A blog for parents concerned about their teens alcohol and drug use

Be Cautious of Boot Camps and Wilderness Programs for Your Addicted Teen
Monday, January 28th, 2013

Earlier this month a few of us attended a Lunch ‘n’ Learn event at CASAColumbia with Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist who covers health, science and public policy. She discussed the theme of her book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006), an exposé of the “tough love” business.

The talk prompted us to revisit and share what we at The Partnership at know about boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled and/or addicted teens.

First, it is important to note that boot camps and wilderness programs are not included among the levels of care defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Although you may have heard success stories or read about the benefits of boot camps, we strongly suggest you look very carefully into any boot camp or wilderness program before sending your teen for substance abuse treatment.

According to a government report, these programs are not subjected to federal oversight, and there have been thousands of reports of neglect and abuse at privately owned and operated boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled youth.

Ms. Szalavitz explained that a person with the disease of addiction is already in a lot of pain. To get better, that person doesn’t need more pain and abuse, but rather a kind and supportive approach to treatment. One that’s comprehensive, respectfully addressing the individual’s physical, emotional and social issues. One that makes the person feel better.

We suggest that if you are seriously considering a boot camp or wilderness program, you check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the program. You should also call the program and ask a lot of questions, including:

1) What specific substance abuse and mental health licensing and accreditation does the program have? (If the providers are not licensed, do NOT send your child to the program.)
2) Has a child in the care of the program ever died, and if so, why?
3) What specific training (particularly survival skills training for outdoor programs) do the counselors have?
4) Have there have been any complaints of abuse or neglect at the camp?
5) Can you put me in touch with a few families that have a child who have completed the program so that I can hear about their experience?
6) Who is responsible for medical care? (It should be a licensed medical doctor.)

Remember, addiction is a serious health issue and requires appropriate treatment by licensed professionals so that addicted persons can learn how to manage drug and alcohol problems, how to handle relapse and how to live a life free of drugs and alcohol.

For more questions to ask programs when looking for treatment for your child, here are some helpful resources:

To find the best assistance option for your child with an alcohol or drug problem, see our Treatment e-book.

To connect with other parents about your child’s drug and alcohol problem, join our online support community at

To speak to a trained specialist, call our toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373).

Have you sent or considered sending your child to a boot camp or wilderness program? Comment below to share your thoughts or experiences.

Posted by Intervene Staff  /  Filed under Addiction, Books about addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Finding Treatment, parenting, Scare tactics, tough love, Treatment, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more

A Mother’s Thoughts on Blame
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

parents fightingMy journal entry: I want to blame someone – anyone - for my son’s addiction. I was sure that my son’s behavior, his affliction, was his father’s fault. Or mine. I’ve worn the yolk of guilt for years – better my fault than his. The truth is that I still have no one to blame because I’m sure there is no one to blame. After more than ten years and continual heartbreaks, I’ve come to realize his addiction is just that. Folks in the field of drug treatment call it an allergy. He has the allergy and we are all affected.

My reflection today on my entry above: Blame. I wanted to put my pain at someone else’s feet. I wanted to scream, “It’s your fault and look what happened to my son!” I spent a lot of time blaming his friends, drug dealers and even myself.

When I finally quit trying to assign blame and decided to deal with the addiction, I was able to help my son and our family. Whatever the reason for the addiction, Jeff had it. I started to educate myself about addiction. I used my time for better things than blame.

Today’s Promise: I will not blame myself or anyone else. When I had cancer, I blamed no one and fought the cancer. My son is addicted and he must fight. There is no room for blame.

Related Links
Teen Drug Addiction: When Parents Blame Themselves
A Mother’s Love and Hate for Her Addicted Son

Posted by Libby Cataldi  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Shame  /  Comments: more

I’m Sorry Officer, I Didn’t See The Sign
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

A while back, my wife and I were having a conversation with friends and the conversation turned to that question: What would you have done differently? It’s a question we all ponder endlessly. It stabs us in the heart. It causes untold hours of sleepless nights.  It’s a question we could gladly discuss for hours and still have more to say — if only doing so actually helped someone else.

A better question for us parents is, “What signs should we look for and which ones did we miss?” 

We asked ourselves this very question the last time we met.  As parents of loved ones with a drug or alcohol addiction, how many times did we blow right through the warning signs as if they weren’t even there? And, if there were parenting cops, how many charges would we be guilty of? 

Teenage alcohol use is not a rite of passage.  Even if we drank as teenagers, it cannot justify us failing to exercise our parental responsibility. Seriousness with our kids and grounding them and then laughing about it later is just not wise. …….Guilty, Officer.

Kids are going to try pot. It’s just a little weed no big deal. I’m sure there are addicts out there that didn’t start with weed but I have never met them. We have heard the term gateway drug. Weed is a drug. Not every kid that tries weed will become a heroin addict, can you tell me which ones will and which ones won’t? ……Guilty, Officer.

The cops, teachers, judges, security officers are just being jerks. Don’t worry baby, it wasn’t that bad. We’ll help get you out of it. All we have to do is get a good lawyer and pay extra; the trouble goes away. ……Guilty, Officer.

Why did that intake person at the rehab facility ask if there were any addiction/alcohol problems in the family? Why is that relevant? It’s really none of their business — we are here with our child not to talk about relatives’ problems. ……Guilty, Officer.

My kid wouldn’t do that or go that far — he’s just having fun. You know, boys will be boys. Basically he’s a good kid and he knows his limits and we taught him better than that. Why do you ask? “No sir, I am not in denial.” ……Guilty, Officer.

I really don’t like the way you dress and talk now.  The music you like has changed, too. Your friends, your manners, your disrespect, your grades, your tattoos, your piercings, but I know you will grow out of it. Any one thing may not be indicative of an “addict to be” but behavior changes do mean something. ……Guilty, Officer.

Everybody has role models and mentors. I do, you do, and your child does. What is the modeled behavior your child is seeing? Do you even know? ……Guilty, Officer.

Being a parent to a teen and being a friend to a teen is two very different roles. Do not confuse your role. ……Guilty, Officer.

Every one of those charges could be explored endlessly and debated for hours. I am not calling an attorney to defend my actions to the parenting cops. I’m not really up for the debate, or the hourly charges. I just know my list is not complete, but it is my list. Feel free to add to it as you see fit.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Warning Signs  /  Comments: more

Panicked: Our Child Was Living on the Streets
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

My stepdaughter Katherine was living on the streets with her “meth family” — but we didn’t know where.

We spent countless days and nights waiting for the phone to ring, searching the streets of San Francisco for her whereabouts, seeking help from drug users, police, anyone who would listen to our plight. 

We were in a panic, wondering where she was, where she was sleeping, if she was eating, if she was alive — or if we were about to receive the dreaded call every parent fears. 

Trying to cope with our daily routines was almost unbearable as Katherine’s disappearance consumed us.  Yet we knew we had to stick together in order to rescue her.  We had to stay strong and did so by using these four approaches:

1. FORM A TEAM WITH YOUR SPOUSE/PARTNER:  I cannot tell you how hard it is as a step-mom to convince a biological parent that his child, who he’s known and loved since birth, needs serious, outside help.  But it’s so important that the couple is in absolute, total agreement before redirecting their efforts to saving the child’s life from an addiction.  So, the first thing to do is to form a team that is in total agreement of a) the addiction and b) the approach and methods to getting your child back.

2. STAY POSITIVE:  You have to give up the idea of being “super mom or dad” and trying to “fix” your child’s addiction as if it were a homework issue.  We had to turn over some of the parental instinct and control to a higher power.  This did not mean we gave up, but rather, we stayed optimistic, hoping this positive thinking would keep us sane. We were sure to reassure her friends — and any other possible points of contact — that we were not angry or bitter but simply there for her. 

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Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child  /  Comments: more

The Rollercoaster of Helping an Addicted Child
Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

When you suspect your child is in trouble, one of the most difficult challenges is figuring out how to approach him or her.  Beyond dealing with their particular substance abuse, the big question is how to get them engaged and encouraged to accept treatment. 

Our first attempt at approaching my stepdaughter Katherine did not go well.  As a young adult, access to private information through the school was denied, while friends and acquaintances were never honest with us.  Our only recourse was to invade her personal space at home. 

We read through papers she left around, checked the trunk of her car and found ourselves investigating our own child.  This is not a pleasant undertaking but much needed. 

To this day, I firmly believe Katherine wanted to be helped as she left, in plain sight, writings regarding her usage as well as the failing school notice.  It was then that we decided to tell her that we were no longer paying for her college tuition. 

With this devastating information she left our home for her mother’s in Hawaii.  Ultimately, life in Hawaii took her further downward. 

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Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Recovery & Relapse, Treatment  /  Comments: more

The Perilous Pitfalls of Enabling Your Child
Friday, June 12th, 2009

Have we raised the most spoiled generation of children in the history of humanity? After ours, of course.

Certainly you need a new laptop, darling, yours is a month old.
Those jeans are pretty shabby after one wash and what, you can’t text Mars on your cell? Poor thing.

Bad enough when the teen has normal issues, but when they’re in the clutches of addiction, enabling takes on an entirely new and dangerous meaning: spoiled brat embarrassing you in the mall on a Saturday afternoon versus drug overdose in the emergency room on a Saturday night.

We’re all at the mercy of our own overpowering love, seizing upon the slightest progress as an epiphany — so the new friend has a tattoo of Satan on her forehead, least she has a nice smile — and rewarding that with slavish generosity.

And they know it. Addicts manipulate. Teenage addicts, off the charts. Worn out from this endless war, we appease those emotional terrorists in the bedroom down the hall. Maybe they will leave us alone if we only…

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Posted by Gary Morgenstein  /  Filed under Enabling  /  Comments: more

Two Voices
Friday, June 12th, 2009

There is a lot of personal experience woven into my novel, Night Navigation, but from the moment I started writing it, I worked to find a way to make the leap into “real” fiction; I did not want this to be “my story.” I wanted it to be the story of what was left of a family — an adult man, Mark Merrick, and Del, his mother — after the suicide of Mark’s father and brother.

The main way I chose to create a novel, rather than autobiography, was to move back and forth between the two voices of son and mother. By working in the point of view of a manic-depressive 37-seven year old man who was addicted to heroin, I was able to enter places I could never have gone if I had chosen to work in the “I” of memoir or spoken only in the voice of Del Merrick.

Also, strangely enough, Mark, the mostly imagined character, was much easier to create, while Del, who was a lot like me, tended to go on and on with all the backstory she thought essential, but which really just bogged things down.

Here’s an example of how differently each of these characters spoke to me when I sat alone and worked on reinventing their two worlds:

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Posted by Ginnah Howard  /  Filed under Writing About Addiction  /  Comments: 0

Katherine, the Early Years
Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

My stepdaughter Katherine’s high-school years were like most teenagers.  She was a good student, had great friends, acted in school plays, and sang in the chorus.  She was the center of laughter with a creative mind. 

We shared her excitement when the University of San Diego accepted her and we sent her off beaming with pride for what we thought would be some of the best years of her life.  We wanted to believe she was going to experience everything positive that comes from a college freshman’s first time away from home – dorm life, new friends and feelings of accomplishment. 

But at some point she deviated from the normal college experience and entered a fast-paced world of addiction and chaos. 

It began with hair variations (many colors), weight change and body piercing.  In the beginning these behaviors, by themselves, did not appear to be anything other than experiments with her new-found independence.  Her father and I were not happy with any of these decisions but we rationalized it as typical freshman behavior. Looking back on it now, it’s clear that these were early signs of her drug use.

On another visit we noticed bolder actions.  This time, not only was her hair an issue, but more body piercings were on display.  I will never forget the shock on her father’s face when he first saw her flashy tongue piercing and bright blue hair.  Katherine routinely asked for more food money because she was always running low.  She responded to the discussion of grades with resistance (we later found out that she was on academic probation.)

Visits home during the holidays became confrontational with new “friends” showing up at our door – we later discovered that she used her computer to network and meet dealers and meth users online.  The neon lights were flashing as we began to notice this new Katherine.

Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Warning Signs  /  Comments: 0

Parenting Troubled Teens
Thursday, May 14th, 2009

When some kid is screaming for candy in the checkout line and the mother is reaching for the Hershey’s bar, I want to grab hold of her, like most people, and say, “Don’t do it!” However, because my own children had serious problems with drugs and I was so unaware during their teen years, I feel very uncomfortable even discussing parenting, let alone giving advice. But I can offer some thoughts on what a mother might do for herself.  Much of this learned from positive experiences gained through years of therapy and going to Al-Anon and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meetings.

My first suggestion: Don’t isolate. It’s important to connect with parents who have similar troubles and fears in some sort of support structure that keeps the sharing healthy: mainly that there is no cross-talk or advice giving. No cross-talk advice is the rule at Al-Anon meetings. Advice can be shaming. “Why don’t you just say no?” (If I could have just said no, I wouldn’t be here!)

One of the most common themes when parents open up is their feelings of guilt. Many of us who have children whose behavior is negative, causing concern and tension for all involved, often blame ourselves: What did I do wrong? And since none of us have been perfect parents, it is important to accept responsibility for ways that we have truly failed. But it is also important not to think it’s all about you. Once a counselor said to me after a self-blame session, “Do you really think you have that much power over your children’s lives? They live in the world. There are other factors.”

Another important Al-Anon lesson: One of the greatest contributions you can give to your family is for you not to get pulled into the craziness, to minute by minute rebalance. Also it is essential to develop counterbalances in your daily life, practices that offer you personal refuge and happiness. Practices that interrupt the obsessive thoughts which steal your present moments.

As the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says: Be aware of all the non-toothache time. For me that counterbalance has been writing. I am now working on my third novel: a trilogy-in-progress. Not writing as therapy, but writing as a place where I can dance in the moment of words. “Now” is really all we have.

Posted by Ginnah Howard  /  Filed under Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more


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