In past articles, we have discussed the challenges of parenting in addiction. Watching a son or daughter struggle with substance abuse is painful and frustrating—especially in moments when you feel powerless in changing the situation. But what do those situations specifically look like with teens? How can you help support your teen to move toward a healthier path? Consider the following perspective on watching for signs and communicating with your teen about substance abuse.
Need for education
Parents are encouraged by numerous outlets to talk to their kids about sensitive topics, such as drinking, drugs, and healthy relationships. While those discussions may be happening, recent research is finding gaps in both parents and adolescents’ perceptions and knowledge of popular drugs and their inherent risks. Trends and changes in youth substance abuse, such as the popularity of e-cigarettes and the rise of painkiller misuse, demand more parent and student education on health risks. As we hear more tragic stories of drug overdose, we see opportunities for those parenting conversations to rethink the script and talk about more substances and choices—both legal and illegal—to help correct misconceptions on safe versus unsafe drugs.
For example, Psychology Today reports that only 14% of parents mention prescription drugs when talking to their kids about drug abuse, and one in six parents believes prescription drugs are safer than street drugs. With the growing problem of opioid abuse, examples like this remind us that many families don’t realize the danger that may be accessed and acquired within their own homes.
Recognizing signs and influences
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids helps educate parents on why teens experiment with drugs and how to conduct constructive discussions around substance abuse. Common influences on teen drug use include exposure from parents or peers, interest in self-medication and escape, desire for rebellion, lack of confidence, and boredom/lack of structure. Along with risk factors, these influences can impact teens’ decision-making, driving them to seek solace or acceptance in drugs and alcohol.
For teens who are starting to experience the effects of repeated substance abuse and mask their behaviors, common behavioral changes include the following:
Acting uncharacteristically loud or uncoordinated
Excessively using over-the-counter products for eye reddening and nasal irritation
Reckless driving and/or unexplained dents and damages to their car
Exhibiting periods of high energy followed by long periods of sleep
Learning the context of substance abuse
Whether for therapeutic or recreational purposes, adolescents are often subjects of polysubstance abuse—use of three or more classes of substances. Rather than being addicted to one substance, such as alcohol, adolescents may get in the practice of using multiple substances to create a more intense experience and increase the effects of a certain drug. For example, someone may use stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine to go “up” and depressants like alcohol, marijuana, or opioids to come “down.” Patterns like these can contribute to increased levels of distress, anxiety, and irrational behavior.
With dependency on multiple substances, breaking these habits can be especially challenging as the addiction grows in complexity. Situations where a teen is struggling with multiple substances underscore an even greater need for supervised detoxification and professional treatment.
Finding help in the process
While discovering and accepting a teen’s addiction may feel heartbreaking, helping them enroll in an outpatient treatment program may be what saves them from even more traumatic consequences. Outpatient treatment helps teens understand addiction as a disease, break their chemical dependencies, and gain tools for making healthy lifestyle decisions as they approach adulthood.
Addictions develop from a combination of biological and environmental factors. While no one particular factor determines if someone will become an addict, research has found that children of addicts are predisposed to battling their own struggles with substance abuse. Since youth are often reluctant to talk about substance abuse problems in their families, recognizing these situations from the outside is critical to helping youth get the support and assistance they need for their mental health, physical well-being, and future decision-making. The following discussion highlights common themes and behaviors in families with an addicted parent.
Influence of risk factors
One in four children under the age of 18 are exposed to substance abuse within their family. We know from research on risk factors that a child’s relationships within the home have heavy bearing on their own susceptibility to using drugs and alcohol. As a parent’s addiction spirals, the surrounding family of the addict may be navigating violent episodes, disappearances, and other unpredictable, erratic behavior—creating these patterns of stress and unrest. When these situations escalate to problems of abuse or neglect, that toxic environment can be unrelenting, disabling, and fear-inducing for the child.
Alcoholism research has explored this phenomenon, known as “second-hand drinking.” When the child has to become resilient in a dysfunctional home, the chaos of that environment results in a toxic stress, negatively impacting the child’s mental health. Research has found that children of addicts are more inclined to develop depression and anxiety during adolescence. When paired with traumatic episodes, recognized as “adverse childhood experiences,” the generational problem of addiction perpetuates, driving youth to turn to drugs and alcohol to escape a tumultuous home.
When children are forced to cope with an addicted parent, they also experience feelings of shame, unwarranted responsibility, and self-blame for the situation. As they mature, those feelings may evolve into resentment for their parents and desire for rebellion, making them especially vulnerable to misusing substances. Children of addicts are four times more likely to also become addicts when they try alcohol and/or drugs.
Do you know a child who is growing up in an environment of substance abuse? Consider how you can support that child by connecting with a school counselor or social worker or accompanying the child to a support group like Alateen. In situations where their own substance abuse has escalated, learn how adolescent outpatient treatment can help them make healthier, lifelong decisions.
When people refer to wake-up calls, those events typically mark the culmination of a negative behavior developing over time. Maybe that behavior stemmed from a poor attitude, a shortcut in a process, or a bad habit. Sometimes we reconcile with those wake-up calls as being the result of taking something for granted or running a risk too many times, proving to finally catch up with us. Whether they come in the form of an injury, threat, or loss, wake-up calls surface as a shattering moment of reality, capturing the nearness and severity of a problem.
In situations of substance abuse, a wake-up call can feel like a moment where something meaningful begins crumbling, and the consequences of repeatedly getting drunk or high begin to unfold. Too often we look back in hindsight and wish we could take those early warning signs more seriously. Consider the following perspective on watching for warnings and responding to wake-up calls.
Defining the problem
Psychology Today defines wake-up calls as an awakening to something one has been ignoring. When we’re neglecting to correct an inclination within ourselves or find a solution for a persisting problem, a wake-up call can feel like life’s sudden way of bringing an issue to higher consciousness. We get a momentary foreshadowing of the troubles ahead if the problem continues. Unfortunately, we often dismiss the warning signs and more manageable wake-up calls, feeling a new sense of surprise and shock each time outcomes get worse.
Letting warning signs slip
Wake-up calls in an addiction may start seemingly small, but they progress into more dangerous situations. The scary truth about wake-up calls is that we become desensitized to their seriousness as the drinking and using prevail over time and the damages appear repairable. When an addict doesn’t take initiative to change substance abuse habits, the next episode or binge requires even more damage and despair to feel costly, and what we thought was “rock bottom” becomes deeper and darker.
Just like the substances themselves, consequences can build numbness, causing a hangover or blackout to lose its sense of alarm. Perhaps the next wake-up call means losing a job or a partner. As substance abuse perpetuates, that wake-up call becomes an arrest or a tragic accident. Eventually the frustration from once fighting over how much someone drank last night pales in comparison to the proceeding damage to their health, career, finances, family, child custody, and legal freedom.
While we hate to hear situations escalate to life-threatening levels, we can take important lessons from these circumstances about recognizing the signs and acting sooner.
Taking the next steps
What signs are you observing? Adopting a heightened awareness and being informed of common warning signs can help us recognize moments where we need to make changes and reorient ourselves toward a healthier direction.
Over the past decade, health research has made significant progress to correct former misconceptions about addiction. Historically, addiction was viewed as the outcome of moral failing or weakness. Today we recognize addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease, and continued research is exploring the factors that may cause addictions to form.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate by class, gender, age, or any other demographics. Substance abuse disorders affect people from all walks of life, and progression of those disorders can result in numerous health complications. But why do some people become addicts, and others don’t? Here is what research has uncovered about the causes of addiction.
Multiple factors contribute to substance abuse disorders, and no single factor has been identified as an immediate predictor. As researchers continue to study addiction, more evidence points to influences early in life that make someone more vulnerable to cycles of substance abuse.
Addictions develop from a combination of environment and genetics. Environmental factors include exposure to peer groups that encourage drug use and one’s family’s beliefs and attitudes toward drug use. Genetics can contribute to an addiction once substance abuse begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, likelihood of developing an addiction may be influenced by inherited traits—either speeding up or slowing down the progression of the disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that genes account for about half of a person’s risk of developing an addiction.
Role of risk factors
Along with environment and genetics, more specific risk factors have been recognized as trends among people who develop addictions. Risk factors are characteristics associated with higher likelihood of substance abuse. Common risk factors include the following attributes:
Family history: If someone comes from a family with history of substance abuse, they are at higher risk from genetic disposition.
Health of relationships: Youth who demonstrate aggressive behavior or poor self-control and struggle to develop positive peer relationships are more likely to misuse substances.
Peer pressure: If someone feels pressured to use drugs—especially at a young age, they will be more likely to abuse drugs by the influence of their peer groups.
Lack of family involvement: Insecure households, absence of parental figures, and lack of parental guidance can lead to using drugs as self-medication.
Use in adolescence: Early drug abuse while the brain is still developing will increase one’s odds of forming an addiction. Approximately 90% of Americans with a substance abuse disorder began smoking, drinking, or using drugs before the age of 18.
The trouble of selective memory can be aggravating for the family of an addict. Convincing someone of something they can’t remember feels like a frustrating cycle of confrontation and disbelief—especially when those actions seem wildly out of character. Without clear recollection of the ugly events, an addict will naturally struggle to believe or see the problem. Until the addict acknowledges the problem, that individual can’t take responsibility for their actions. Consider how selective memory can disguise the level of a substance abuse problem.
Biases in memory
In psychology research, studies have uncovered different phenomena known as memory biases. One of the more well-known biases is hindsight bias—the tendency to assume past events were more predictable than they actually were. Another memory bias is known as rosy retrospection. Rosy retrospection is exhibited when one sees memories through a distorted, “rose-tinted” lens, recalling past events as more pleasant or satisfying than how they felt in the moment. A rosy perspective can be positive from a sense of favorable recaps and evaluations of one’s experience, but it can also have negative consequences when one neglects to remember the conflicts or hazards an event actually involved.
Researchers have found that rosy retrospection can prevent people from changing their behaviors and actions. This helps explain why people tend to repeat past mistakes. As time passes, the negative outcomes of an event grow blurry, and the positive associations get brighter.
The effects of memory bias are evident in the patterns of addiction. We often see rosy retrospection plague people who are going through withdrawals. Their selective memory encourages them to reminisce on the fun or thrilling aspects of using a drug. By remembering events safer and happier than actuality, an addict too quickly forgets the trauma and devastation their last “high” ended up producing. That rosy perspective reinforces their drive to use again.
Loss of memory formation
When someone experiences an alcohol-induced blackout, the brain loses its ability to form long-term memories. The individual may be able to create short-term memories to hold a conversation, but any future memory of those conversations will be lost, making it especially challenging to explain to someone who they were or what they did during a blackout.
An addict often feels disassociated or unattached to reports of his or her behavior, feeling like the person in that situation was someone else. Perhaps the intention was only one drink or one round, but the pull of the substance escalated. By only storing memories before the blackout, the addict feels disconnected from the stories people relay after the fact. The brain just remembers the positive rewards that came from the drug.
Collision of broken memories
When we combine memory biases with the results of a blackout, the outcome is a confusing, agonizing circle of blame and denial. The key to reconciling these circumstances is to help an addict understand the consequences of their actions. Sometimes it’s a devastating event that becomes a wake-up call, serving as “proof” of the problem. While a dangerous situation is never desirable, identifying evidence from those wake-up calls can help to persuade someone of the damage their behavior is causing.
Cravings are a normal part of addiction recovery, but the challenge of dealing with those cravings can’t be overstated. Intense cravings can leave us feeling robbed of the ability to concentrate on tasks at hand, triggering that previous obsession and preoccupation with a drug. While you can’t always control everything in your surroundings, you can take steps to identify triggers for cravings and implement viable solutions to help you navigate those moments. The following discussion breaks down what causes cravings and how they can be managed.
Psychology behind cravings
Every addict in recovery experiences cravings for the substance to which they were once addicted. The causes of cravings aren’t vastly different from someone else’s food cravings, but the severity of an addict’s cravings is experienced on a much higher level. When someone was once so deeply obsessed with a substance, cravings for that substance make abstinence much more difficult to maintain.
Psychology Today defines a craving as “an overwhelming emotional experience that takes over your body and produces a unique motivator of behavior—wanting and seeking a drug.” Cravings produce powerful urges to use a drug that has been withdrawn from a person’s lifestyle. Health studies have found that the brain has a particularly strong memory for things that we love—things that are especially pleasant or satisfying. Cravings come from an addict’s memory of the positive rewards that resulted from using a drug.
Cravings are marked by a relationship with a stimulus that gets recognized as a cue or a prompt, hindering one’s focus from other activities. Cravings typically come from our brains’ conditioned associations with certain stimuli, such as people, places, or other objects. When the brain recognizes those stimuli in one’s environment, the sense of craving gets activated or agitated, making someone feel more enticed to use or consume the substance.
Recognizing the triggers
In our work, we educate people about relapse triggers and equip them with thought stoppers and other tools to better manage situations. You can’t control unanticipated triggers in your environment, but you can control how you handle them. By developing a higher level of self-awareness and awareness of your surroundings, you will be armed to respond in healthier ways when cravings strike.
Much of what we desire is based on our mood. Emotions like sadness, stress, or boredom can lead us to crave a substance, wishing it to make us feel happier or more relaxed. Those are the moments when relapse often happens. By recognizing your mood, you can be extra intentional about managing your environment. If you’re feeling restless or discouraged, don’t let yourself walk into a situation that will test your will to stay sober. Instead, choose healthier settings where you will be supported.
Choosing healthy solutions
While the early weeks of withdrawal can be acutely taxing, the intensity of those cravings will gradually lessen as the body learns to function without the drug. Consider these ways to curb intense cravings:
Walk it off. Visualize transferring that craving’s energy into physical exercise. Exercise has been shown to produce anxiety-relieving effects. Expending that energy on physical activity will alleviate your stress and release endorphins in the brain, helping you attain a clearer head space.
Find company. If you’re feeling especially tempted to use, don’t test yourself by being in isolation. Testing whether you can resist cravings by yourself doesn’t come with any badge of honor. Text, call, or visit someone else who can keep you accountable and shift your focus. Lean into others’ support by spending time with supportive loved ones.
Remember it will pass. Psychology research has compared the ups and downs of cravings to the back-and-forth tide of the ocean. When an intense craving comes rolling in, our tendency is to overestimate how long the craving will last. When the craving subsides, we’re glad we didn’t give in and relapse. Find a way to capture that feeling so you can come back to that thought the next time cravings happen.
In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of creating a new life in recovery. Setting goals and creating boundaries can help people move forward. But true recovery requires more thought and intention to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Recovery from addiction is a life-long journey, and successful recovery demands a conscious, daily commitment to staying sober. Understanding the nature of addiction is helpful for setting your expectations. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse identifies addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease. As a chronic illness, addiction can be managed or controlled, but not ultimately cured. While relapse is common, addicts can take steps toward relapse prevention by evaluating their daily decisions through the lens of recovery. Consider the following suggestions on integrating recovery in your daily life.
Living by a schedule
When your time revolves around finding the next drink or the next high, a life of substance abuse can feel turbulent, chaotic, and even violent. As relationships fall apart and commitments keep slipping, your priorities drastically change. That need to satisfy your cravings overrides all other plans, challenging your ability to maintain a normal work/life schedule.
As you go through residential addiction treatment, one of the helpful, habit-forming aspects is finding a consistent routine. The routine you develop in treatment puts structure back in your day. Addicts in recovery often face their weakest moments when they lack structure—when they grow bored or restless. By carrying out that structure in your everyday life, you keep your time occupied by healthier activities, avoiding empty moments where you may contemplate using again.
Even on days when you aren’t working or don’t have other appointments, take the initiative to plan out your day. Will you exercise or run errands or do housekeeping tasks? Write them down. Keeping a calendar and writing to-do lists keep you in a more positive, active mindset, helping you resist any relapse triggers of lonely, unaccounted hours.
Connecting with others
Addiction draws people into isolation. Perhaps you remember times in the darkest days of your addiction when you shut out some of your loved ones. People with substance abuse problems commonly distance themselves from family and friends, putting up walls when others reprimand them for using or don’t understand how they feel. That aspect of addiction is especially painful in its aftermath—the drowning feeling of disconnecting from everyone around you.
Recovery doesn’t have to be miserable, and you can’t attain your best life in recovery if you remain in isolation. Feelings of loneliness can be a trigger for relapse. As you repair relationships that have been damaged by your addiction, consider how you can deliberately build a support system that encourages your recovery. These are the people who can help keep you accountable and create settings where you feel safe. Having that supportive community is essential to staying sober.
Helping someone else
One rewarding part of recovery is the opportunity to pay it forward. We hear this from people from all walks of life. Sharing stories and experiences helps people with similar struggles find commonality and inspiration, sparking greater change in another person. Your story may be exactly what someone else needs to hear to evaluate their options and make a healthy change. You may be surprised at how sharing your story liberates and empowers you just as much as the audience.
Opioid addiction continues to have devastating impact on our society. Efforts to solve the opioid epidemic have evolved into key health initiatives across the United States, including the State of Idaho.
Idaho’s Response to the Opioid Crisis (IROC) serves to offer prevention, treatment, and recovery support to Idahoans with an opiate use disorder (OUD). IROC’s primary mission is to decrease the number of opiate-related deaths in Idaho. The need for these resources continues to rise as a growing number of individuals misuse prescription painkillers. The following information paints the situation on national and state levels.
In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of walking into situations with a plan. Managing relapse triggers is essential to staying on a sober path. But even with the best planning and intentions, you may still find yourself in settings that you didn’t anticipate—settings that present challenges and test your will. While we encourage people to avoid testing themselves, we know sometimes those circumstances are unplanned or inevitable.
When you find yourself in a high-risk setting, what steps can you take to manage the situation? Here are our tips for standing your ground in unforeseen challenges.
Come armed with alternatives
Going to parties or gatherings that turn out to serve alcohol can present obvious challenges for staying sober. When you’re a recovering addict, one of the strongest pulls to relapse is the feeling of wanting to belong, and situations where everyone else is drinking may feel awkward or lonely when you aren’t prepared.
If you know there is a chance other people might be drinking, consider bringing an alternative option to avoid feeling empty-handed. If you are headed to someone’s home, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage in case those options aren’t offered. If you are visiting a restaurant or other venue, don’t force the discomfort of explaining why you are empty-handed. By ordering a non-alcoholic beverage, you can show participation and still stick with your plan.
Practice the buddy system
The buddy system isn’t only for crossing the street. Making a partner aware of the situation can be helpful for accountability—even if it’s as simple as texting a friend. Consider attending events with a sober partner by your side or having a sober partner on call when you need some encouragement. Including someone else supports you in your sobriety and shines a light on the situation, making your actions accountable to another person.
Anticipate an exit strategy
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. As a best practice for any occasion, always plan ahead of time how you will get home—especially if an event could put you in an uncomfortable position. Having an exit strategy may mean it’s best to arrive with your own transportation so you aren’t relying on someone else to drive you home. This allows for a way out without feeling guilty about making someone else leave early on your behalf. Being your own designated driver also creates a quick, easy response to why you aren’t drinking. Having that response ready will help you feel equipped with a natural answer to anyone’s questions.
Rising substance abuse problems stemming from prescription drugs have inspired health initiatives throughout the United States to tackle the opioid crisis. National health research has found that up to 29% of patients misuse prescription painkillers, and nearly 12% develop an opioid use disorder from opioids that are prescribed to manage chronic pain. With opioid-related deaths on the rise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified this trend as “a national epidemic.”
As we learn more about opioid addiction, we are finding new ways to collaborate efforts and connect people with the right programs to make treatment possible. The following discussion explores how The Walker Center’s partnership with Idaho’s Response to the Opioid Crisis (IROC) can help people find the support they need.
Understanding the problem
The complexity of opioid abuse is multi-faceted from source to end user, demonstrated through increased accessibility and availability of the drugs. From 1999 to 2010, the volume of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and provider’s offices nearly quadrupled, even though Americans did not report dramatic increases in pain level overall.
One of the biggest challenges of managing the problem is protecting and preventing our youth from access to plentiful supply. In an Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 17% of Idaho high school students reported taking a prescription medication without a doctor’s prescription at least once in their lifetime.
We know that misusing opioids can lead to destructive consequences, including dangerous risks of overdosing. In 2016, an Idahoan died every 34 hours from drug overdose. Research has found that at least 6 out of 10 overdoses involve an opioid. Given the growing problem, Idaho’s Response to the Opioid Crisis is working toward solutions.
Purpose and mission
The IROC project came to fruition as the State of Idaho’s leading health initiative to address the opioid problem, connecting individuals to needed medical support. IROC’s primary mission is to decrease the number of opiate-related deaths in Idaho by increasing access to treatment and recovery support services and lowering unmet treatment needs. To that end, the program supports and administers medication-assisted treatment, coordinating efforts with addiction treatment providers throughout the State.
Applying for support
The Walker Center fits into this equation as a certified, specialty provider for outpatient addiction treatment. By calling The Walker Center for a pre-screening, individuals can learn about treatment options and be assisted to determine eligibility for IROC support. If someone meets all the requirements, they may qualify for funding through the IROC program.
Through The Walker Center’s outpatient treatment program, individuals gain access to an entire team supporting their efforts. Each individual is paired with a counselor to help them learn about addiction as a disease and how to manage their thoughts and behaviors. A case manager serves to help with housing arrangements, offer employment/job support, and coordinate referrals for specialists for mental health and physical health needs. The Walker Center also works with an addiction medicine physician in the Twin Falls area, offering specialized care and treatment for the psychiatric and physical effects of addiction. Since addiction can bring up a variety of health complications, individuals benefit from the best addiction-focused care and expertise.
Spreading the word
The most important message from this information is to spread the awareness and knowledge that these resources exist. Too often people don’t seek out the medical help they need to overcome their addiction out of fear of costs. These are the people who need to hear that programs like IROC can help them afford treatment.
Are you considering treatment for a substance use disorder? Call The Walker Center today to get a free assessment and learn about your options.
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