Teen Intervention for Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Let’s face it: It’s tough being the parents of a teenager. Your mind races with thoughts of all the dangerous situations your child can become involved in, not the least of which is experimentation with alcohol and drugs. But when the symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse start mounting up, it’s time to take action in the form of a teen intervention.
Recognize the Opportunity
Sure, it’s natural to lament what you did or didn’t do as parents to warn your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. What you should have done is have early and frequent discussions about how damaging substance abuse can be, even prescription drugs used for non-medical purposes. What you should have done is establish family rules about no drug or alcohol use and clearly communicate them to your children. What you should have done is to keep the lines of communication open, listen to your children, and support them when the going gets rough or they’re subjected to intense peer pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
But, even if you did do those things, that doesn’t mean that your teen might not fall prey to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. Early experimentation often leads to more frequent use which then can become abuse and finally dependence or addiction.
No use to cry over what might have been. Now is the time to recognize that you have an opportunity, once you first spot the telltale signs of drug or alcohol use. You can take steps to address this problem right here and now and get the appropriate help for your teen.
What is that help? It is in the form of a teen intervention.
Telltale Signs of Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Before we discuss the specifics of a teen intervention, it’s a good idea to recap some of the common signs, those telltale and unmistakable signs, that your teen is fooling around with drugs or alcohol. Maybe your teenager doesn’t exhibit all the signs, but does show a good number of them on a regular basis. That’s enough for concern and alerts you that there is, indeed, a problem with abuse going on here.
There are general signs of drug and alcohol use and more specific symptoms of abuse relative to certain types of drugs or alcohol in general.
General signs include the following:
- Grades drop dramatically. You’ve been accustomed to seeing a certain level of performance with your child, but suddenly your teen starts accumulating lower grades, even failing grades, in school.
- Skipping school becomes a frequent occurrence. It may begin with tardiness, an inability to get up in time to go to school and then progress to outright skipping classes completely.
- Mood changes become a regular thing. When your teen begins to display crying jags, or becomes depressed and moody to the point of days on end, this is a sign that there’s more going on than just typical teen emotions. Something’s out of whack.
- Your teen starts foregoing usual activities. Let’s say your teen loves being involved in after-school activities, playing in the band, taking part in sports, music or other activities. Then, one day, you notice that he or she isn’t doing any of these things anymore. Whatever your teen once enjoyed doing no longer is part of everyday activity. That’s not a good sign.
- You notice your teen’s appearance has changed. Teens aren’t always the most immaculately groomed, but if you start to see that your child’s hygiene starts to suffer, or that there’s a dramatic weight loss or gain, or your teen adopts unusual fashion changes, this is a signal to pay attention to what else may be going on with your child.
- Friends suddenly change. Your teen has had a number of regular friends, pals he or she has hung around with for quite some time. Then, as if out of the blue, they don’t come around anymore. Maybe they’ve been replaced by new friends, some whom you’ve never met or even that your teen won’t introduce you to. What’s happened? There may be something to do with the new friends’ behavior involving drugs and alcohol that you need to be concerned about.
- Money goes missing from the home. If your teenager is getting deep into drugs and alcohol, it takes money to finance this behavior. When money or valuables go missing from the home, this is a telltale sign that the money is being used for something that your teen doesn’t want you to know about. It could very well be drugs or alcohol.
- Your teen exhibits secretive behavior. Every teen guards his or her privacy, but if your teen locks himself or herself in their room and doesn’t come out for hours, gets irate if you enter without knocking, or takes an inordinately long time to come to the door if you knock or call, it just might be a sign that there are things your child is keeping from you.
- Your teen starts being hostile or aggressive. Sudden angry outbursts or outright aggressive behavior toward you or other family members is a definite warning sign that drugs or alcohol use may be going on.
- Motivation is lacking. When a teen is involved in drug or alcohol use, he or she will often become listless, not caring to do much of anything, certainly nothing that requires pursuing goals or exerting effort to achieve. That is, unless the goal is scoring drugs or alcohol. If your teen is abusing substances, this is one of the only things that may get him or her motivated.
- Your child can’t seem to remember things. Forgetfulness is another general telltale sign of drug or alcohol use. Once in a while is normal for every teen. After all, they’re going through a lot of changes. But if your teen can’t remember on a regular basis or seems to “forget” important things like assigned household tasks or family rules, there’s something wrong.
- Your teen’s sleeping habits change. Maybe it’s a gradual change that you begin to notice or it could occur suddenly and without warning, but if your child’s sleeping habits dramatically change, this is a sign that should be concerning to you. Either sleeping much too long or not sleeping well or at all is a sign of trouble.
- Your teen seems depressed. Depression, a state that persists for weeks without letup, is not a good sign. It could be a telltale sign that drugs or alcohol are in the picture.
- Your teen seems overly anxious. Certain drugs make the user extremely anxious, even paranoid, especially when the high wears off. Any frequent or prolonged anxiety is a trouble sign that could have something to do with drugs or alcohol or both.
- Something just doesn’t seem right about your teen. Maybe you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but you do know your child and you feel instinctively when something doesn’t seem right. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably means it isn’t right. Drug or alcohol use could be at the bottom of it.
What is teen intervention? Simply put, it is the coming together of family and friends, often with the guidance of a trained interventionist, to get the teen to the point of admitting he or she has a problem with drugs or alcohol and accepting treatment.
Some parents prefer to begin with a candid conversation with their teen about drug and alcohol use, particularly if the parents have witnessed several warning signs that their teen has been using substances.
But some teens have already progressed to an out-of-control behavior state where well-meaning parental discussions no longer have any impact. Often the only way to get through to your teen is through a professional intervention.
Early Teen Intervention Can Help Prevent Years of Addiction
Does a teen intervention seem like overkill? Do you think that an intervention is only right for skid row bums or stone alcoholics or drug addicts who’ve been arrested for DUIs, incarcerated for petty crimes, got fired from numerous jobs, lost their homes or families as a result of their substance abuse? If you think that, you’d be wrong.
The statistics about early drug and alcohol use among adolescents and teens are startling. Research studies have shown that the earlier a child begins experimenting with alcohol and drugs, particularly if it occurs before the age of 15, the more likely they are to go on to full-blown drug or alcohol use later in adulthood. They are at greater risk for addiction.
So, the earlier that your teen who has been abusing drugs or alcohol has an intervention that is handled in a professional manner, the sooner he or she – assuming that treatment is accepted – can get the help needed to be able to overcome the substance abuse.
According to some experts, there are four phases of drug or alcohol addiction that apply equally well to teens. Stages one and two are where teens experiment with and use drugs or alcohol in a social setting. During stage three, teens arrange their life around their drug and alcohol use and everything else goes by the wayside. In stage four, all the teen thinks about is getting high, and scoring drugs for the next high. Not surprisingly, intervention and treatment work best if they occur during the first two stages.
Don’t be fooled by your teen’s insistence that there’s nothing wrong, that he or she just tried drugs or alcohol once, or that they’ll never do it again. If they’ve exhibited several of the telltale warning signs of drug or alcohol abuse, they’re already deeply involved. You can’t take their word for it, because it’s not their brain that’s talking. It’s the drugs. Teens, just like adult substance abusers, will deny they have a problem. Some studies have found that most teens won’t seek help for a drug or alcohol problem until they’re in their 30s. By that time, however, their chemical dependence, which began while they were in high school, is problematic. In other words, it’s tougher to overcome substance abuse that’s become entrenched.
Even if your teen doesn’t want to go into treatment, as parents you can insist that this happens. Just because your teen may be against treatment doesn’t mean that he or she can’t benefit from treatment. A study at the University of California Los Angeles showing treatment outcomes among methamphetamine addicts who had been legally pressured into treatment was not dramatically different from those who entered treatment without any pressure.
What we, as parents, can take away from this is that the important thing is to get teens with substance abuse problems into treatment. How they feel before they go into treatment is not the determining factor over whether or not they’re helped by treatment.
How to Find a Teen Interventionist
If you’re at your wits end and nothing you’ve tried thus far has worked out with getting your teen to stop using drugs or alcohol and put some healthy behaviors back into his or her life, now may be the time to go for a teen interventionist. The question then becomes, how do you find one?
You could start with the family doctor and ask for a recommendation. Maybe you know the parents of another teen who went through an intervention prior to going into treatment. If that worked out well, you might explore working with that interventionist or at least giving the individual a call to ask the kinds of questions you naturally have.
Treatment centers are another logical first step, since they may be able to provide counselors to help with an intervention. There are also third-party professional interventionists for hire. These are people who have been thoroughly trained in how to do an intervention.
Always be sure to check out the professional interventionist or intervention service. You want an interventionist with exceptional credentials, sterling references and a great deal of experience, specifically with doing teen interventions. Check out the Association of Intervention Specialists to find a professional interventionist, all of whom are board registered interventionists and adhere to the AIS Code of Ethics.
What to Expect in the Teen Intervention
There’s more to the teen intervention that simply the family and the interventionist sitting down with the teen. There’s pre-intervention planning and work, the actual intervention, getting your teen to the right treatment facility that specializes in treating teens with substance abuse problems, monitoring the treatment and developing an after-care program. Some recovery experts recommend that parents choose an interventionist with case management experience.
During the actual intervention, there will be a lot of open discussion, tears and brutal honesty, as well as tough love on the part of family and close friends. Your teen may at first be outright hostile, resentful, or even try to run away, either literally or by distancing himself or herself emotionally. This is quite normal behavior during a teen intervention. In any case, whether the person for whom the intervention is being conducted is a teen or an adult, this is a highly-charged emotional time.
It is also a crucial time for your teen. It may be the best chance your teen has to get the help that he or she so desperately needs but doesn’t know or believe it yet.
The ultimate goal of the teen intervention is that your teen accepts and goes into treatment. The best scenario is that the interventionist or other “escort” literally accompanies your teen to the treatment facility, ideally a residential drug and alcohol rehab facility that specializes in treating teens with substance abuse problems. Many times transportation this is by car, although in the cases where the treatment facility is in a distant city or another state, a plane or train trip may be required. The reason why it’s best for your teen to immediately go into treatment is that this is striking while the iron is hot, so to speak. Once your teen says, “Yes,” the object is to get your teen into treatment.
Delay can cause all sorts of other perceived obligations or obstacles to get in the way. You don’t want that. Although it may be stressful to see your teen go through this experience of an intervention and your heart naturally goes out to your child, the absolute best thing that you can do for your teen is to remain steadfast in both your support and demand that your teen go into treatment.
Think of teen intervention for drug or alcohol abuse as the first step on your teen’s road to recovery. Healing does take time and your teen will need your unwavering support and encouragement as he or she begins a new life of sobriety.
Be ready to intervene with the help of a professional interventionist who can conduct a safe and effective teen intervention to start the process of recovery for your child. It is undoubtedly the most loving thing you can do to get your teen off drugs and alcohol and on the way to a happy and drug-free life.