Should you drug test your kid?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)To drug test, or not?  That is the question facing parents who are concerned that drugs or alcohol are part of their teen’s secret lives. And that is a reasonable concern: prescription pills are the drug of choice for 12 and 13-year olds, and 85% of teens graduate from high school having tried alcohol or drugs that were not prescribed for them.

Drug testing can put your mind at rest or confirm your worst fears.  It can also give your child a way to resist peer pressure.  No matter how much we parents value rugged individualism, it is the rare child who can say “No” when everyone else is saying “Yes.” Ostracism feels like a very real threat while addiction or overdose are inconceivable outcomes. Being a teen is all about fitting in, and a child who doesn’t go along with the crowd can be ostracized or bullied. ““I really want to party, but my mother is INSANE!  She drug tests me, and I don’t want to get busted” gives teens a socially acceptable “out” while letting them retain appear to be one of the herd.

Drug testing also tells your child that you are serious about your standards and expectations.  It puts teeth into your rules and shows that you mean what you say. Your kids may assert, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!” and you may fear that your alleged lack of trust will jeopardize your relationship with your kids. You can explain to them that you know how hard it is to be a teen and that you are giving them the gift of being cool and safe at the same time.  Then end the conversation. A teen who continues to argue over this indignity is a teen crying out for drug testing.

I drug tested my child halfheartedly and erratically.  I didn’t want to find out the truth, and I didn’t know what I would do if the test came up positive.  My inability to drug test him revealed my own sense of powerlessness over the darkening storm clouds.  And it was so much easier to accept his claims of innocence then figure out how to solve our problem. And I was ashamed to buy drug test kits at my neighborhood pharmacy. And….and….and….

But now—now more excuses.  You can  purchase drug test here, inexpensively and confidentially.

Parent isolation and teen substance abuse

1427313_66874007 red headed finch birdI am captivated by Anne Lamott’s book, Imperfect Birds. Certainly, Anne was channeling me as she wrote this novel about a daughter’s secretive addiction.

Her book, although fiction, is uncannily familiar as she describes the seeming innocence of her daughter and friends, who were blatantly using drugs right in front of oblivious parents like me. Instead of “lame,” I prefer to look back at myself as trusting, hopeful, and a firm believer in the innocence and purity of childhood.  Drug addiction did not fit into that idyllic picture.

Anne Lamott and I are now kindred spirits, bonded by the experience of addicted children, real or fictional.  I am buoyed by this sisterhood of understanding and compassion.  It’s the same sisterhood that blossomed at a parents’ Al-Anon meeting where I discovered that many of us were struggling through the dark and uncertain woods. After weeping  uncontrollably in a room filled with total strangers, I was brought into the fold. We shared the common threads of grief and despair and even hope, although I couldn’t see that at the time.  But I knew I was no longer alone, and that made all the difference.

I’m not far into the book, so I don’t know how the story ends.  Guess what?  We never know how the story ends until we get there.  Until then, we need to forge ahead through the uncertainty, reach out to others who are stumbling alongside us, and head towards the light of day—one step at a time.

Disabling Denial: Reclaiming Life from (and for) an Addicted Child

Perhaps you’ve suspected for some time that something is amiss, but learning the hard truth about a child’s addiction or alcoholism is an absolute sucker punch to the gut.  Maybe that’s why it is so hard to accept that truth.

There are many obstacles to grasping a child’s chemical dependency, with denial in the forefront.  Dictionary.com defines denial as “An assertion that something said, believed, alleged, etc. is false.”  Quite fittingly, the example given is “Despite his denials, we knew he had taken the purse.”   Swap in any number of nouns for purse—pills, money, jewelry—and now you’ve got a story that sounds may sound familiar.

Acknowledging that something was really wrong with my child was too horrific, so I looked the other way, made excuses or simply refused to accept the possibility. Part of me couldn’t understand how my child could be addicted, especially since I had worked hard to be an involved parent, loved each other, had family dinners almost every night, and was very present in my son’s life.  (Maybe too present, come to think).

Once I “got it,” I still couldn’t believe it.  This was my faulty logic: “Drug addicts come from bad families.  We are a good family.  Therefore, my son can’t be an addict.” Toss that logic with a hefty dose of shame and stigma, and you’ve got the perfect storm of denial. But my utter lack of knowledge and information about chemical dependency kept me from understanding that no one is exempt from this common disease that impacts one out of three American  families.

Although I understand that my denial protected me from a horrific realization, I wish that I had been able to break through it much earlier in the game.  Then we would have faced the monster when it was weaker and less entwined in our lives.  If you need help understanding and overriding the coping mechanism that can perpetuate your pain, please check out our Denial Meeting in a Box for some powerful tools.

The Accidental Addict/The Accidental Enabler

Photo of a woman.Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications.  Aren’t all addicts accidental?  Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism?  No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.”  Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to  fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.

By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly.  Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers.  One type is the  “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior.  The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse.  My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way.  That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it made it worse.

The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are.  That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and  co-dependency  helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.

The death of dreams for our children who are addicts and alcoholics

Recognizing addiction in loved one Dr. JantzDr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in 1969, and it holds timeless wisdom for parents of addicts and alcoholics. The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief chronicles the reactions we have when we lose the dreams we had for someone…ourselves, or our children, perhaps.

Those steps might look this way when we witness a loved one’s chemical dependency:

1) Denial: He’s not using drugs – he’s got learning disabilities or He wasn’t drinking – he’s just an inexperienced driver.

2) Anger: You’ve stupidly shot up all your college funds.

3) Bargaining: If you fix my child, I’ll never ask for anything again.

4) Depression: I’d rather be dead than go through this hell.

5) Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I am powerless over my loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse, and that my life has become unmanageable.

The Acceptance step may sound familier because it’s the first step any any 12-step program. It’s the foundation of recovery for addicts and alcohlics, and for those who love them. Acceptance is a good place to end up in Dr. Ross’s model, and it’s a great place to start getting healthy in AA or Al-Anon.

Changing perspectives to enjoy the blessings along the way

Woman With Butterfly Wings Flying On Fantasy Sea Sunset, RelaxatIn Scenes of  Clerical Life, George Eliot wrote, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” Eliot must have been writing about me.  I’m guilty as charged of being so immersed in the past and wrapped up in future “What if’s?” that I overlook the present.  Take this admittedly embarrassing example:  last week, I found myself quite challenged by the final pages of a book.  The text seemed choppy, the story line absent…..and then I realized I had been reading the appendix of the book and didn’t even know it.  Where was I when the actual story ended and the appendix began?  Drifting off to sleep in the bathtub; but still, my personal alarm should have shrilled “Be here now!”

So what does this have to do with addiction?  I ruminate on past hurts and mistakes and concentrate too much on future worries (which clearly exist only in my mind).  All the while, the present slips away like sand in an hourglass.

One of my resolutions is to change my perspective, to shift the focus off my son’s addiction, to stop pigeon-holing him with the way I think.  Not to diminish addiction’s ever-present power, but instead to view the whole of my son in a fuller context as a joyous, bright, generous and kind young man who also happens to be in recovery.

When I shift my focus and see the whole of my child, the difficult past and unknown future loosens its grip , creating a clearer vista where I may get a glimpse of the angels at work in my life today.

Parents of addicts and alcoholics, ditch the guilt!

Hands releasing oxygen bubblesThere is an endless supply of guilt and shame in the world of addiction. And when your chemically-dependent child is in early recovery, you certainly don’t have to like him or her. That can be near to impossible to do, anyway, because the hangover of deceit and blame can take a while to blow over. Don’t feel guilty about feeling resentment for the chaos created by addicts and addiction. You don’t have to like your child at the moment. But you do need to love them if you hope to have a healthy relationship in the future.

You also need to love yourself. If you are wearing a hair shirt of guilt, you need to take it off and stop the “Why didn’t I…?” and “I should have….” Self-flagellation never helped anybody get better.

“When we know better, we do better” applies to both addicts/alcoholics and their parents. When our beloved children begin to confront their chemical dependency, they become more capable of managing it. And when we confront our relationship with them and their disease, we can begin to heal as individuals and as a family.

Healthy Brains – How happy thoughts can lead to serenity

brain healthA while back, I caught Dr. Daniel Amen on TV talking about his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age.  I am interested in his work, especially since I discovered that the nutritional supplements he recommends seem to help with depression.  When my son was first struggling to become sober, he carried his vitamins and nutrients everywhere with him in a shoe box.  They kept him on an even keel and took the edge off, much as opiates had done.

Dr. Amen claims that SPEC brain scans reveal that people who think happy thoughts show much “healthier” brain activity than those who think sad thoughts.  I didn’t catch his definition of healthy brain activity, but no matter:  the point is that you improve your brain function when you are optimistic and positive, rather than negative.  That sounds quite Disneyesque and is a tall order for the mother of a teen drug addict, but what have you got to lose?

This approach also dovetails well with that handy Al-Anon slogan, “Fake it till you make it,” which helped me get through many difficult hours.  During my son’s active addiction, I awoke most mornings riddled with anxiety. Anticipating some sort of crisis, I greeted each day with a fight or flight state, ready to leap into action and deal with the missing son or the car accident or the threatening phone call.  It took a lot of mental muscle-building (and a good therapist) for me to learn to talk myself off the ledge.  Now when I am stressed, I flip the switch and reach for Smiley Faces instead of the Grim Reaper, faith instead of fear.  That very conscious and deliberate action helps me feel calmer and—yes—happier.

Trust me, I am very much a work in progress.  I was born in a state of High Alert, but as I learn how my brain works, I am equipping myself with some powerful tools to reclaim my serenity.

The scarlet letter – fighting the stigma of addiction

Letter A Tin LettersWhen I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?

Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.

I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism:  that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.

As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

butterflyFor many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls, as if that caused our kid’s addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?

But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son, often unbidden, started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough, but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed. Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.