Is your teen involved in substance abuse? Are you unsure on how to go about in helping your teen recover from substance abuse? To help understand the impact substance abuse has on a teen’s overall life and what you can do as a parent to help your teen recover from substance abuse, I have interviewed therapist Dr. Rich Ryan.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Pacific Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara CA and am also a licensed clinical social worker in both California and New Mexico. I am currently in the fourth year of training to become a certified Jungian Analyst at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles. I have a private practice with an office in West Los Angeles, office hours in a clinical practice in Valencia, California and am the program coordinator and supervisor of a school based intensive outpatient program administered by the Child and Family Center for emotionally disturbed adolescents at Sequoia Charter School in Santa Clarita, California, where we have many young people struggling with substance abuse, mood disorders, and problems regulating emotions. I have worked with children from ages 4 through 20, families, couples, and adults, for over 16 years. My own two daughters are now beautiful young women.”
What type of impact can a teen’s substance abuse have on their overall life?
“Substance abuse is prevalent, even epidemic, in our modern world and it usually begins in adolescence, a time when children are beginning to feel the sexual/hormonal changes of puberty and the developmental need to separate themselves from parents and the family and find their own persona or ego stance in the world at large. During this period of development, adolescents feel increasingly self conscious and feel a need to fit in, along with feeling insecurity and anxiety about their ability to deal with all of the choices and social pressures of the teen-age world. Peers become increasingly important during adolescence and parents are often seen as obstacles to freedom and autonomy. The fundamental conflict arises because parents want to protect their children from danger and teens think they want freedom from parental protection.”
What can a parent do to help their teen recover from substance abuse?
“Parents need to foster independence and responsibility by rewarding and praising responsible behavior while still maintaining authority and limit setting. The basic rule of parenting (and behavioral change) is to reward positive behaviors and mostly ignore (not overly focus on) negative behaviors. The mistake many parents make is focusing more on the negative behaviors and overly criticizing/punishing their teens, which inevitably results in power struggles that can’t be won. It’s important for parents to remember their own needs and feelings during the teen years and that substance use at this age is a way of fitting in and dealing with the pressures and inhibitions of self consciousness. That doesn’t mean that teenage substance use is ok and that parents should back off and say or do nothing about substance use. What I mean is that substance use and abuse is understandable even though it is dangerous and destructive. Many parents feel awkward or hypocritical about discussing substance abuse because they smoked marijuana during their own teen-age years, or drank alcohol at parties or perhaps they currently drink alcohol or smoke tobacco (or something else). This subject is too important to avoid. Awkward or not, parents need to find the time to talk honestly about substance use with their teens and primarily listen, not lecture. It is not necessary to share your own past experiences but some parents find a way to do so without condoning or condemning it by using their own experience as an empathetic entrance into a “teachable moment,” sharing what they learned from it. These opportunities to talk, share, and learn come about most effectively when initiated by the teen. Parents need to be ready to respond to these moments. If parents keep the communication channels open and listen more than lecture, their children will talk with them about things that are worrying or puzzling them. An excellent resource book for communicating with teens is How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Fabar and Elaine Mazlish (2005). If parents do not talk about substance use and substance abuse, they are either relying on schools to do so, or allowing their children to get their information from peers, a notoriously unreliable and uninformed source.”
What type of professional help is available for a teen that is addicted to substance abuse?
“Substance abuse can obviously lead to poor decision making with horrendous and fatal outcomes, but it also has a less obvious impact on development. If a person learns to numb themselves when faced with uncomfortable feelings or situations, he or she will not develop the emotional and psychological capacities for dealing with stress and the difficulties of living, loving, and working. Such a person remains emotionally stunted and will habitually resort to drugs and alcohol to deal with life’s travails and continue to make poor decisions.”
What last advice would you like to leave for a parent who is coping with a teen who is addicted to substance abuse?
“Once parents are aware that their child is using or abusing alcohol or other substances, it is important to communicate with them, empathize, and assess the truth of their responses and the extent of the problem. If a parent realizes the problem is serious, then get help. There are resources in every community for education about substance abuse and groups for fostering and maintaining sobriety. Professional help is available everywhere ranging from day treatment to residential programs. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is committed to ensuring that Americans can find treatment for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in their local area.
For more information on treatment and resources for substance abuse check out SAMHSA’s website: http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/.
Thank you Dr. Ryan for doing the interview on how a parent can help their teen recover from substance abuse. For more information on Dr. Ryan or his work you can check out his website on www.depththerapy.com.
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