Teen drug use freaks parents out more than just about anything. Parents desperately want to keep their kids safe and healthy, and when they find out – or even suspect – that their kids are using drugs, they don’t know what to do. The two most common mistakes are the opposite extremes:
Some parents under-react, making excuses for their kids and/or denying reality. They may not be sure what’s going on, and may choose to not learn more, because they don’t want to know. They may try to pretend nothing is happening, while their child is headed down a very destructive path.
Other parents over-react. Their fear causes them to lash out, react with hysterics, and try to enforce punishments that are either too unrealistic to be followed through on (like being “grounded” for a year), or so serious and damaging that they escalate hostility and push the kids further away. Parents who over-react tend to make decisions that harm their children, damaging their relationship, and driving them into addiction, rather than steering them away from it.
There’s got to be a better way. What follows is an article by Barry Lessin, who heads up HAMS, an organization devoted to promoting the Harm Reduction approach to recovery. While I don’t necessarily advocate the Harm Reduction approach, I certainly recommend that people consider the principles behind it — especially when working with teens. The teenage years are times of exploration and experimentation. In other words, what follows is important food for thought for parents (and church staff) who might be prone to over-react.
One of the key elements in getting something you want — whether that be in your business, your marriage, or your recovery — is knowing what you want. We don’t have because we don’t ask, and we don’t ask because we’re not even clear about what we want.
The video below is an excerpt of a speech by Ted Kuntz, a therapist and author of “Peace Begins with Me.” Its message is a game-changer for many of us: to get something, we need to be clear about what it is and intend to get it. This principle is often applied to business and material things … but what about things like our relationships, and even our recovery? Listen closely in the first few minutes to his description about how he works with couples, and what he tries to get them to articulate. Good stuff …
Addiction often rears its head among young people who are struggling to make the transition to adulthood. Because many young people have trauma and deep wounds in their lives – and often get little help learning how to deal with those challenges – they are prime candidates for the siren song of addiction. They turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or other behaviors, instead of doing the hard work of dealing with their issues, and taking up the challenge of new life responsibilities.
In other words, they turn to addiction instead of growing up. But the reverse also happens … the struggle with addiction delays the natural process of growing up. It’s a feedback loop.
Many good writers have tackled the confusion that exists today about what it means to be a man … how a boy becomes a man. Part of the problem relates to the breakdown of families … and the loss of good role models for many young men. Part of the problem also relates to the breakdown of community … it’s not just fathers that young men need to relate to and learn from, but also other significant men. (I suspect it’s not much easier for girls trying to learn what it means to be a woman.)
Steven Foster and Meredith Little — who have led wilderness retreats for many years for teens and adults – write in their book “Vision Quest” about this struggle, and they point to another culprit: lack of meaningful rites of passage. It’s a powerful paragraph, with an indictment against our society for how many people go through life and never really grow up, and never really fully live. Listen to what they have to say:
How many Americans, regardless of age, are caught in an adolescent holding pattern, waiting for the time when they will magically become adult? In the meantime, they will dream the infantile American dream of wealth and power, addict themselves to alcohol and (legal and illegal) drugs, become enamored of the glittering surface of the material world, fall into puppy love and get married, readily dream the clever dreams manufactured for them by media and politicians, fight their own kind with rockets, lasers, and nuclear bombs, worship celluloid and stereophonic personalities, become obsessed with sex, wallow in the depths of narcissistic depression, persist in self-destructive excess, dislike having to be responsible for personal actions, fantasize as a way of facing tomorrow’s verities, try to stay forever young, ignore the eventuality of their own death, put off cleaning up their messy room in the house of the Earth, and restlessly cruise the neighborhoods of the world looking for action. These signs of cultural crisis, and many more, point to the inability of the culture itself to provide meaningful rites of passage by which Americans can initiate themselves into expanded stages of growth.
I recently responded to some comments in a discussion thread started with a request for help by a woman who was struggling because her husband (pastor and missionary) was into pornography. Should she confront him (again)? Along with this question was the concern about whether using web filtering software (in her case Covenant Eyes) was really helping. Here’s what I said in response:
Very good article, and thoughtful comments. I’m a pastor who’s dealt with this area of struggle, and for five years I took a break from church ministry and worked full time leading workshops and counseling men in recovery from sexual addiction. Now I’m back in a church ministry role. Out of my experience – and my work with other men in recovery (many of them pastors and missionaries – I would make the following observations:
1) I agree with those who’ve encouraged the woman who wrote in here to make this her last confrontation. Be ready to leave and/or go to those in authority over your husband. Men who are shielded from consequences by their spouse don’t recover.
2) It’s very hard to fathom the consequences — personal, professional, financial — of having your husband take a break to get help. Imagine the worst case scenario, and ask yourself: could I live with this? Could God help me face this? I know people who’ve lost ministries, friends, even their homes … and they were still glad they made the choice they did to get help.
I think the unhappiest people I know are those who continue to suffer in silence … not being willing to bite the bullet and make the changes they need to make … but hating their life.
3) I would be surprised if the ministry she is a part of does not offer some sort of ministry leave policy to get help. Experience and work with MANY pastors and missionaries have made clear a very important point to keep in mind: men who come forward and ask for help get WAY MORE GRACE AND HELP than those who are caught. Urge/force your husband to seek help … it will be much easier for him to get help, and stay in ministry if he seeks help now, instead of waiting and getting caught later. And he WILL get caught … always assume that it’s just a matter of time before the truth comes out.
If you are married, your spouse can help or hinder your recovery, but they can’t make or break it. They can make your recovery easier or harder … but no matter how helpful they are, you still have to do the work yourself. Conversely, no matter how difficult, dysfunctional, or stuck in anger your spouse is, you can still move toward health and recovery … if you really want to.
You can’t move forward in your recovery if you’re holding your spouse responsible for it. Some sexual strugglers think their problem would be solved if only their spouse was more sexually available or responsive. Others think their recovery is on hold because their spouse is angry about their sexual behavior and isn’t supportive enough of the efforts they’re making in recovery.
The list of ways that addicts turn the keys of their recovery over to their spouses is endless … and sad. It’s time to take the keys back, and keep the responsibility for recovery on our own shoulders.
THE BAD NEWS: Porn alters the brain in ways that inhibit arousal and detract from “in person” sex, creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction
THE GOOD NEWS: When you stop porn use, your brain can (over time) heal itself
Check out this fascinating TEDx lecture by Gary Wilson. It’s well put together, and really needs no introduction.
Be forewarned: some people who read this site are easily triggered to sexual temptation, and very sensitive to the materials I put on here. So know that there is a brief picture of women in bikinis at one point in the lecture.
But I hope that won’t keep you from watching. It’s very thought-provoking, and I hope that every person who has access to the internet watches this video.
I know that the problem for many of us — which leads to stress and pain and ultimately to dysfunctional relationships and/or addiction — is this: we get too wrapped up in our expectations and desires for our lives and other people. Everywhere we look there are problems to fix. Everyone in our lives has something we want them to change. We vacillate between trying crazy hard to control and change, and then swing over to passivity and disengagement.
It seems like the more we try to change things, the more resistance we get, and the more disappointment we feel.
What would it be like to just accept other people the way they are? What would it be like to accept my life as it is? Could I do this? Should I do this? Doesn’t it seem like we’re giving up “the fight” then (as in, fighting for what’s right, fighting for our marriage, fighting for purity, etc., etc.)?
I don’t know. I do know that some point we have ask ourselves: What is all this fighting getting us? How well are the people in our lives responding to our suggestions and encouragement to improve?
I ran across a paragraph from Byron Katie that got me thinking. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, because it seems so extreme. But it sure has me thinking. Somehow there is a curious co-mingling of acceptance and change. Somehow these two things seem to go together: accepting my life and myself and others around me just as they are … and moving towards something more healthy and God-honoring. Listen to how Katie puts it:
I don’t know what’s best for me or you or the world. I don’t try to impose my will on you or anyone else. I don’t want to change you or improve you or convert you or help you or heal you. I just welcome things as they come and go. That’s true love. The best way of leading people is to let them find their own way.
Most people are familiar with the drug experiments that use rats to demonstrate how addictive certain drugs are. Rats are hooked up to monitors and given the opportunity to choose regular water or water laced with drugs. In the experiments, rats choose the drugs, and this is used to show how addictive drugs are. In fact, some rats will kill themselves because they take drugs instead of eating or drinking.
Bruce Alexander is an addiction researcher from Canada who took these tests further. In what has become known as the “Rat Park” experiment, he and other researchers showed that the environment rats are in while they’re being tested completely changes rats’ propensity to use drugs.
The Skinner Box
Alexander noted that rats like to run around, play with other rats, hide under shelters, and make baby rats. But in the drug research at that time, none of this was possible. Rats were isolated in hellish contraptions known as “Skinner Boxes” (individual cages that allow researchers to hook up sensors to the rat’s body, thus reducing the rat’s ability to move around).
The Rat Park research was based on this question: “What if all the traditional drug/rat experiments show is that when rats are isolated, and live in horrible environments, they will tend to use drugs?” In other words: what would happen if you put rats in a more natural, non-isolated environment? Would that affect their propensity for addiction?
The researchers built a 95 square foot environment to house a group of 20 rats (both sexes). They equipped this environment with wheels for the rats to run, shelters to hide in, and space to move around in. This place was so nice for the rats that it was given the name “the Rat Park.”
Guess what happened? In the rat park, rats were given the choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. To the surprise of many, in this new natural environment, most of the rats chose the plain water! Alexander wrote, “Nothing that we tried produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment.” Even more amazing, rats that were previously addicted to morphine slowly weaned themselves off the drug when placed in the Rat Park. You can read more about these experiments here and here.
For a variety of reasons, Alexander’s work has not gotten the widespread attention that it deserves. Even though he was able to replicate the results of his study, Alexander says his research was “dropped like a stone” in the addiction community. He and his colleagues, who were all just starting out in their careers, moved on to other pursuits. Part of the problem may have been timing: The Rat Park experiments were published in the early 1980s, just as the war on drugs — with its “just say no” and “this is your brain on drugs” PR campaign — was taking hold.
What It Means
I believe that what Alexander and his fellow researchers demonstrated has profound implications for how we understand addiction and how we go about treating it. I have come to believe that careful attention to one’s emotional and spiritual well-being is THE central task of recovery. Our relational, emotional, and spiritual “environment” will make or break our recovery.
Let me put it another way: If your life sucks, it’s really hard to stay sober. You can do it, but it’s really hard, and it’s hard to sustain. It takes a huge effort, laser focus, and lots of time. The fact is, this is how recovery starts for most people. They enter into recovery because their lives suck — their lives are spinning out of control and they are depressed … that’s why they keep turning to their addictive behavior.