Preventing Substance Abuse & How to Deal with Chemical Dependency
For every ten people who consume alcohol or drugs in this country, at least one becomes chemically dependent. Addiction has an exponential impact beyond the life of the individual addict; adversely effecting three to five other lives of people related to the substance user. The implication of this fact upon the future of our society is enormous. Conservative estimates reveal that some 15 million people are addicted to alcohol alone. As prices drop, and availability increases, the number of people becoming addicted to illegal drugs is also climbing steadily.
With an estimated one in three U.S. families ravaged by alcohol and drugs, and 87 percent of adults in a recent survey calling drug abuse among teens a very, or extremely, serious problem, preventative action is now necessary within every home. And the earlier the better!
Surveys report that one in every three fourth graders feels pressure to drink. Research indicates that the average age at which children first experiment with alcohol or marijuana is 12. And according to a recent Gallop poll, more than four million children ages 13-17 said they had been offered illegal drugs in the previous 30 days.
Availability is only one of the many drug-related threats among teens; another is physical maturity. Teenage bodies are three times more susceptible to alcohol addiction than adults. Many become alcoholics within six months of their first drink.
Why People Abuse Alcohol/Drugs:
Chemical dependency typically evolves from abusing alcohol and/or drugs in an illusive attempt to meet one’s emotional needs for comfort and esteem. The “quick fix” brought on by alcohol and/or drug consumption is often a way to self-medicate, thereby temporarily masking emotional pain. Getting drunk or high begins as a mood altering experiment that progresses as a repetitious coping mechanism for “getting along” with life.
Chemical substances produce real feelings of euphoria or relief, especially in the early stages of use. As the pleasure centers of the brain “learn” this effect, impulses to use or drink, even when consumption causes negative consequences, gradually exceed the rationale for appropriate restraint. Defense mechanisms such as denial and repression sabotage decisions to quit. Finally, addiction takes over when the substance actually alters brain chemistry so that the drug becomes vital to the brain’s normal functioning.
Stages of Addiction:
The addiction cycle is characterized by a process that usually follows common developmental stages.
- Experimenting and Learning – The user is encouraged to try alcohol or drugs by peers or other significant others. Attracted by the prospect of an escape from pain – emotional and/or physical – the user experiences the desired effects of the substance, often with few identifiable consequences. With time, the user learns to trust the substance and its effects, and learns that the effects are controlled by the amount of intake.
- Seeking – In this stage the user often engages in social consumption, and establishes limits for intake. Occasionally the user may consume to excess, and experience hangovers, blackouts or other physical manifestations of overdoing. During this stage an individual may continue to control the amount of drugs/alcohol consumed. Disruption in school or work may result, however the user generally feels no emotional pain for drinking/using.
- Obsessing – Alcohol/drugs become increasingly important, and the user becomes preoccupied with getting drunk or high; developing a compulsive approach to drinking/using. During this stage the user begins to experience a periodic loss of control over alcohol and/or drug use; often breaking self-imposed rules about substance use, and increases consumption. A sense of self-worth declines, and the abuser begins to feel guilt and experience a sense of shame. The abuser often projects selfhatred onto others, as personal health, relationships with others and fellowship with God, are adversely affected, while he/she begins to rationalize, justify and minimize negative feelings toward self.
- Consuming – The substance “has” the user and now he/she must consume the alcohol/drugs just to feel “normal”. The addict believes that other people and circumstances are the roots of his/her problems. At this point, the addict may entertain thoughts of “escape” such as suicide, leaving the family or moving. Feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, anxiety, paranoia and anger escalate, and the addict experience a further deterioration of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. Additionally, the addict experiences symptoms of withdrawal.
Symptoms of Chemical Dependency:
Primary symptoms of chemical dependency often are those associated with longterm abuse. Among these are:
- Wide mood swings; elated or depressed, omnipotent or sorry for oneself
- New friends or peer group
- Increased secrecy
- Confusion, lethargy, bloodshot eyes, empty stares
- Increased irresponsibility at home, work or school
- Stealing, selling household items, gambling, shoplifting
- Defensiveness or argumentative over trivial things
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns, personal grooming, weight, etc.
- Demonstrated inability to harmonize with friends, co-workers or authority figures
Children cannot stand alone against the enormous pressures of today’s drug epidemic. Federal support, tough laws and aggressive law enforcement may help us to fight the war on drugs, but whether or not our children can maintain the power to be drug free depends largely on our role in their lives as parents.
These are some of the ways we can help our children:
- Build a meaningful relationship with your child. Spend quality time with him or her. Plan activities that will open communication. Avoid challenging or correcting his or her feelings. Be honest about your own pain, anger, joy, happiness, fears, etc. Your willingness to be transparent is the most important ingredient for creating a safe environment for honest sharing.
- Be affirming. Discover ways that you can help your teen develop positive self-esteem. Encourage his or her development of natural strengths and gifts, as well as involvement in healthy interests and activities.
- Be an example. Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are today’s “gateway” drugs for children. Do you need to make any changes in your habits to ensure that “actions are not speaking louder than words”?
- Be a teacher. Education about substance abuse and its consequences should begin by third grade. Threats and scare tactics usually are
ineffective. Look for teachable moments in TV programs, commercials or news items to convey realities about substance abuse and its
- Be in charge. Insist on a strict, no-use policy. Learn how to detect drug abuse by watching for the warning signs. Intervene if necessary. Provide reasons for your child to say “no” when offered alcohol or drugs. Know your child’s friends.
- Be loving. Unconditional love means, I accept you without reservation – no matter what you do or how you act. A teen needs the security of a loving parental atmosphere for proper development and growth. Ask yourself, How can I help provide that kind of environment?
- Build upon spiritual values. Help your teen cultivate a meaningful, personal relationship with God. Encourage his/her involvement in youth groups that teach and reinforce spiritual values. Practice these principles in your own life.
- Can I identify the most common forms of illicit drugs adolescents are using today?
- Is my use of alcohol/drugs a positive example to my children?
- Am I spending regular, unhurried time with my child each week?
- Am I developing an open, meaningful relationship with my teen?
- Am I finding specific ways to help my child develop positive self-esteem?
- Am I creating an atmosphere in our family that encourages people to communicate their feelings?
- Is their open communication between my child and me?
- Do I know my child’s friends and their values?
- Do I know how detect drug use?
- Am I demonstrating unconditional love and acceptance to my child?
- Does my child have legitimate reasons for saying no to alcohol/drugs?
- Has my child developed positive ways of dealing with emotional pain and stress?
- Does my child possess spiritual values?
How to Help:
- Confront your child when he or she is under the influence.
- Yell, overreact, lecture or preach.
- Let him/her blame you for his/her behavior or its consequences.
- Blame yourself.
- Accept excuses such as, “Everybody’s doing it!”
- Give orders or make empty threats.
- Act calmly. Communicate that you care.
- Be objective. Don’t exaggerate or deny the reality of the situation.
- Plan ahead. Know what you are going to do in a crisis situation and follow through with your plan.
- Get help. Contact someone who specializes in chemical dependency counseling for direction if you expect a problem in your home.
Chemical dependency has debilitating, life-threatening consequences. Dependent persons need firm boundaries and a supportive environment for successful recovery. This may include outpatient counseling and/or daily attendance at support group meetings. More severe cases may require brief hospitalization and a detoxification process. Ideally, medical care, proper nutrition, spiritual guidance, behavioral interventions, individual and group therapy, family education and support should be combined to help restore emotional, spiritual and physical health.