March Madness continues…this week’s topic is all about drug and alcohol use and abuse. This is a tough topic to discuss with both 20-Somethings and their parents because everyone starts to become fearful.
This topic can make the most mature 20-Something morph into a sullen 15-year-old, bracing him or her for a long, boring lecture why they should just say, “no.” Parents start to feel that fear and anxiety they used to feel when their kid would run out of the house saying their going to so-and-so’s house to study, making similar excuses they made to their parents years earlier.
My intention isn’t to lecture or to promote or condone certain behaviors; my goal is to make young adults aware of the realities of excessive drug and alcohol use. For parents I want them to be prepared if they believe their kid is struggling with substance abuse.
If you’re a 20-Something: Just the cold, hard facts…
I’ve worked with hundreds of young adults who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and while many of them may not fit the criteria of being an alcoholic or addict, many of them make excuse after excuse for their actions and behavior while intoxicated.
We spend our entire lives waiting to become a full fledge adult, only to discover how tough adulthood really can be. The reality is becoming an adult means that you can’t make excuses for your behavior forever and you have to be willing to make changes if your life isn’t going the way you planned.
The truth, plain and simple, is if your addiction is negatively affecting your relationships, your work and/or your health, you need to find a way to stop. Addiction is a progressive disease and your usage will only increase. One of my favorite excuses is that many addicts don’t want to stop using until they haven’t hit their “bottom” yet.
I always tell my young clients that you don’t want to get anywhere near your “bottom.” Do you want every relationship in your life either gone or destroyed? Do you want to do things for drugs/alcohol that cause you shame? It’s only a matter of time before you end of doing something that cannot be undone. Bottom means everything in your life worth having is gone and you are out of options.
If you make the choice to get sober young, you can still have a life. You can repair your current relationships, you can get your career back on track and you can go back to school and finish your education. You can still have all the things in life that you dreamt about as a kid.
Unfortunately for those who are much older and finally getting sober, the damage is usually much bigger and the time to recover and repair is shorter.
Excessive drug and alcohol abuse takes a toll on your body and mind. While you may be done growing physically: your brain is not fully formed until you are 25. Your frontal lobes, cerebellum (which affects coordination, muscle control and balance), and hippocampus (this affects memory) develop the slowest and are especially sensitive to drugs and alcohol. You need to recognize that your drug and alcohol use is hurting you in ways you cannot see.
You may feel like you need alcohol and drugs to feel better about yourself and “fit in.” After years of studies, it has been found that self-esteem is not developed with affirmations but mastery. In other words, you’re not going to feel better about yourself because people like you and tell you you’re the life of the party.
You gain self-esteem and happiness from mastering challenges, working successfully and overcoming adversity. You will not be able to master anything if all of your time and energy you are abusing drugs and alcohol.
Finally, drug and alcohol addiction keeps you stuck and impedes with your social and emotional development. If you have been using drugs and alcohol to manage every difficult and uncomfortable situation in your life since the age of 16 (or whenever you started using), you are emotionally a 16 year old. Addicts do not develop the tools they need to manage life’s ups and downs because each time they faced a tough crossroads, they use.
Even if you’re not an addict, you can take steps to either stop drinking and using completely or severely cutting down. The sooner you make these changes, the sooner your real life can start.
If you’re a Parent: Help me, help you…
Every parent has different beliefs about drug and alcohol use. My guess is you probably had “the talk” while your son or daughter was a teenager. Whether you’re worried about your adult child’s use or not, it’s important to know what to look for if you start to see a change in your son or daughter’s behavior.
While your adult child is probably at least 21 and can drink legally, how do you feel about them drinking at home? Inviting friends over to drink in your home? How do you feel about them being out late many nights a week and coming home intoxicated? How do you feel about marijuana use, especially in your home?
You might also have to look at your own alcohol and drug use. Are you creating rules that you don’t follow? Are you modeling the adult behavior you want your child to uphold? This is especially important to take stock of if your child is abusing drugs or alcohol.
If you believe your son or daughter may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, here’s what you need to do to seek help:
1) Get them an assessment. It’s possible that your son or daughter needs drug/alcohol treatment and you need a professional assessment to determine if treatment is appropriate and, if so, what level of treatment would be best.
If they do have a problem, the tough part for you is that since they’re over the age of 18, you can’t make them go. If you ask your son or daughter to go to a treatment program and they refuse, it’s not a time to be easy on them. I highly recommend that you insist that they complete whatever treatment is recommended at the assessment.
Because they’re over the age of 18, you can’t force them to do anything, but you can play the one card you do hold, that they’re living in your home and as such you’re supporting them.
2) Once they’re in a program you can work with your son or daughter’s counselor (they will be assigned a therapist/case manager when they enter treatment) about how you can support them during this process. Most treatment programs have a family component, and I would take advantage of any family nights or family support groups the facility has to offer.
3) If your son or daughter attends an outpatient program (they go to the facility during the day but sleep at home at night), then educate yourself about the best way you can support your child while they’re in the program. Most outpatient programs want their clients to attend outside AA or NA meetings.
4) A lot of feelings will come up for your adult child during treatment and after, it’s going to be challenging for them not to use drugs and/or alcohol when they experience stress or frustration. Help them find a therapist who understands individuals in recovery to work with them.
5) Seek your own help. Al-Anon is a program that was created to support those who have a family member, spouse, or friend who struggles with addiction. Al-Anon, like AA or NA, is free and open to anyone who would like to be part of the group. There are local Al-Anon meetings all over the country. Go to http://www.al-anon.org/ to find a meeting near you.