When Jacob was four months old, he was obsessed with the color blue. He grabbed anything and everything blue. He also gravitated to anything that was Mommy’s. We got him to eat fish, chicken, spicy foods, etc. by putting HIS food on MY plate. So, the combination of Mommy’s cup and the color blue gave us this adorable picture. Then, the clever makers of Budweiser came up with a delicious, cheap, beer with double the alcohol. Problem: the bottle was blue. That is how we got this other adorable picture. The parental challenge we face is how to explain to this sweet boy (one day too soon) that drinking is not cute….or fun…or cool…or anything permissable until he is 21 years old.
I am writing this blog on the precipice of Oktoberfest, the gateway holiday for the season of playing with friends and family. That season is also a time of overdoing and undersupervising. Fifteen years of teaching and eight years of counseling have given me a front row seat to substance use and abuse. Here are the secrets I have learned from the mouths of addicts and the families who love them.
Welcome to Drugs 101
There are some common physical and/or behavioral clues that you have a loved one who is building a relationship with an illegal substance. The illegal substances we are talking about include tobacco and alcohol because of the legal ages required to consume those products. Take a breath, moms and dads…here we go:
- Tobacco: In 2011, the National Institutes of Health published a study that qualified tobacco as a gateway drug. The study talks about the changes in the brain caused by nicotine. The piece of the puzzle that I have seen is how many of my clients started smoking at the ages of 8 or 9 before they wind up facing a charge of marijuana possession. The connection is a straight line. Teaching your lungs how to inhale tobacco smoke will allow kids to hold in the smoke, and addictive chemicals, of marijuana and heroin. Now who misses Joe Camel?
- Alcohol: I confess. I was so drunk at my sister’s bat mitzvah (when I was 16 years old) that I forgot to duck to allow the garage door to open when I left the house the next morning. My explanation is a cultural double-whammy: in the Jewish faith, you are an adult after your bar/bat mitzvah (traditionally at 13 years old), and it was common in my family to “not mind” when a teenager drank as long as it was with family. Sound familiar?
The worry for parents is binge drinking. It should take approximately 4 hours, one drink per hour, to reach the legal limit of .08; binge drinking means you have been able to reach that level in half the time. Here is something you didn’t want to know: in order to avoid consequences from parents who use a breathalyzer regularly, I have had clients who snort alcohol or soak tampons in alcohol to put in their rectums to get drunk quickly. If we an only harness that kind of clever ingenuity for good, world hunger, cancer, and global warming would be fodder for history books
- Marijuana: IT’S NOT THE SAME! If you learn nothing else, please accept that whatever you smoked in your youth is not nearly as potent as what is currently available. The incredible scientific advancements that enhance crops to feed poor communities and create generic medications that save all of our budgets were used by less honorable businessmen to engineer highly potent, increasingly more addictive marijuana. And, forget trying to remember the nicknames and codes you may have used to monitor what your child knows about this drug. You will not be more clever than they are. What you should remember is how thirsty you were, how lazy you were, and how badly your eyes burned. Then, when your child blames allergies and overwork at school for those symptoms, you will be appropriately curious. Fun factoid: children that suffer from ADHD often behave more hyperactive when under the influence of marijuana.
- Heroin: Thanks to the rise in our insurance co-pays, economics drew tweens and teens to the street to chase their prescription pill highs with a more affordable drug. The average street price of “oxy” ranges from $10 to $25; a $2 balloon of heroin gets you the same high. This phenomenon is not new. Finding more affordable replacements for upper class drugs, like cocaine, is what led to the crack epidemic. Your kid is afraid of needles? No problem! Heroin can be smoked or snorted. It is a versatile drug that shows no signs of decreasing in popularity. The federal government is just starting to address the national epidemic by limiting the amount of scripts and refills doctors write for injury. Sorry, parents, but if your sweet boy or baby girl is an athlete, watch what happens after an injury. Gross factoid: opiates like heroin cause intense constipation. Complaints about stomach cramping or lack of success in the bathroom may be an indicator.
- Adderral, Ritalin, Xanax, Percoset, Etc.: Name brands or generics, their prescriptions or yours, there is no problem with availability or opportunity for these drugs. My clients refer to “skittles” parties, friendly gatherings where everyone brings whatever pills available to put into a communal bowl for anyone to gamble with a handful. The concern for medical personnel is waiting for blood work in order to treat an overdose. That wait time can be lethal. Sadly, grandparents are the number one unwilling accomplices to this form of drug abuse based on the amount of pills they have in their homes and the amount of love they feel when their grandchildren visit.
There are hundreds of articles, books, and expert opinions on the topic of teen substance abuse. There are more drugs to discuss and tricks to spotting addiction to learn. It is important to know that you don’t need a family history to raise a child struggling with drug use or abuse. You just need a child to make a bad decision. Like most family problems, substance use and abuse are nobody’s fault and everyone’s responsibility. You can help correct that mistake like our mythological friend, Pandora…hope.