresee how the day will turn out. An ever-present craving for drugs has diminished the trust of those I regard as my closest, to the extent that I can't even trust myself. It is rarely my intention to absorb myself in drugs and deceit, yet that always seems to be the result. Drugs are tearing apart the foundation of my sanity.
The schism between my father and I grows everyday, a brutal reminder of the bond we shared. I search deep within trying to find the precise moment when it all went wrong, so I can take it all back. For whatever reasons, I feel it must be my own personality that sinks me. Even the crippling of my left arm is not enough to deter me from drugs or drink. For lack of a better word; I do feel like an addict, and lost. The hunger for some sort of high, a disconnect from a reality I find so stressful, just takes over. I just hope I can prevail.
Practical Help, Real Answers
for Adoptive & Foster Parents
Practical Help, Real Answers
for Adoptive & Foster Parents
by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry
A child caught in the horror of alcohol and drug addition. A mother helplessly standing by unable to save her. The Lost Years is the real life story of just such a mother and child, each giving their first-hand accounts of the years lost to addiction and despair. Kristina tells how she turns to alcohol for comfort when she is thirteen. She gives a brutally honest description of her descent into addiction, prostitution, burglary and violent rape until her near death on the floor of a homeless shelter completely alone at the age of twenty-one. Adding a heart-wrenching counterpart to the story, Kristina's mother, Connie, tells of her powerlessness to help her addicted daughter, the break-up of her unhappy marriage and how she comes to terms with her own co-dependency. Then follows the remarkable story of Kristina's recovery as she lives through rehab, her mother's support and the years of acclimating herself to living a normal life.
by Robert and Linda Waxler
Jonathan Waxler died at the age of 26 of a heroin overdose following a long struggle with heroin addiction. The Waxlers have chronicled the tragically short life of their son, as well as the long grieving process they endured in this powerful and beautifully written memoir. Losing Jonathan is both a comfort and a wake-up call to parents everywhere about the overwhelming dangers of any addiction.
by Gerald G. May
Addiction and Grace offers an inspiring and hope-filled vision for those who desire to explore the mystery of who and what they really are. May examines the "processes of attachment" that lead to addiction and describes the relationship between addiction and spiritual awareness. He also details the various addictions from which we can suffer, not only to substances like alcohol and drugs, but to work, sex, performance, responsibility, and intimacy. This book is a compassionate and wise treatment of a topic of major concern in these most addictive of times, one that can provide a critical yet hopeful guide to a place of freedom based on contemplative spirituality.
by John Townsend
To help teenagers grow into healthy adults, parents and youth workers need to teach them how to take responsibility for their behavior, their values, and their lives. Dr. Townsend shows parents how to bring control to an out-of-control family life, how to set limits and still be loving parents, how to define legitimate boundaries for the family, how to instill in teens a godly character. He gives important keys for establishing healthy boundaries — the bedrock of good relationships, maturity, safety, and growth for teens and the adults in their lives. The book offers help in raising your teens to take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions. Visit Parenting Teens.
© Focus Adolescent Services