Whats the big deal? Causes? How and when to seek help!
Some Adolescents experiment with use and or use occasionally. Some begin to use in such a way that asit starts to affect their healthy functioning they are able to stop or self-regulate on their own. Many willexperience problems ranging from mild to severe.
Why are adolescents so vulnerable to substance abuse issues? The causes are many. This article willexplore the major contributors and also serve as a guide for what to do next if you believe your child isexperiencing a problem with drugs.
Stress is a major contributor. Adolescents dont consciously use to medicate stress, at least at first. Usestarts out as something that is fun for most. When frequency of use increases any stress experienced ismedicated. This connection is at first unconscious.
Adolescence is a developmental period which prepares us for adulthood. There are many tasks whichmust be accomplished in adolescents. The adolescent must abandon the values and norms taught tothem by family, throw them out so to speak, and develop ones which they can identify as their own(they wind up having a value system matching that of their parents by eighty something percent in theend). This is the reason for the classic generation gap. The adolescent rebels and tries on differentvalues to see if they fit, ultimately forming a self based on these values. This process takes a lot ofwork. The onset of sexual urges, the expectation to function more autonomously in society, and theexpectation to succeed causes much stress. This stress actually motivates the adolescent to problemsolve thus helping him or her move thru the tasks of adolescent development. The more frequent thesubstance use becomes the more the stress is medicated, curtailing the motivation to complete the task.
Mental health issues and other life difficulties may exacerbate a drug problem for the adolescent. Oftentimes a mood disorder develops in adolescents. If the child is smoking pot and increases the frequencyand amount of their use this might mask the depressive symptoms. In fact, chronic cannabis abuse lookslike depression in a lot of ways. Decreased motivation, isolation, sleep disturbance, (when THC is notused) and irritability are just some symptoms of depression which are also symptoms of chroniccannabis use.
To complicate matters more, guess what the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal are. Thats right, seeabove. This is why it can take two or three months to correctly assess an adolescent. To see the, forestthru the trees (pun intended, trees being a slang term for pot).
Other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder can also be medicated with cannabis and othersubstances. Psychotic disorders that usually appear symptomatically at around twenty years old may betriggered early by use of drugs especially dissociative and hallucinogens like PCP or LSD.
Loss, Trauma, and difficult life situations also may contribute to the development of a substance abuseproblem. Economic distress, sexual or physical abuse, the death of a loved one or a friend and adoptionare all risk factors that impact substance use problems.
New research that looks at the development of the adolescent brain indicates that the brain is not onlygrowing during adolescence but also that connections and circuits are being established as the braindevelops. Teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors because the limbic system is going througha growth spurt and intensifying emotions while the pre frontal cortex, which then intercedes impulsiveaction, does not fully developed for ten more years or so. Therefore the old understanding of raginghormones combined with underdeveloped judgement is not really off base. (See Scientific AmericanJune 2015)
Adolescents also must take risks. Throwing away Mom and Dads values and getting some of your owninvolves risk. We expect the adolescent to be increasingly autonomous as they approach adulthood. Thismeans they are beginners in a lot of lifes activities and hence not very good at them. Driving forinstance; a 17 year old is a lousy driver until they gain experience. Thats why you cant rent a car untilyou are twenty five. Its a scary time for the adolescent and the family as moving out into the worldinvolves risk.
Furthermore, drugs and alcohol may mask symptoms, medicate stress and aid in socialization bydecreasing anxiety. Involvement in the culture of drugs and alcohol may meet social needs of theindividual.
Recent legislation legalizing Medical Marijuana and its decriminalization in some states has led to a newmindset that pot is okay. As a society we are giving a very mixed message to our youth about pot.
Teens love to argue with parents about how pot is natural, legal and not addictive. Arguing back getsyou nowhere and in fact only fuels the fire. I tend to join with the kid. I say, Pots a great drug, itenhances the taste of food, and the experience of music and the arts, its great for depression andADHD Then I talk about the down side, about addiction about the problems caused by self-medication. You get nowhere arguing because they just turn you off. Its like telling a kid they are usingbecause of peer pressure. Youre telling them they dont have a brain and cant think for themselves.
Want to shut a kid down, say that to them.
The problem is society is giving youth a very mixed message about drugs, and especially about pot. Evenmiddle to upper class towns now allow what used to be called head shops to do business in theirtown. I know they sell e cigs and vapes. Well, they also sell bongs and other types of apparatus used tosmoke pot and dabs (a high potency form of pot made by cooking pot down to a waxy sticky substance).
Also, referrals to drug treatment from schools are down by more than fifty percent in the last five years.
There is a return to the trend of, not in my town and a fear that if treatment is mandated schools mayhave to pay for it. Our family courts have enacted the alternative to detention initiative. A knee jerkreaction to the failure to the war on drugs. This has resulted in an approximately fifty percent reductionin adjudicated youth in NJ over the past year. By going thru the family court system many adolescentswere assessed, found to need treatment and received it. With the drastic reduction of kids that are sentinto this system we are not identifying problems I the early stages.
As a direct result of the above changes in schools and the Family Courts most adolescent inpatient
rehabs in NJ have closed and it is becoming more difficult to keep the doors open at our adolescentoutpatient facilities. The sad irony; in patient detox admissions for opiate dependence in young adultshave skyrocketed and outpatient ambulatory detox sites are also booming with twenty somethingclients.
Parents dont usually cause a substance abuse problem, theyre not that powerful, unfortunately.
Recognizing signs of a substance abuse problem is difficult as adolescents isolate, push parents away,change mode of dress and sometimes are amiss with hygiene. All signs of substance use that couldsimply be a phase that has nothing to do with drugs. Trust your gut. When there is evidence of usedont be certain its infrequent and normal. Error on the side of consulting a professional and seekingan assessment.
Some adolescence do however act out family issues with use and may medicate the pain and stress
caused by family issues. These are called systemic causes. An example would be the child who keepsgetting caught with drugs. When this happens the divorcing mother and father are brought together todeal with the problem. The function is the parents work together during this time and the adolescentexperiences them in the same room and focused on them. Systemic causes are not always this simpleand may be impossible to see from within the family system. This is why professionals in the fieldrequire training in family therapy.
ASSESSMENT: Guidelines to the assessment and treatment process
Why seek an assessment: Many young people experiment with drugs and alcohol, some use substancesin a controlled way, some go through a phase of overuse and then are able to self-regulate, as Imentioned earlier. Some are truly going through a phase. Some develop a problem. Substance abusecan devastate the person and the family and often goes unchecked for a long period of time. Addictionis sometime hard to identify in the early stages. Also, self-medication can mask an underlying mooddisorder or psychiatric condition which only worsens as the abuse continues. Early detection can saveyears of pain and frustration and may be a lifesaving event for some.
The Assessment process: An objective substance abuse assessment is the place to begin if you suspector know your child is involved with drugs. (Remember alcohol is a drug)
I would like to address a number of issues, common concerns and questions that usually come up. Firstand foremost, and this may turn some of you off. It is most likely that the adolescent, upon beingconfronted with evidence of their chemical use, will lie. At the very least they tend to minimize theirinvolvement. The most common retort goes like this, Mom, Dad, I want to be honest with you, Iveexperimented with marijuana and that, well thats not mine.
No matter what has caused you to suspect a drug problem, the first thing to do is seek an assessment.
An assessment has never hurt anyone and is not a punishment. It is a mechanism by which trust can begained back in the child. The more resistant the child becomes, the more the reason to be concerned.
Parents should ALWAYS be ready with a choice. What is the consequence if the child refuses tocooperate with the assessment? Do not assume you can convince your child to come, always have alimit. The limit may range from not being allowed to drive a car, withholding allowance, college tuition,to calling the police, involving the school, involve a local family service agency and even leaving thehome (the child must be 18 or be emancipated). Whatever the consequence decided, the parent(s) mustbe willing to follow though and be aligned, if not your efforts will probably fail.
If you cannot decide on a consequence or align on one with your partner, seek out a therapist who hasexperience in this area, let yourselves be advised and guided and try to form a consensus. This is veryimportant.
Is the assessment confidential? Yes, no professional will release any information without a signed andwritten consent. This includes the childs consent if he or she is over 14 years old, at least in the state ofNJ. You are in control. You should feel comfortable accessing your insurance as employers cannot usemedical information against you or your child, it is illegal. Consult an attorney for any clarification youmay need. If you are not comfortable with information being released to your insurance carrier, I haveagreed to keep a simple file, destroy it in seven years and conducted drug urine screening under an aliasor using a patient code. Again the professional must make you feel comfortable and safe.
How do I find the right place/person to conduct the assessment? Seek a referral from your health careinsurance company, the childs school (Call the SAC, student assistance counselor, formerly thesubstance abuse counselor) a therapist you know, your local police departments juvenile officer or wordof mouth. You could also seek out a local self-help group, (Families Anonymous, Alanon, Parents SupportGroup and the like) these groups are very helpful and the folks you meet will probably have some goodreferrals for you. You can look in the yellow pages and find local treatment centers. I say local, bewarethe nationwide 800 numbers and placement services you may find on line, I suggest you start withsomeone local.
Talk to these people ask questions; get a sense for the facility or person. Trust your instincts and go withwhom you are comfortable with. Is the person licensed, is the facility licensed? I suggest an LCADC(licensed certified alcohol and drug counselor) LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) or an LPC (licensedprofessional counselor) or licensed Psychologist, as basic requirements for those conductingassessments, especially if they are not part of a licensed facility. The LCADC is the specific license foralcohol and drug treatment. Professionals with the other licenses can be quite knowledgeable andexperts in the field. Do your research. If you are looking at an outpatient facility talk to them about thelevel and types of care they have available. Ask if referrals are made outside the facility if needed. Youare looking for someone to be objective with your childs best interests in mind. Some might steer youtoward a private therapist, but they too may be guilty of needing to fill their slots and the like. Do yourresearch, ask for references, and ask if you are comfortable.
The assessment entails an interview of the child and the family. Often written questionnaires are utilizedto amass background information and demographics. A use history is obtained. Sometimesinconsistencies in the childs report are pointed out in an effort to gain a more honest report. To whatextent this technique is used is a matter of technique, style and also a function of the severity of usesuspected. ASAM criteria (ameru) DSM IV (diagnostic stat) and some older forms of testing are applied.
Sometimes a SASSY (Sy-uby) which is a projective type of questionnaire, which rates level of severity andpersonality issues, is utilized. It is a useful tool but not necessary for an initial assessment.
Within reason, the clinician should take into account, where the client is at What level of motivationis there, is the child mandated, does the family want help, is the client system accepting of thediagnosis. We can certainly apply a diagnosis of chemical dependency; this does not mean that peoplewill accept this. Often times the child needs to fail repeatedly before there is a level of motivation forchange. The level of treatment recommended should take this into account. Starting with the leastrestrictive treatment modality is usually preferable.
Is this a mental health issue? If we fix the mood disorder will the substance problem go away? Im oftenasked, is this a psychiatric problem or a drug problem? My response is this is a kid problem. Often,treatment serves as an ongoing assessment. Sometimes the child is self-medicating a mood disorder, orother psychiatric condition. Sometimes the use may be in response to family discord or actually serve afunction in the family. Often the child is simply addicted to chemicals and use, which may have startedout as self-medicating, is now a full-blown addiction. Determining what exactly is going on is a processthat takes place over the course of treatment. A mental health screening and history are conductedduring the initial assessment. For most children a psychiatric evaluation should also be conducted. Theevaluation may take place immediately or sometimes four to six weeks into treatment. Some clinicians say wait until the person is abstinent for a number of weeks before seeing the sychiatrist. With drugsout of the system the psychiatrist is able to get a much better picture of what is going on. Conversely, ifthe child is too depressed to stop using perhaps we should address this immediately. So, when is a trickyquestion? Rely on your treatment teams judgment.
Types of Treatment: I will list them bellow from least structure to most structured and comment oneach level of treatment.
Urine screening only:
This may be appropriate if there is little concern there is a substance problem. The knowledge thatrandom urines are to be taken may give the child motivation not to use and reason to give whenrefusing drugs and alcohol. Any child with a problem may very well beat any drug test. I alwaysrecommend that testing be conducted at a treatment center. Most treatment professionals in the fieldare pretty savvy regarding how patients may adulterate their urines. Also, most treatment centersobserve the urine. I must stress there are many ways by which to adulterate a urine, by tampering,replacing, and detoxifying or flushing ones system with water in order to dilute the result. The child mayget over on the urine even at the best facilities.
Most importantly, if you are going to utilize urine testing you must have a consequence, a plan for whathappens when the child tests positive. Do not make the mistake assuming the child will not use becausethey are being tested. There should always be a consequence and a re-assessment with a professionalshould me sought.
Individual therapy with random urines:
Much preferable to drug screening by itself, but still limited. Individuals are appropriate in twocircumstances. One, the child is motivated to address the use and the underlying or co-occurring issuesand the child is not chemically dependent. Two, the child and/or family are very resistant to a higherlevel of care. In these latter cases I call individual therapy, entrapment. We predict the child will not beable to remain abstinent and then the prediction comes true. This can be a very effective strategy.
Unfortunately, there is limited therapeutic work going on as the child has probably lied about past useand current use. With so many secrets therapy just doesnt work. What is important is that the therapistdoes have a chance to build rapport, trust and respect. One must allow ones predictions to come truewithout alienating the child or family.
Under this section I will include that the parent(s) may seek counseling to formulate a plan and becomealigned as mentioned earlier. Also, family therapy may be appropriate and utilized with each of the twocircumstances mentioned above.
Education and evaluation Programs:
The child and a family member attend an educational series of varied length. At our treatment centerwe call this Triple E, (Education, Extended Evaluation) a six-week educational series is attended oneevening per week for six weeks and random urine screens are obtained.
Topics include: Addiction, Abuse, codependency, and adolescent development.
These programs serve to educate the parent as well. This process also introduces the family to thetreatment center and creates a connection to the facility. If the child uses chemicals during theextended evaluation a recommendation to a higher level of care is made. The family, often times aremore receptive to such a recommendation because they have been through this process.
This modality takes different forms. All the forms include some combination of group therapy andeducation. Urine screens are usually obtained. At our facility we call this program Early Intervention.
(EIP) The child attends a group one day; the family attends a family evening on another day during theweek. Family evening is comprised of a combination of education, parents therapy group and a multiple
family group. In multiple family group all of the children, their parents, and sometimes other familymembers attend.
This level of care usually treats substance abuse, not chemical dependency. Involvement is based on thepremise that the patient is not addicted to substances and this means that he/she can control there useif so motivated. This type of treatment focuses on the underlying causes of abuse, family functioning,decision making, empowerment and parenting. Patients complete treatment with an increased self-awareness and are able to discontinue and/or control use not necessitating re-involvement intreatment.
These programs may also serve as an extended evaluation, if the child can remain abstinent and thefamily evidences improvement the program is deemed a success. If the child struggles with continueduse, then a higher level of care may be indicated. Often times, as mentioned earlier, the child is notforthcoming regarding their level of involvement with chemicals. They minimize and attempt,sometimes with herculean effort to continue their use without this being detected. Ultimately theseefforts fail and the evidence of the childs inability to control their use is highlighted. This dynamic canbe crucial to mobilizing and aligning the child and/or the parents, toward seeking an appropriate level ofcare. In another situation, the parents may be guarded about placing their child in a higher level of carewhich treats, those other bad kids that I dont want my kid with. In this situation, this level of caremay serve to educate the family as to the need for a higher level of treatment. The above scenarios arealso considered a success, in that the child and family are ultimately engaged in the appropriate level ofcare.
Intensive Outpatient Programs were designed as an alternative to traditional in patient rehab. Theindividual is able to continue work, school and most activities while in primary care for addiction. Thereis also a cost advantage that compels health care insurance companies to rely heavily on IOPs. If aperson fails at this level of care then IN pt rehab is recommended. Often times failure at his level of careprovides the insight and motivation necessary for a successful rehab stay. If the individual is notmotivated they may simply, do time in rehab. The inner game plan being, Ill be a good little patient inhere so I can get out quickly and use in peace.
Programs generally meet three to our times a week for three to four hours, usually in the evening. Theprogram is comprised of psycho-educational sessions, group and sometimes a family group.
It is at this level of care that traditional self-help, twelve step involvement is utilized. One of the primarygoals of treatment is acceptance of powerlessness over the disease of chemical dependency andsurrendering to accepting the suggestions of the twelve step program. Some are quite resistant to sucha philosophy with the references to God and spirituality. Often times this is the last bastion of denialthat must be overcome. Space and scope does not allow in-depth exploration of this topic. I must pointout this should not be a road block. If it is being presented as one, it is the patients resistance fuelingthe power struggle, in order to take the focus off of real issues.
Going to rehab is often a necessary step toward the adolescent achievement of sobriety.
Length of stay may be a few days to months. Typically a two to four week stay is advisable utilizinghealthcare insurance. The old standard is 28 Days, as that was the number of days included in healthcare insurance in the 1970s. Hence, treatment programs were designed around that time frame. Nowdays managed care has nibbled away at that number. A person must meet medical necessity criteria inorder to utilize there inpatient insurance benefit. Rehab is actually broken down into three categories:detox, acute or hospital care and residential. Be very clear; if your insurance plan says you have 30 daysof in patient, this does not necessarily mean your teenager will be able to stay in patient for 30 days. Aneeds assessment is conducted by the insurance company, when certain criteria are not met; arecommendation is made to an outpatient level of care such as an IOP.
Longer is better, especially for adolescents and young adults. If you have the financial recoursesavailable it may be worthwhile to invest in this level of care. Timing is very important, make sure you areconsulting with a professional and including all parties involved. It is easy to make insurance companiesthe villain in these cases. Still, it may make sense to allow the child to fail on an outpatient bases beforeplacing them inpatient. The adolescent may very well be more receptive to Rehab if they have failed atthe chance provided to them to stay sober while living in their community. They have failed, so there is abetter chance of them gaining an awareness of the need for help. With a premature in patientplacement the adolescent may very well say, this is crazy, everyone is over reacting, I cant take thisseriously. Generally if you are going to jump into in patient early on, be prepared to send them to alonger term placement, at least 3 4 months.
We see a higher level of success with kids who fail at various levels of outpatient, then go to an in-patient facility, and then attend IOP as an aftercare component.
Remember this is a chronic and insidious disease. We have seen adolescents who have been placed inmultiple facilities only to return to use soon after each discharge. Then there are natural consequencessuch as legal ones and the, now young adult is compelled to attend treatment, only to return to use.
Detox and Medically Assisted Treatment
Adolescents may require inpatient detox if they are physically dependent on opiates and orbenzodiazepines (Valium Xanax Klonopin) Ambulatory detox utilizing medically assisted treatmentmay be considered. The use of Suboxone (a drug which alleviates opiate withdrawal symptoms andcurtails urge) has met with mixed reviews, especially its long term use and use with the adolescentpopulation. Naltrexone and Vivitrol may also be considered. These are drugs which block thepleasurable effects of alcohol and opiates. Naltrexone is in pill form while Naltrexone is a monthlyinjection. Antabuse, a drug that makes a person sick if they drink alcohol is used at times but mostlyindicted for the highly motivated individual.
Wilderness programs/ therapeutic boarding schools
An in depth discussion of this level of treatment is outside the scope of this article. However, a few
words to the wise. If you are considering placement in such programs, hire an experienced educationalconsultant. Allow them to guide you in your decision. These folks may seem expensive. This modality oftreatment is expensive also, so consult the experts, its worth it.
This type of placement usually consists of an initial course in a wilderness program, sometimes lastingseveral months. Then the child is placed in a therapeutic boarding school for an average of one to twoyears. The child is usually matched to a school that meets their emotional, behavioral and educationalneeds.
This is a long term commitment. Caution is suggested before the child is withdrawn prematurely againstrecommendations. I have seen this end in disaster. I have also seen children placed in such setting forfour to five years, and have mixed feelings about such long treatment stays.
Consult the Pros is my advice when considering this level of care.
Cost and Insurance
Unfortunately expense must be taken into consideration. Its great if you have unlimited resources.
There are many great private pay facilities in this country and the ability to access them can save livesStill, I have seen families spend inordinate amounts of money on interventionists, high end rehabs,boutique therapies and the like, only to enable their child. How do I mean, I call these kids care addicts.
They do ok for a while then, as they are expected to start to take on real life responsibilities like workand school and forming social relationships on their own, they relapse. This elongates the out-patientphase of treatment and often results in placement back in a Rehab. This feeds into their arresteddevelopment and sends them on a cycle of care and relapse, care and relapse. I have also seen familiesliterally, dispose of a child by enrolling them in long term treatment. Often these families choose sucha placement rather than look at themselves and engage in family treatment to address the problem.
Sometimes parental abuse and addiction are the issues being avoided. So sometimes having all theresources in the world can actually be harmful.
If you have healthcare insurance you need to make yourself aware of your coverage and limitations. Isresidential care covered? What is your deductible, per incident, per family member, per family? Howmany treatment days are available, per calendar year, per lifetime? Is the benefit managed? What levelsof treatment require pre authorization? Is the treatment facility you are looking at in network? What isyour out of network benefit and how does it differ from your in network benefit?
On the other end of the spectrum is the family with little or no recourses. No Insurance or Medicaid. Letme make this clear; there is a great difference in the care available in private pay, commercial insurancereimbursed facilities vs. publicly funded facilities. This is a fact of life. This is not to say that quality careand successful outcomes do not occur in publicly funded programs. Still staff to patient ratios aredifferent as are the physical presentation of the facilities. I have seen many adolescents and youngadults, get it in such facilities after multiple stays at some of the premier rehabs in the country.
So, what one needs to do is objectively assess ones resources and use them wisely. Consult withprofessionals.
Often I hear the parent say, I have no money and we are out of insurance, I will take a second mortgageto pay for a rehab stay if it will save my child. I usually do not advise this. I make sure the parentsunderstand that one rehab stay is not always successful. I stress seeking out an accessible alternative.
There are many very good treatment facilities that work under grants and other funding sources. It maybe a frustrating process to access such facilities but keep advocating and be persistent. Such facilitieswant motivated families and patients. After all they are deciding who gets to use precious resources.
Being persistent in the face of such bureaucracy can pay off.
Your use of healthcare benefits cannot effect your employment. The employer has no right to know howyou utilize your insurance benefit. This is illegal. In small companies people fear that employers maybecome aware of your claims. If you fear your employer may hold the fact of your child needing drugtreatment against you, get a lawyer, and advocate for yourself.
People who seek to enter the military, police, CIA, FBI, Secret Service or seek high level clearance, youwill be asked to sign a waiver or release that would allow access to your records. In these casesconfidentiality is not being broken, the individual is consenting to the release. I have had experiencewith families that have aspired to have their children seek a career in the FBI or some similar agency.
These families have refused to utilize health care insurance for this reason, so there is no paper trail oftreatment. Still the individual swears to be honest. Extensive research is conducted, includinginterviewing friends relatives and educators. If you were in treatment as an adolescent, it may very wellsurface anyway. My best advice is get the help and worry about the rest later.
I cant stress strongly enough how important it is to seek help if you even think your child may have aproblem. An assessment has never hurt anyone and may save your childs life. An assessment may alsoidentify other issues and problems not related to drugs. I have made many recommendations totherapy, family therapy and psychiatric care and made no substance abuse treatmentrecommendations, after conducting a chemical dependency assessment.
Do not let the child talk you out of seeking treatment. They may lie, barter, plead fragility or go into arage. The fact is the more the resistance and drama, the more the need for intervention.
If you cant seem to set a limit that works with your adolescent or have become split with your spouseseek out a professional and consult with them. Always be aligned with your spouse regarding plans,limits and consequences.
By Nelson L. Hadler, MSW, LCSW, LCADC, CCS at Summit Behavioral Health
All are welcome to call me at the treatment center, or e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Also you may visit our website Summithelps.com
September 18, 2015PCTB