If nothing else, I hope that the last newsletter made it clear that this is a matter of life and death.  I have not only lost a Son to the disease of addiction, but many friends, and many acquaintances, and the numbers are just continuing to climb.  The incidence of drug related death is statistically becoming a nightmare.

It is time to reassess how we deal with the problem and take a more holistic approach to the solution.

In this volume we will talk about Family Risk Factors, Individual Risk Factors, Social Risk Factors, and signs of trouble and methodologies for dealing with them.  I can’t say that any of the signs are 100% reliable or that the methodologies are foolproof, but I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that most of the time they will hold true and effective.

Children as young as Junior High, or Middle School as it is called in some areas, are being exposed to the whole gamut of substances and in some cases Marijuana, pills, even alcohol, are found at the grade school level.

Here are couple of alarming facts:

“Every day an average of 8,120 people age 12 and over try drugs for the first time and 12,800 try alcohol – more than 20,000 people (Sheff, 2013).”


“50% of all lifetime cases of mental and substance use disorders begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24 (Kessler et al., 2005)”

Remembering what we discussed in the previous volume, we cannot guarantee our kids won’t try drugs and/or alcohol by being good parents and offering a model family and upbringing, however, the higher risk demographics do include deficiencies in these areas.

Family Risk Factors:

  • Poverty
  • Single Parent Families/Divorce
  • Lack of Strong Family Bond/Connection
  • Poor Family Management Practices
  • Family’s History of Addiction – Genetic Cycle
  • Family Trauma
  • Relocations

Individual Risk Factors:

  • Risk Taking and Sensation Seeking
  • Poor Impulse Control
  • Inability to Understand Behavior and Consequences
  • Peer Associations
  • Learning Difficulties (ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia)
  • Behavioral Disorders
  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Academic Failure
  • Inconsistent Norms

Social Risk Factors

  • Targeted for Bullying/Hazing
  • Subject of Ridicule by Peers
  • Slow Physiological Development (Puberty)
  • Spurned by Boyfriend/Girlfriend
  • Peer Pressure

In looking at most of these Risk Factors we are examining external influencers and uncontrollable behavioral characteristics.  These are the various parts of the adolescent life that can cause the adolescent enough discomfort within themselves to break down barriers of entry into the activity of altering the conscious mind.

As you can see by the lists some of the factors can be controlled while others cannot.  For example, in the family trauma heading, trauma can come in manifold ways from auto accidents, to loss of employment, to having a previously unknown violent or sexually abusive relative, and so on.  Any unforeseen event that traumatizes a child can be the catalyst for a substance abuse problem.

Much risk can be mitigated by parenting but they cannot be eliminated so being informed remains the best defense against the incursion of the effects of the disease.  Another part of being informed is understanding tell-tale signs of substance abuse.

You know your children or other family members better than anyone so watch for changes.  Changes in:

  • Friends
  • Hygiene
  • Sleeping Habits
  • Eating Habits
  • Attitude
  • Relationship Skills
  • Activities
  • Interests
  • Grades
  • School Work

Some of these areas show natural changes with age and hormone changes.  This is the time when we need to be closest with our children and know what is truly going on with them.   Then there are the other changes we may notice.

  • Missing Money
  • Less gas in the car than we remember
  • Missing jewelry or other sellable or pawn able goods.
  • Stories not making sense
  • Stories changing
  • Questionable honesty
  • Depression
  • Isolation

Again this is not an exhaustive and complete list but intended to spark the mind toward the reality of things that begin to creep into the home when substance abuse begins.  We have listed risk factors and warning signs.  We haven’ yet talked about response.  How do we respond to any of these things if it becomes suspect that there is a problem?

As a parent, remember that, you are the parent.  Parenting is more important at this point than being your child’s friend.  Straight talk is going to get you responses you are not going to like if there is anything going on, but is the best approach.  If we try to dance around or avoid hurting feelings we begin setting ourselves up for the path to co-dependency.

A direct question may illicit lies, anger, self-condemning statements, acts of hurt feelings or other manipulative attitudes.  Remember, if your child has gotten involved with drugs or alcohol that is what is talking, the drugs and the alcohol.

“There is a discrepancy between the development of adolescents’ reward systems and impulse control, so the reward system is overactive.  Kids have a double whammy.  The go system rages, the foot’s on the gas pedal and the stop system has a hard time keeping up. “(Joseph Frascella, Director of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA, 2011)

Once your child is in the grip of mind altering substances, you are no longer dealing with the same person you have raised all these years.  Their actions and responses are altered.  The longer they are actively using the more unrecognizable their personalities become and more your feelings will get hurt.

Trying to negotiate, appealing to them morally or logically, or trying to reach them emotionally will generally result in your disappointment.

This is where we have to stick to what’s allowed and what the consequences are and you have to only offer consequences you are willing to enforce.  If you have proven that substance abuse is occurring and the family member is a minor, get professional help.  Treatment, rehab, whatever is recommended should be your course of action.  If you have just reached that moment of discovery and don’t want to make any first steps, get professional help for yourself.  It is better than trying to manage an unfamiliar situation and making a huge error.  Don’t hesitate or be embarrassed, remember this is life or death.

Next week’s title is “Substance Abuse Treatment: a Family Affair”.

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