WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
-Know that alcohol is a drug and is particularly lethal for teens.
-Know that THC (marijuana) is a drug and today’s version is much more potent and damaging for teens than your “back in the day” weed.
-Know that a pain pill can be as addicting and more dangerous than heroin.
-Know that nicotine appears to be a gateway drug.
-Know that teen brains are much more prone to addiction that adult brains.
-Know that heavy drug use can distort their thinking to a point where you must think for them.
-Quietly confront them, saying that you love them, that their use is out of control, and that he must accept immediate help.
-Get an evaluation ASAP from a qualified professional. If none are available and your child is sick/impaired, immediately go to a crisis center or emergency room (ER) to be sure that they’re physically safe for the time being. Call 9-1-1 if necessary.
If they refuse help, and insist on continued heavy use OF IMMEDIATELY DANGEROUS DRUGS (ALCOHOL, PILLS, HEROIN, METH, COCAINE):
-Get their car keys, money, and wallet (but no wrestling matches).
-Confront them calmly but firmly (“We know that you are using drugs. We love you, and will take care of you, and you will be OK, but you must do exactly what we say. You will stay in the house for now.”
-Call a Rehabilitation/detoxification facility for an immediate evaluation.
-Call their friends and their parents (“Our kid has a serious drug problem. If you care about him, please DO NOT give him any money under any circumstances, and please contact us.”)
-Search their belongings to determine what additional drugs they might be using.
-Watch them 24/7 until you get help, but do not physically restrain them if he bolts. Call the police.
-If all else fails, consider “rehab-by-cop” (see THE HOW below)
WHAT YOU DON'T DO
-Yell, cry, lecture, or ask any questions such as “Why are you doing this?” or “Don’t you know that this can kill you?”)
-Threaten them (“If you don’t stop this, you’re out of this house.”)
-Accept any promises that postpone their getting help (“I swear I’ll stop this time if you don’t send me to rehab.”) Without treatment, the best predictor of their future is their past.
-Give them permission to leave the house (“If you leave we will call the police, and then you might be detoxing in a cell. We don’t want that. Because we love you!”)
-Attempt to detox them at home or to just let them “sleep it off” (they might not wake up)
Many folks believe that forcing kids into drug treatment is ineffective, that teens must truly want to be there to benefit. But, perhaps surprisingly, the relapse rate for the “volunteers” is about the same as it is for the “draftees” which suggests that coerced drug treatment works about as well as elective.
Your mission is to get your heavily drug-involved adolescent into treatment willingly if possible (since that’s less traumatic) but in any way it takes. Your first move is to simply ask: “It’s clear that your use is out of control. Are you ready to get help?” Your second is to assume control by “telling” them that this is the way it has to be (see THE WHAT above). This works more often than you’d think, appealing to that “smart” part of their brain that knows that they’re in terrible danger. Failing that, be aware that it’s nearly impossible to legally force your child into rehab on your own (check with your local authorities on this). However, a juvenile court can and usually does mandate treatment (not jail) for a minor’s first drug offense.
So...should you turn your kid in to the police for illegal drug use? Take a look at your local juvenile justice system to help you to decide about that huge risk. If that program seems more about helping kids then hurting them, give it some thought.
Given the excellent cops and courts in my own town, I’d dime out my heavily drug-involved, treatment-resistant child in a New York minute.
Frequent use of any drug is a terrible threat to a teenager. Their evolving brains don’t have adult defenses against the toxic and addictive effects of drugs. For example, teens who start to drink at age 14 have 5x the odds of becoming an addict than those who start at 21.
Some poisons, such as opioids, can kill them quick. Others won’t destroy them fast but, like a lamprey, will slowly suck their life energy until using becomes the only thing they really care about. These “soft” drugs may be the most damaging of all because so many of us adults do them ourselves, and thus we sort of wink at their use by our kids (one-third of alcohol illegally provided to our children is handed to them by their parents).
Most teens who use won’t overdose or become addicts. Too many will. There are some factors that increase the odds of addiction (genetics, parental use, peer use) but there is really no way of knowing which kid is “safely” using. We parents cannot play Russian Roulette with the lives of our children by ignoring their heavy drug use and hoping they’ll be ok.
Loving a drug-involved child means loving them enough to firmly confront them with quiet words that often lead to their screaming threats: “If you send me to rehab, I’ll hate you forever.” To which we must respond, “That would truly break my heart. But I love you enough to lose your love, if that is what gives you your life.”
Have other teen concerns?
Contact Dr. Bradley to discuss creating a program tailor-made for your specific needs
Dr. Michael J. Bradley Adolescent Psychologist
Suite 15-B, 1200 Bustleton Pike Feasterville PA 19053
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