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Part I: Dealing With Your Teen’s Relapse from Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

=Wrong CrowdThis is a two-part blog post by Michael V. Pantalon, PhD, Yale Psychologist, Addiction & Motivation Expert, Speaker, Coach and author of INSTANT INFLUENCE: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything—Fast! (Little, Brown & Co., May, 2011)

A “Relapse” Scenario

Imagine your 17-year-old son has been doing really well — staying away from alcohol and pot for the past 6 months following a 28-day stay in rehab.  He’s back at school, his grades are good and he’s playing soccer again.  On top of that, his new friends seem supportive of his recovery.  As his parent, you feel you can finally breathe a small sigh of relief.

However, when your son comes home early from school one day without his backpack, you’re worried.  You confront him and his explanation makes sense: his last class was cancelled because a teacher became sick and there was no one available to sub; he did his homework earlier in the day and during part of the last period, so he didn’t need his backpack; and you already knew there was no soccer practice that day.  The next day everything seems back to normal.

Several days later, however, he comes to you and says that he would like to leave school early on Friday to go to a concert in the city.  When asked about how sensible that might be given that it might be a trigger for using and about the group of kids that he’s going to the show with, he becomes defensive and irritable.  A few minutes later he confesses that the day he came home early, he had slipped out of school right after first period to hang out with some old friends.  He ran into these old friends (the very crowd he used to use and drink with) on the way to school that day and instead of staying in school, he spent the day with them, playing Call of Duty (a popular shooter video game), and smoking and drinking, and that now he’s struggling with strong urges to continue using.

While he’s saying he doesn’t want to go back to the way he was, he also says, “I’m almost 17! Why can’t I have a drink now and then?!  I want to have fun.  Being sober is not fun.  I’m supposed to be having fun at this point in my life!”  Later, he confesses that he’d made plans to go to the concert with the old friends, but he’s still defending his ability to go with them and not use, stating that his new friends are “nice, but no fun at all.”

How do you feel?

What do you do?

How do you keep this relapse from blowing up in your and your son’s face?  Meaning, is there a way to help without making it worse?

You’re probably feeling a lot of different and conflicting feelings.  You’re angry, surprised and hurt, but you’re also worried, understanding and sympathetic.  We might all have the strong urge to immediately vent this barrage of emotions toward our child and, in the moment, we would feel justified in doing so.

However, many of us might instinctively know that to do so would not be helpful.  It might make your son more defensive and irritable.  He might then storm out of the house and go to the concert and resume drinking and pot use NOT simply because of the situation and the people he is with, but also because he now feels justified in doing so because he’s angry at his parents (whether or not it is actually justifiable in this manner).

The other thing is that your son IS actually feeling stressed and distressed about his recovery and the conflict he just had with his parents.  And since he’s learned in the past that alcohol and drugs immediately take this feeling away, we’ve just helped him create a new trigger for drug and alcohol use.

Not that you are to blame, but there are certain ways to handle relapses so that this does not happen.  While we as parents are not to blame when the sort of situation described above occurs, I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to learn ways to prevent it and even to use relapse as an opportunity to further strengthen our child’s recovery.

In my next blog post “An Overview of Relapse,” I describe a few ways to do just that.

Related Links:

Teens Only Listen to One Person…

Adjusting to Recovery: When Your Addicted Child Begins to Get Well

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Posted by Michael Pantalon, PhD  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, Confronting Teens, Marijuana, parenting, Recovery, Recovery & Relapse  /  Comments: more

Instructions on the Use of Alcohol, an Excerpt from James Brown’sThis River
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to welcome back award-winning author James Brown to the Intervene community.  Earlier this month James released his latest book This River, a memoir providing an honest portrait of an addict and his new struggles with sobriety, relapse  and becoming a better father.  This book provides a great opportunity for discussion with other parents as well as with your child suffering with an addiction.  We are giving away two free copies of This River to two lucky commenters — please see the end of this post for details.

In many ways, This River: A Memoir, is a follow up to my last memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, which gained a strong following among many young people, at least in part because the material revolves around drug and alcohol abuseThis River picks up where my last left off, describing my once tenuous relationship with sobriety, telling of agonizing relapses, and tracing my attempts to become a better father.  It has been considered by some a heartbreaking and at times uplifting tale of my battles, peeking into my former life as an addict and alcoholic, and detailing my subsequent ascent to sobriety and fight for redemption. 

I wrote This River for many of the same reasons I wrote The Los Angeles Diaries.  I felt compelled to tell the truth about my life, and how drugs and alcohol destroyed so much of it, leaving me lost and alienated from those whom I most loved, my wife and children.  I certainly don’t glamorize or romanticize drugs and alcohol, and I like to believe that some people who have struggled with addiction, especially those with their whole lives still ahead of them, have come to respect my work for telling it like it is. I’ve been asked by dozens of colleges where, to my delight, my book has been used as a class text, and many times I’ve been approached afterward by a student with his or her own story to share, and thanking me for sharing mine.  Not only is that a tremendous, wonderful honor, but it makes spending all those long hours alone in a room writing my memoirs worth every second.

A brief excerpt from This River from a piece titled “Instructions on the Use of Alcohol”:

Part I

You’re young, maybe 9 or 10, and your parents are throwing a party.  All the adults are laughing and talking too loudly, in general having a good time, and you put two and two together.  What makes them happy comes out of those bottles on the kitchen counter.

The brown ones, you learn soon enough, contain whiskey and scotch.  The clear ones hold vodka and gin and that odd-shaped bottle with the long neck, something called Midori, contains a thick, syrupy green liquid.  That’s the one that intrigues you most, and when the adults aren’t looking you pour yourself a glass.  You sneak it into your room.  You lock the door.  At first you sniff at it, and because it doesn’t smell so good you pinch your nostrils shut before you take a swallow.

It burns the back of your throat.  It makes your eyes water.  You shake your head, and for a few minutes, until the alcohol takes effect, you can’t understand how anyone in their right mind could drink this stuff.  But then a tingling sensation begins to spread through your chest, your face is warm and flushed, and you’re suddenly light headed.  You feel good, you feel great.  It’s as if you’ve made a major discovery, a real inroad to the secret of a good life, and it only makes sense that if one drink has this effect on you that a second will make you feel even better.  You finish the glass and sneak another.  You repeat this action several more times.

In the morning, you wake with a miserable headache, you’re nauseous, too, and right then and there you swear never again to so much as look at a bottle of booze.  But what the seasoned drinker knows that the apprentice does not is that those of us predisposed to alcoholism are hardwired to quickly forget our unfortunate drinking experiences.  Next time you get the chance, you’ll do the same thing all over again.  Drunk, you find yourself smarter and funnier and stronger and braver and even better looking. 

For the budding alcoholic, booze seems to do more for you than it does for others, and your only regret, at least to date, is that you didn’t come across this miracle potion sooner.

Part II

You’re older now, maybe 15 or 16, and what currently interests you is marijuana and the intrigue that surrounds it.  You enjoy scoring weed behind the high school bleachers.  You enjoy showing off to your friends how well you can roll a joint, and because the dope world has its own language, all the slang and clever code words, you feel special when you speak it. 

 Then one day you try to connect with that kid behind the bleachers, the guy with all the Bob Marley stickers on his notebook, and it isn’t happening.
 “It’s bone-dry out there,” he says.  “Drought season, man.”

 But he does have something else, if you’re interested, this stuff he calls blow.  “It’s good shit,” he tells you. 

 And as it happens with your first drink, so it is with the coke.  It makes you feel great.  It makes you stronger and smarter and braver and even better looking, and you dismiss those lies you’ve heard about coke being addicting.  Getting hooked is for weaklings, for losers, though you can see how the stuff might drain your bank account, since the rush is so short, and the more you use, the more it takes to get high. 

For the budding addict, the supply is never enough, but your own regret, at least to date, is that you didn’t come across this miracle potion sooner.

To read more from James Brown, read his previous post When It Comes to Addiction, There are No Simple Answers.

WIN a free copy of This River, a new memoir by award-winning author James Brown.  HOW TO ENTER: Leave a comment responding to James’ post with a valid e-mail address and two winners will be chosen at random at the end of this giveaway.  This giveaway ends Friday April 22 @ 5PM EST. US only.

Posted by James Brown  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, Cocaine, Family History, Marijuana, Substance Abuse  /  Comments: more

4 Lessons I Learned About Confronting My Substance Abusing Teen
Thursday, February 24th, 2011

When I first discovered that my daughter was using marijuana and alcohol, I was blindsided. At first I tried approaching her as a concerned parent and when that didn’t work, I resorted to yelling, threatening, punishing and even having the police at the house to lecture her when she broke curfew.  No matter what I did, things kept getting worse. I finally realized that I was having about as much success as someone standing on a train track trying to stop a fast moving train.  That was the point when I became desperate enough to seek help from adolescent addiction professionals and also joined a support group for parents who were dealing with their children’s addiction. I thought I would feel shame when I reached out, but instead found understanding, support and a sense of renewed hope. Once I began to apply my newfound knowledge by communicating with my daughter differently, things began to change for the better.  Below are some valuable lessons that I learned. 

1)  Arguing with an addicted teen doesn’t work

Reacting to your teen only fuels the fire.  Addicts can be manipulative and they have an uncanny way of turning an issue back on you.  When you react and blow up, you take the focus off of them, and put it right back onto you.  Now it is all about your anger and you are the bad guy.  This gives them even more reason to use.  Reasoning with them doesn’t work either.  A teenage addict has a chemically altered mind that will rarely respond to reason. 

2)  Set Clear Boundaries and stick to them

Your teen should understand that using drugs and alcohol comes with specific consequences. But don’t make hollow threats or set rules that you cannot enforce. It is also important that your spouse agrees with the rules and is prepared to enforce them.  Standing as a united front as parents is crucial when you are fighting against a foreign substance that has taken over your child’s brain.  

3)  Arm Yourself with Support and Information

Learning to talk to my addict daughter was like learning a new language. My greatest teachers were my parent support group and the substance abuse counselors that partnered with me to intervene in my daughter’s addiction.  The internet is also a great tool.  I never would have been able to navigate my way though those difficult times without learning some new ways of communicating and applying them with the help of others.   

4)  Timing is everything

Perhaps your teen has been arrested or expelled from school or has been caught driving under the influence. You can use this as an opportunity to approach your child and convince them to enter treatment.  Don’t blow a good chance.  A crisis event can be an opportunity for parents to confront their child.  Facing real consequences can wake some teens up.  Any intervention, either formal or informal, is an attempt to convince an addict that they are at their bottom, and it is time to make a change.  The goal is to get your child to the place that they stop fighting for their addiction.  Going it alone however can be difficult.  Enlisting the intervention assistance of Adolescent Substance Abuse Professionals can dramatically increase the odds that your teen will become willing to accept help.

When the disease of addiction hit my family, it was like a tornado hitting our home from the inside out.  There were days when I felt like I was losing the battle.  Towards the end, my daughter had a full blown addiction to crystal meth. It was important for me to keep moving forward to keep building my arsenal of knowledge and expanding my circle of support.  Nothing changes if no one changes.  It had to start with me.

Posted by Karen Franklin  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Marijuana, Substance Abuse  /  Comments: 1

If You Suspect or Know Your Child Is Using Drugs or Alcohol, How Do You Know When It Is Time to Take Action?
Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

If you are reading this blog, it is time.

What’s the big rush, you ask? It is a developmental given that some kids experiment with alcohol and drugs. However, the latest annual Partnership for a Drug-Free America/MetLife Foundation Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) of almost 3,300 teens and 800 parents shows that after a decade of declines in teen drug and alcohol use, rates are climbing for Ecstasy, marijuana and alcohol. We already know that prescription drug abuse by youth is a national problem and binge drinking on college campuses is a growing issue. Parents, this is no time to procrastinate.

The new PATS data indicate that 75 percent of teens say their friends usually get high at parties. Do the math.  All of us can’t have kids who don’t get high at parties.

I am upset that cultural cues to use drug and alcohol are rampant, and that we’ve seen budget cuts in federal drug prevention and treatment programs. But what is most troubling to me is

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Judy Kirkwood  /  Filed under Alcohol, Confronting Teens, Marijuana  /  Comments: more

Denial: The First Deadly Sin of Parenting
Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I couldn’t believe it when I walked into my living room and saw a marijuana pipe lying on the couch.  You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. I knew that my children Lauren and Ryan, then 15 and 13, had been acting out. Calls from the school, neighbors, and the police regarding their behavior were escalating. Still, I didn’t want to believe they were into drugs. But now there was evidence. When my kids told me the pipe belonged to someone else, I bought right into it. The denial part was easy. Unfortunately, this made uncovering the whole story that much harder.

Over time I learned that things were much worse than I could have ever imagined. I eventually discovered that Lauren had been on a constant high of marijuana, alcohol, acid, cocaine, and PCP thanks to the generosity of a 30-year-old neighbor who happened to like girls half his age. 

“Parent Denial” is a major factor in the substance abuse epidemic that is happening with our children.  In 2007, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that half of all high school seniors in America have experimented with illegal drugs, and about three-quarters have tried alcohol.

According to, denial is an unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings. I know first hand how easy it can be to reject the truth despite overwhelming evidence staring you right in the eye.

But hanging onto denial can be deadly for our kids. The intervention I conducted for my children, as late as it came, was a pivotal moment in our family’s steps toward healing and recovery.  When I felt the walls of denial that I had been building up to protect me begin to crumble, I felt the sting of reality. Yes, coming out of denial was painful, but it felt good, too. I was finally walking toward the truth, which was the only path to recovery. My willingness to take action was the first step in getting my children the help they needed.
If you’re suspicious that a child might be using, look deeper into the situation. There’s nothing to lose and only our children’s precious lives and futures to gain.   


1) The truth always comes out in the end anyway.
2) Early intervention can help curtail a spiraling addiction.
3) Your child is also in denial if he or she is using.
4) If one of you admits the truth, the door opens for solutions.
5) Things will only get worse if you delay facing facts.

Posted by Karen Franklin  /  Filed under Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Enabling, Marijuana, Recovery  /  Comments: more

Challenging the Stoner’s Classic “Chill Defense”
Friday, July 24th, 2009

You’ve  probably heard this one many times.  The teenager insists that the reason he smokes marijuana is because it helps him to chill out.  Never mind the documented evidence of the risks, parental disapproval, and legal ramifications. “And why is it so important for you to smoke marijuana to relax?,” you might ask the young champion of chill.  Explanations range from reasonable — I’m stressed out from school or my parents are bugging me, to unrealistic — it just makes my life better.   Needless to say, challenging this “chill defense” is central to reducing and or stopping the teen’s marijuana use.

I no longer debate teenagers on whether marijuana really helps them to relax or not.  Unfortunately, in some ways it does, but there is a huge price to be paid: decreased motivation, memory impairment, and dependence.  Indeed, self-medication is not the road to success.  Teens must be confronted on why they have to smoke weed to relax, and more importantly, on why they can’t find more constructive ways to reduce their stress and deal with the family and school issues that plague them.  This is no simple matter, but it lies close to the heart of the issue. 

Indeed, stressed-out, lonely, angry, rebellious, and school-challenged kids are more susceptible to marijuana use.  So, why not take them at their word?  I don’t blame you for wanting to get stoned, I’ve told teenagers as a starting point.  But the stakes are way too high.  You’re smoking away life’s opportunities and you deserve better.  Surely, there must be other ways for you to unwind and deal with your parents getting on your case.   What have you got to lose by trying? 

Parents too, must help their misguided teens to find healthier ways to relieve their angst.  In recent years, I’ve spoken with quite a few parents who have had some success.  It goes something like this:  The parent tells their child that they won’t argue about marijuana for a while (they’ve often been arguing for months or even years) if the child agrees to get involved in ongoing constructive activities and address the issues at hand.  Naturally, the teen resists but is reminded of the heavy monitoring, restrictions, and whistle blowing he will face if his marijuana involvement continues. Reluctantly, he consents and gradually enters a world outside his “stoner circle” which proves to be more gratifying than his repetitive discussions of the virtues of marijuana and seeking opportunities to get high. 

Will this approach work for everyone?  Probably not, because sometimes, young people have grown so dependent on marijuana that they can’t break away from the culture and need more powerful interventions (e.g. therapy, drug treatment, and prevention programs).  But some teens can be weaned from their drug reliance through immersion in activities such as volunteer work, martial arts, relaxation focused exercises, creative pursuits, and outdoor adventures, to name but a few.  It’s certainly worth a try before bringing in the heavy artillery. 

And keep in mind that well-deserved and valued freedom, independence of thought, and self-worth are the natural enemy of negative peer influence and the illicit drugs which induce a false sense of well-being.

Posted by Neil Bernstein, Ph.D.  /  Filed under Confronting Teens, Marijuana  /  Comments: more


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