These excerpts from parents are a collection of firsthand
accounts written by parents of drug-addicted teens. Compiled
with explicit permission from Sameem Associates' clients,
they give unique insight into the challenges of a parent's
role in overcoming drug addiction.
the parent of teenagers everything always seems more
it my children
to have developed this new kind of psychological
disorder called - 'obsessive/compulsive projective adolescent discontent',
but known as 'parental worry'."
A long holiday weekend is coming up. Wouldn't it be
nice to go away with the family, and spend time - just
fun? It use to be that way. The location is chosen, the
time is set, everyone always use to like these plans .
. . . and then - 'I'd rather be home with my friends',
'I won't get to see them all summer!' 'It may be the last
chance', 'Mom, you just don't understand!'
So, plans change, arrangements are made. I want to be a responsible parent.
Is that all there is to it?
Then the children ask . . . 'No, friends can't come to
the house while your father and I are away'.
I keep thinking; will they have wild parties while we're
gone? Should I inform the police to patrol the street more
frequently? What kind of parent am I that I don't trust
my own children? But I don't trust them. Am I missing something?"
We hear questions and concerns like these from parents
on a daily basis. How concerned do parents need to be before
taking action? We see kids and parents who are drug and
alcohol involved, suicidal, and acting out. Many parents
are clearly in crisis mode where their teen is concerned.
K comes into group. Clearly, a sad expression on her face. She's 17, extremely
pretty but sad. Her mom had called earlier in the day. She wanted us to know
that K had not come home over the holiday weekend. The police were called,
but she returned home on her own on Sunday afternoon. K likes to hang out in
the city with the "bad kids", according to mom. Mom and dad were
both worried. Mom asked, "when do you think it's time for something more
intensive than just group therapy once per week?" Our thoughts are clearly
the same when we hear questions like that. Most parents want the problem solved
immediately. They want their family back to what they perceive as "normal".
So they leave their kids on our doorstep hoping for the cure. When the 'cure'
doesn't come after 2 sessions, they begin to look for more.
DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)
I just got back from attending my daughter's DARE graduation. I've been
lucky enough to attend this event as each of my 3 children went through the program
in their 5th grade year. Of course, my pride, as a parent, was probably evident
in my facial expression, my attention focused on the ceremony, and my immediate
need to snap pictures as my daughter wins the 'poster contest' prize for her
class. But as the various children read their 'anti drug' essays, I couldn't
help think, "what message is this teaching our children and their parents"?
My thoughts wandered as I was sitting and listening to
my 26-year-old son who also graduated from this program.
His problem, upon entering treatment was simply, concern
from us, his parents, that something was wrong. Mild
depression perhaps, or transition difficulties from college
to the working world? What we didn't know was that our
son had a daily cocaine habit that we learned about 4
months later, when he was hospitalized for delusional
and psychotic behavior.
To understand my question, as I listened to these DARE essays, one would
need to know the desperation we felt after hearing about our son's behavior.
admission into the hospital was not just the result of out of control cocaine
use. It was as result of that use, our son had carved several pieces of his
face and chest while looking in the mirror. He saw what he believed were
pimples or marks on his body. His attempt was to take them off with a knife.
thing he discovered however, was that his face and chest were covered in
blood. His denial system at first allowed him to pass off the incident as
infection, but several days into the hospitalization he admitted his problem.
This same young man, was the winner of the essay contest at his 5th grade
DARE graduation. He went on to he a high school 'peer leader', teaching middle
students about the perils of drug abuse. Although his problem with cocaine
and addiction didn't escalate until college - I wonder, as his parent, what
programs like DARE are teaching us. I wonder, whether or not, as parents,
our expectations need to be adjusted'.
The word 'expectations' seems to be one I'm hearing quite a bit in my treatment
sessions and one I think about constantly. It seems like I'm always using that
word, or that difficulties or distress evokes as a result of my unrealistic
On the Road to Recovery
Many examples of what I mean can be mentioned. I remember
my children when they were small. As they grew from infancy
into toddlers, I became accustomed to responding to them
as infants; catering to their needs, changing diapers,
feeding them with a bottle. But changes in routine seemed
to disrupt my life - impact my expectations. For example:
the last time my baby cried, I gave him a bottle and the
crying stopped; this time, he's crying again, but he refuses
to take the bottle, and he's still crying - I'm getting
upset because my expectations weren't met. I'm used to
telling my toddler to do things like, go to bed, clean
up toys, and he did it - now he's saying no. Again, my
expectations are not being met.
As my children grew, entering their teenage years, my expectations once again
were unrealistic, and I panicked because I didn't know how to handle it. When
I first suspected my kids were using drugs I thought it might just be a passing
fad, an experimentation, a right of passage - after all I used when I was a
teen, too. My concern grew however, and when the 'fad' didn't seem to stop,
I wanted instant relief, instant services and instant cure. I know now there
is no 'instant' at all.
I was sitting at an open AA meeting one evening as I
do frequently, because I am a recovering alcoholic. Each
time I attend this one meeting I see a group of young men
sitting at the back of the hall. I know from others at
the meeting, that these individuals are court ordered to
be there. Their behavior is never disruptive but they segregate
themselves and are always the first to leave when the meeting
adjourns. I know they don't want to be there. I expect
they are all still drinking.
On this one occasion, as I walked into the meeting, expecting
to see these young sitting in the back, making frequent
trips to the bathroom or coffee maker during the meeting,
I discovered that they were now located in the front row.
Directly in front of the speaker. This time, they remained
seated and appeared to be focused on the speaker.
Traditionally at this meeting, before it ends a presentation
of small medallions (chips) are given to people who have
achieved varying lengths of sobriety. Beginning with 9
months, people are called to the podium to receive their
rewards as the audience displays thundering applause and
appreciation for their hard work. Six months, 90 days,
60 days, 30 days, 1 to 29 days are the milestones. On this
occasion, as the 1 to 29 day 'chip' was called, 4 young
men seated in the front row, stood, and each in turn, received
their reward. My shock and surprise must have been witnessed
by many around me. I wonder what my expectation will be
the next time?
Our family has been in treatment for the past 8 or 9 months. As a physician
it was very difficult for me to admit we needed help even when my daughters drug
use was causing her to lose consciousness and fail in school. My daughter, my
wife and I went down a rocky road this past school year. My daughter was using
amphetamines; snorting Ritalin, alcohol, and marijuana, and had several overdose
episodes and hospitalizations in the ER. She also showed some signs of depression
and incidents of cutting but continued to deny that she was suicidal. She's only
15. She resisted each time we wanted to talk with her, and outwardly she was
angry, frustrated and often enraged.
Finally, following another hospitalization and a consultation from a substance
abuse specialist we sent her to a 30 day treatment center in the Midwest. We
talked and investigated possibilities for her treatment and often came up empty.
It's not easy finding substance abuse treatment for teens. There aren't many
programs available. This program in the Midwest helped her get away for 30
days and helped us, working in family sessions, to understand the disease of
Now for the first time in over 2 years our daughter is clean and sober.
She's attending AA meetings and is networking with sober people. Of course
at the age of 15, she doesn't allow parents to be involved in this area of
her life - part of the adolescent rebellion I guess?
We realized at the residential treatment center how important the family's
involvement is in treatment. Our daughter continues to be in an out-patient
treatment program. We called the counselors to request a family meeting recently.
Our goal was to show our daughter that we don't have to necessarily meet
with a counselor as a family when we're in crisis. Even in the good times,
counselors can help us enhance communication and keep things on track. It
seemed to be a good idea at the time.
I couldn't help but think that this strategy would help our daughter communicate
with us in a more relaxed and fluid way. But as the meeting went on, our
daughter appeared more enraged. It seemed like we were building a wall between
us rather than breaking the barrier down.
The counselor suggested to us that just as sobriety is built 'one day at
a time' so is communication, trust, and relationships. Our hopes and dreams
for an immediate cure to all our problems were dashed. I (as a physician)
couldn't fix the problem. Our goal was unrealistic for that time. Our daughter
told us that her 'sober' friend's parents think that once their children
get sober then immediate communication, trust and relationships are restored
with parents. It just doesn't happen that way.