When a loved one has a drug problem


If you suspect that a friend or family member has a drug problem, here are a few things you can do:

  • Speak up. Talk to the person about your concerns, and offer your help and support, without being judgmental. The earlier addiction is treated, the better. Don’t wait for your loved one to hit bottom! Be prepared for excuses and denial by listing specific examples of your loved one’s behavior that has you worried.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t get so caught up in someone else’s drug problem that you neglect your own needs. Make sure you have people you can talk to and lean on for support. And stay safe. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.
  • Avoid self-blame. You can support a person with a substance abuse problem and encourage treatment, but you can’t force an addict to change. You can’t control your loved one’s decisions. Let the person accept responsibility for his or her actions, an essential step along the way to recovery for drug addiction. 

But Don’t

  • Attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
  • Try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to use drugs.
  • Cover up or make excuses for the drug abuser, or shield them from the negative consequences of their behavior.
  • Take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
  • Hide or throw out drugs.
  • Argue with the person when they are high.
  • Take drugs with the drug abuser.
  • Feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.

Adapted from: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information

When your teen has a drug problem

Discovering your child uses drugs can generate fear, confusion, and anger in parents. It’s important to remain calm when confronting your teen, and only do so when everyone is sober. Explain your concerns and make it clear that your concern comes from a place of love. It’s important that your teen feels you are supportive.

Five steps parents can take:

  • Lay down rules and consequences. Your teen should understand that using drugs comes with specific consequences. But don’t make hollow threats or set rules that you cannot enforce. Make sure your spouse agrees with the rules and is prepared to enforce them.
  • Monitor your teen’s activity. Know where your teen goes and who he or she hangs out with. It’s also important to routinely check potential hiding places for drugs—in backpacks, between books on a shelf, in DVD cases or make-up cases, for example. Explain to your teen that this lack of privacy is a consequence of him or her having been caught using drugs.
  • Encourage other interests and social activities. Expose your teen to healthy hobbies and activities, such as team sports and afterschool clubs.
  • Talk to your child about underlying issues. Drug use can be the result of other problems. Is your child having trouble fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce, which is causing stress?
  • Get Help. Teenagers often rebel against their parents but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, family doctor, therapist, or drug counselor.

Understanding drug use, drug abuse, and addiction

Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without ever experiencing negative consequences or addiction. For many others, substance use can cause problems at work, home, school, and in relationships, leaving you feeling isolated, helpless, or ashamed.

If you’re worried about your own or a friend or family member’s drug use, it’s important to know that help is available. Learning about the nature of drug abuse and addiction—how it develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold—will give you a better understanding of the problem and how to best deal with it.

Understanding drug use, drug abuse, and addiction

People experiment with drugs for many different reasons. Many first try drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance or ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Use doesn’t automatically lead to abuse, and there is no specific level at which drug use moves from casual to problematic. It varies by individual. Drug abuse and addiction is less about the amount of substance consumed or the frequency, and more to do with the consequences of drug use. No matter how often or how little you’re consuming, if your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem.

Why do some drug users become addicted, while others don’t?

As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. Your genes, mental health, family and social environment all play a role in addiction. Risk factors that increase your vulnerability include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Early use of drugs
  • Method of administration—smoking or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential

Drug addiction and the brain

Addiction is a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug use. While each drug produces different physical effects, all abused substances share one thing in common: repeated use can alter the way the brain looks and functions.


  • Taking a recreational drug causes a surge in levels of dopamine in your brain, which trigger feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated.
  • If you become addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking.
  • Changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control your behavior, and feel normal without drugs.
  • Whether you’re addicted to inhalants, heroin, Xanax, speed, or Vicodin, the uncontrollable craving to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even your own health and happiness.
  • The urge to use is so strong that your mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. You may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs you’re taking, how much it impacts your life, and the level of control you have over your drug use.

How drug abuse and addiction can development drug addictions

People who experiment with drugs continue to use them because the substance either makes them feel good, or stops them from feeling bad. In many cases, however, there is a fine line between regular use and drug abuse and addiction. Very few addicts are able to recognize when they have crossed that line. While frequency or the amount of drugs consumed don’t in themselves constitute drug abuse or addiction, they can often be indicators of drug-related problems.

  • Problems can sometimes sneak up on you, as your drug use gradually increases over time. Smoking a joint with friends at the weekend, or taking ecstasy at a rave, or cocaine at an occasional party, for example, can change to using drugs a couple of days a week, then every day. Gradually, getting and using the drug becomes more and more important to you.
  • If the drug fulfills a valuable need, you may find yourself increasingly relying on it. For example, you may take drugs to calm you if you feel anxious or stressed, energize you if you feel depressed, or make you more confident in social situations if you normally feel shy. Or you may have started using prescription drugs to cope with panic attacks or relieve chronic pain, for example. Until you find alternative, healthier methods for overcoming these problems, your drug use will likely continue.
  • Similarly, if you use drugs to fill a void in your life, you’re more at risk of crossing the line from casual use to drug abuse and addiction. To maintain healthy balance in your life, you need to have other positive experiences, to feel good in your life aside from any drug use.
  • As drug abuse takes hold, you may miss or frequently be late for work or school, your job performance may progressively deteriorate, and you start to neglect social or family obligations. Your ability to stop using is eventually compromised. What began as a voluntary choice has turned into a physical and psychological need.

The good news is that with the right treatment and support, you can counteract the disruptive effects of drug use and regain control of your life. The first obstacle is to recognize and admit you have a problem, or listen to loved ones who are often better able to see the negative effects drug use is having on your life.

5 Myths about Drug Abuse and Addiction

MYTH 1: Overcoming addiction is a simply a matter of willpower. You can stop using drugs if you really want to. Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.

MYTH 2: Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing you can do about it. Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, but that doesn’t mean you’re a helpless victim. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments.

MYTH 3: Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better. Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes and the harder it is to treat. Don’t wait to intervene until the addict has lost it all.

MYTH 4: You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help. Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.

MYTH 5: Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again. Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and drug addiction

Although different drugs have different physical effects, the symptoms of addiction are similar. See if you recognize yourself in the following signs and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction. If so, consider talking to someone about your drug use.

Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse

  • You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.
  • You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
  • Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit. 
  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.

Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
  • You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
  • You’ve lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug’s effects.
  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.

Warning signs that a friend or family member is abusing drugs

Drug abusers often try to conceal their symptoms and downplay their problem.
If you’re worried that a friend or family member might be abusing drugs, look for the following warning signs:

Physical warning signs of drug abuse

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

Behavioral signs of drug abuse

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities).

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse

  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness.
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.

Warning Signs of Commonly Abused Drugs

  • Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss.
  • Depressants (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils; drunk-like; difficulty concentrating; clumsiness; poor judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness.
  • Stimulants (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating or sleeping; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.
  • Inhalants (glues, aerosols, vapors): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability; lots of cans/aerosols in the trash.
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP):Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behavior including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.
  • Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.

Warning signs of teen drug abuse

While experimenting with drugs doesn’t automatically lead to drug abuse, early use is a risk factor for developing more serious drug abuse and addiction. Risk of drug abuse also increases greatly during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or divorce. The challenge for parents is to distinguish between the normal, often volatile, ups and downs of the teen years and the red flags of substance abuse. These include:


  • Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs.
  • Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school.
  • Missing money, valuables, or prescriptions.
  • Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed.
  • Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group.
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities.
  • Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around.

Getting help for drug abuse and drug addiction

Finding help and support for drug addiction

  • Visit a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in your area. See below.
  • Call 1-800-662-HELP in the U.S. to reach a free referral helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery, one that takes tremendous courage and strength. Facing your addiction without minimizing the problem or making excuses can feel frightening and overwhelming, but recovery is within reach. If you’re ready to make a change and willing to seek help, you can overcome your addiction and build a satisfying, drug-free life for yourself.

Support is essential to addiction recovery

Don’t try to go it alone; it’s all too easy to get discouraged and rationalize “just one more” hit or pill. Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Recovering from drug addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance.

Support can come from:


  • family members
  • close friends
  • therapists or counselors
  • other recovering addicts
  • healthcare providers
  • people from your faith community

Prescription Drug Deaths Increase Dramatically

KILLER PAINKILLERS: As the prevalence of prescription painkillers increases, the number of people hospitalized for overdosing on them appears to, too. High-profile celebrity deaths are just a few instances of this growing problem, say authors of a new study.Image: ISTOCKPHOTO/ZUZLIK


The number of deaths and hospitalizations caused by prescription drugs has risen precipitously in the past decade, with overdoses of pain medications, in particular opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers, more than doubling between 1999 and 2006, according to a new study.

In fact, by 2006, overdoses of opioid analgesics alone (a class of pain relievers that includes morphine and methadone) were already causing more deaths than overdoses of cocaine and heroin combined.

“Teens and others have different attitudes in using these drugs,” often presuming the prescription substances are safer and less addictive than illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin, says Jeffrey Coben, a professor of emergency and community medicine at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown and lead author of the new study. “I think that’s a false assumption. Aside from the fact they can be taken orally rather than injected…[many prescription drugs] really are every bit as powerful, addictive and dangerous as heroin,” he notes, adding that, “when you combine them with other sedatives, that mix can become particularly lethal.”

Using data collected by the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, which gathers hospital patient information for about 8 million people every year, Coben and his colleagues were able to assess what drugs were implicated in the majority of poisonings—and in many cases whether the poisonings were intentional or not. The team selected opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers as the focus of the analysis because these substances are “contributing the majority of prescription drug overdose deaths,” Coben says. These categories of prescription drugs can kill and injure people by suppressing breathing, depriving the body of oxygen.

For prescription opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers—commonly prescribed for pain management—the number of hospitalizations for poisonings increased 65 percent between 1999 and 2006 (the first and last years, respectively, for which data were comparable and collected). The number of hospitalizations for all poisonings, including illegal drugs, other prescription medications and miscellaneous substances, increased during this time period as well, but that jump (33 percent) was about half the rate of those for the prescription pain drugs.

Unintentional poisonings from these drugs climbed 37 percent during the seven-year period, the researchers found. Intentional overdoses, in which people meant to inflict self-harm or death, jumped 130 percent (a far cry more than the 53 percent increase of intentional poisoning from other substances in the same time period). Intent was not listed in all cases and can be subject to reporting error. The results are detailed online April 6 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

No accident
Poisonings, from prescription drugs and other substances, are classified in medical records as injurious or accidental deaths. But regardless of whether the incidents are listed as unintentional or intentional, they are rarely true mistakes, noted Leonard Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in congressional testimony in 2007. “Most unintentional drug poisoning deaths are not ‘accidents’ caused by toddlers or the elderly taking too much medication,” he noted. “These deaths are largely due to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.”

Accidents overall were the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S. as of 2005 (accounting for 117,809 deaths—4.8 percent—that year), according to the National Vital Statistics Report [pdf]. Of injury deaths, poisoning is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., having doubled between 1985 and 2004, according to a 2007 Department of Health and Human Services analysis [pdf]. Among people 35 to 54 years old, poisoning is the most common accidental death—even more so than auto-related deaths.

Many experts think that the sheer prevalence of many of these drugs recently has contributed to the drastic increase in poisonings. Although growing illegal markets and distribution of these drugs might be a driving factor in their increasingly large role in poisonings and deaths, perfectly legal prescriptions are probably playing a role as well, Coben says.

“I think the whole issue of the availability of these drugs and whether they’re being over-prescribed” should be investigated, says Susan Baker, a professor at Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, who was not involved in the new study but coauthored a 2009 report in the same journal about recent trends in injury mortality.


Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few.

But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.


Twelve-step programs have long
suggested meditation as a means to improve one’s “conscious contact” with one’s
God or higher power. Although scientific research stops short of “proving” that
that’s exactly what it does, a recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital
(MGH), concludes that mindfulness meditation has the “godlike” ability to make
positive changes to the physical structure of the human brain in as little as
eight weeks. Tom Catton’s book, The Mindful Addict: A Memoir of the Awakening of
a Spirit (Central Recovery Press, 2010), illuminates the crucial role meditation
has played in his recovery. Catton says: “These research findings don’t surprise
me a bit. Meditation changed my life – it doesn’t surprise me that it might have
started by changing my brain.”
Participants in the MGH study were monitored
to document the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress reduction. Sara
Lazar, Ph.D., the study’s senior author, says “This study demonstrates that
changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and
that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time
relaxing.” Magnetic resonance images (MRI) were taken of the brain structure of
study participants two weeks before and then after they took part in the
eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University
of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Over a similar time interval, a set of
MRI brain images were also taken of a control group of participants who didn’t
The analysis of the MRI found increased gray-matter density in the
hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures
associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased
gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in
anxiety and stress.
As Catton explains in his book, “the Practice
(mindfulness meditation) itself doesn’t care why you meditate; whether for a
scientific research study, for stress reduction, or to recover from addiction as
part of a twelve-step program – the results are the same.
“In practicing
mindfulness meditation, we learn to observe what is and accept what is going on,
finding ourselves embracing equanimity, a principle that most likely eluded us
during our active addiction. Mindfulness keeps us in the moment – The Now. We
come to see that our stress arises mainly from thinking of what might happen
tomorrow, next week, or even within the hour. These stories we produce in our
minds are always worse than any actual outcome; however, the practice of
mindfulness keeps inviting us back to the moment we are presently in, where all
is well.”
Scientific research is now proving what practitioners have known
for centuries: meditation works. Perhaps the changes to the physical structure
of the brain that researchers are now verifying have their parallel in the
psychic changes necessary for ongoing growth and connectedness provided by
working the Twelve Steps.

Picture of the Brain on Drugs

ImageMany parents, when confronted with the idea or notion that their teenager may be using drugs or alcohol, brush it off as “what teens do” or they say, “it’s healthy for them to experiment a little.”  What most parents do not know is the dangers that teens face everyday as a result of their “experimenting.”

“The adolescent brain is different from that of an adult,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow explains, “and that leads to behaviors that definitely put them at much great risk to want to try drugs than the brain of an adult.”  Furthermore, Dr. Mark Willenbring, Director of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that “addiction is a disorder of young people.”  In fact, 95 percent of people who are dependent on alcohol or other drugs started before they were 20 years old.

5 Things to know about Adolescent Brain Development & Use

  1. The “front end” of the brain, or the part above the eyes, exists primarily to “slow us down” or help us stop our impulsive behaviors.  It takes into consideration the benefit and/or risks associated with our certain actions and helps us “hit the breaks” when we consider doing something that is too risky (Crowley).
  2. The front part of this brain is still developing connections to the other parts of the brain in adolescence, well into the early 20’s.  Therefore, the adolescent brain lacks some rational thought and logical reasoning, as well as those signals to “put on the brakes” or stop.  Quite frankly, if you look at it from teenagers perspective, there are a lot of good reasons to use drugs; afterall, they’re just exploring.  They have impulse control issues with their brain where they don’t have very good judgment about just how risky something can be.
  3. Druga of abuse are always available to your teen.  These drugs feel good, but they can also be very harmful.  Lacking some of the wiring for the “stop” message, your teenager may not fully weigh the risks of their use.
  4. The two drugs that cause the most deaths are also the most widely available: alcohol and tobacco.
  5. Heavy drug use during times of critical brain development may cause permanent changes in the way the brain works and in the way that it responds to rewards and consequences.  That is why it is very important to address any substance abuse as early as possible.

Early Onset of Alcoholism – 5 Warning Signs

  1. Heavy drinking and alcoholism are more likely to occur when a parent has a similar problem.  A family history of alcohol dependence increases risk of alcohol dependence four-fold.
  2. Other early risk factors include serious childhood behavior problems requiring treatment, such as Attention-Deficiti Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression or anxiety, and health problems such as asthma.
  3. Often, early onset alcoholism results in serious problems such as emergency room visits, injuries, fights, or declining school performance.  These serious problems may occur very early, even from the first time teens drink on their own.
  4. If a drinking problem develops early, be sure that any treatment includes a thorough evaluation of other possible disorders such as those mentioned above.  Treatment of co-existing disorders can help recovery from alcoholism.  Also, teens that drink heavily often use other drugs, especially marijuana.
  5. If an older child begins drinking heavily, younger siblings are more likely to do so as well.

Parents, there is good news!  Drug abuse is a preventable behavior and drug addiction is a treatable disease!

Family Involvement is an important part of Subtance Abuse Treatment

For family and friends of drug- or alcohol-addicted individuals, addressing the addiction is one of the most difficult aspects of helping the addicted person seek treatment. Often, over time, daily family involvement has only managed to enable the addict. Family members frequently do not know how to bring up the issue of addiction therapy, and opt to ignore the problem for fear of pushing their loved one away during a confrontation or intervention.

These are legitimate concerns, and while families should understand that approaching their loved one should be a gentle and supportive process, they also need to understand that most patients seek substance abuse treatment because of positive family involvement and intervention.

Prior to Substance Abuse Treatment and Intervention

Each family is different, and the best way to approach family involvement with addiction therapy will differ with every person. There are counselors in your area who are trained to work with drug- and alcohol-addicted patients and their families, and while they can be useful to mediate the intervention process, your family may decide to have a private, non-confrontational and honest talk with the addict to implore them to seek treatment.

Whichever approach you take, it is important to understand that the family dynamic in drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly powerful, and that addressing an unhealthy imbalance in communication is your first step in moving your loved one toward addiction therapy. This type of positive family involvement can also help lead the rest of your family toward a journey of recovery and self-discovery.

During a Patient’s Substance Abuse Treatment Program

After an intervention, the best-case scenario is that the addicted individual will be compelled to enter either an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program. Each patient’s needs and means are different, and outpatient and inpatient programs have varying benefits for patients and family.

Involvement in an outpatient addiction therapy program means that patients are not separated from their families, they are able to attend classes in a facility close to their home, and patients can continue substance abuse treatment for an extended amount of time. In an inpatient (residential) program, patients travel to a facility where they undergo an intensive 28- to 30-day detoxification and recovery program. They are immersed in the recovery process and do not have the ability to leave the substance abuse treatment campus. However, family involvement is important, and inpatient addiction therapy programs often encourage frequent interaction with visiting family and friends.

As previously mentioned, patients’ needs vary, but inpatient substance abuse treatment has the obvious benefit of removing the drug- or alcohol -addicted individual from the toxic atmosphere that was enabling their addiction, and helping them through addiction therapy without distraction. This same benefit is transferred to the patient’s friends and family, who are often able to gain a new perspective about their loved one’s addiction and their own behaviors.

Family involvement, once the patient is in an off-site substance abuse treatment facility, is periodic and helps families step back and recognize negative behavior patterns. For example, well-meaning family and friends often become trapped in a cycle of enabling and codependency with the patient prior to addiction therapy. They pretend like nothing is wrong and unintentionally assist the patient’s addiction by ignoring the problem.

Conversely, family members might become distant, angry, and resentful. They may believe that they cannot address the issue without angering the patient or exacerbating their loved one’s addiction. When the family members are able to take a break and assess their behaviors and environment while their loved one is undergoing addiction therapy, they often identify behaviors and traits that they can adjust to break the cycle.

This is not to say that residential substance abuse treatment programs isolate the patient from their friends and family – quite the opposite. In a quality residential substance abuse treatment program, the focus is on the patient’s physical recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as much as it is on a mental recovery from the addictive disease. Addiction therapy is supported heavily by positive and frequent family involvement. The support that a family provides to a patient recovering from addiction is essential to that patient’s success, and residential centers will often have not only visitation throughout the week or on weekends, but will also provide educational programs for family members, such as supportive and dynamic recovery workshops and sessions for family involvement.

Outside of the residential substance abuse treatment facility, patients’ family and friends are highly encouraged to attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings. These free programs are held around the nation and are dedicated to providing group support to drug- and alcohol-addicted individuals’ family and friends. The meetings address things such as:

  • helping an addict seek assistance for his or her own problem
  • addressing a loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction
  • building family through the addiction therapy process
  • supporting yourself and your loved one through the recovery process

These programs support friends and family during and after the substance abuse treatment program. They are essential for family involvement.

After a Substance Abuse Treatment Program

There truly is no clear-cut “end” to the addiction therapy process. Families struggling with the effects of their loved one’s drug and alcohol addiction should continually attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings (perhaps both) on a regular basis to continue a constructive program of support and ongoing education.

Alcohol and drug addiction are both considered “family diseases,” and family involvement with people combating drug and alcohol addiction requires continual attendance at these meetings during and after the formal inpatient or outpatient addiction therapy session. Additionally, while these meetings help individuals to understand the disease and how to support someone they care about, they also assist friends and family with their own emotional support during what is most often an incredibly trying and stressful time. By continuing to attend Al Anon and Nar Anon meetings, friends and family of an addicted individual can continue to stay out of the destructive cycle of enabling and codependency and fully realize the benefits of addiction therapy.