Intervene

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




Kind Love vs. Tough Love – What’s A Parent To Do? A Q&A with Maia Szalavitz, Part I
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


Maia Szalavitz is an award-winning journalist who covers the addiction field, health, science and public policy. She is co-author (with leading child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD) of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential — and Endangered, (Morrow, 2010) and the author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006).

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Szalavitz about her work. Following is the first in a four-part series. Here, Ms. Szalavitz shares her insights into how parents can better deal with their teens’ and young adults’ drug and alcohol abuse problems.

***

JERRY OTERO: In your latest book, Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered ,you explore empathy’s startling importance in human evolution and its significance for our children and our society. Why is empathy essential, and how can parents help to instill it in their children? Are there any lessons here to learn for parents who are struggling to make sense of their teenagers and young adult children’s drug abuse issues?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Empathy is critical for having a happy, healthy life because it affects all of our relationships and our health — physical and mental — to an enormous degree is determined by our ability to form strong bonds with others.  The best way to teach empathy is to behave kindly:  as one expert put it, empathy can’t be taught, but it can be caught.  However, kids need to learn to understand their own feelings well before they can understand those of others:  good ways of helping them learn this are reading to them and asking them explicit questions about their own and other people’s thoughts and feelings in various situations.

Empathy is also important for preventing and treating drug problems.  In terms of prevention, schools with warm atmospheres where kids feel part of a community have less drug use and less bullying, for one.

Also, part of the reason I got interested in the subject was that I saw how unkind so many counselors and treatment programs were to people with addictions.  And there are all kinds of people out there advocating that being cruel is the only way to help.  The data just doesn’t support that — empathetic treatment is the most effective.  And harsh treatment drives people away from seeking help.

JERRY OTERO:  “Kind Love” vs. “Tough Love”, what’s a parent to do about a teenager’s or young adult’s substance use?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: There is no evidence that “tough love” does anything useful.  Of course, you shouldn’t buy drugs for your children or do things that will help them use easily and if they are a danger to you or your other children, you may have to have them live elsewhere — but don’t put a child on the street with the aim of helping him stop using.  It might do that — but it also might make a temporary problem into a permanent one by entrenching the street lifestyle and putting the child at greater risk for overdose, suicide and disease.  If you need to cut a child out of your life, in other words, do it to protect yourself or others, not to help them.  There’s no evidence that it does help and all of the evidence on treatment and intervention shows that kind, supportive, gradual approaches are more effective than abrupt, harsh, confrontational ones.

This goes back to empathy:  if you want to help your child quit, you need to understand why they use and help them find other ways of getting those needs met.  If the child believes you are on their side and will not place them in an awful place they can’t escape and want them to feel good, not control them, you will be much more successful in motivating change.  It’s a lot easier for a kid to say yes to treatment if he knows his parents will back him up if it’s not right for him; a trial of antidepressants is much more easily done if the teen sees this as a way for her to feel better, not a way for her to be made compliant.

Check back next week for Part 2 of our Q&A, “Finding Treatment for Your Teen.”

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com and writes about addiction-related issues for The Fix.com . Find her on Twitter at @maiasz.  In addition to the books mentioned above, Ms. Szalavitz previously co-authored The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing (Basic, 2007), and Recovery Options: The Complete Guide: How You and Your Loved Ones Can Understand and Treat Alcohol and Other Drug Problems (John S. Wiley, 2000).

Posted by Jerry  /  Filed under Books about addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Drugs, getting help, parenting, Substance Abuse, tough love, Writing About Addiction  /  Comments: more



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 Drugfree.org 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 TimeToGetHelp.drugfree.org.

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



Detaching With Love: How I Learned to Separate My Son and His Addiction
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

My son Alex shoplifted to support his addiction. Needless to say he got caught several times. The first few times, when he was a minor, we’d get a call to come pick him up, and he’d get a ticket, and we’d pay a big fine and take him to court services for his probation and take him to a psychologist. This went on for a couple years.

When he turned 18, he was no longer a minor, and with his record they’d take him to jail. He’d make that phone call from jail, “Please come and bail me out. I’m never going to do this again.” Off we’d go. After a while, this was getting expensive. And my wife Darlene and I were not learning our lesson—and, by the way, neither was our son. We were doing the same thing over and over, and our son was doing the same thing over and over. Nothing was changing. He’d make the same promises, we’d take the same action, and we couldn’t understand why he kept using!

This is where the idea of “detaching” and setting boundaries started with us. We decided we weren’t going to pay bail next time.

But it wasn’t easy. As a mom and dad it is very hard to think of your child sitting in jail. In Jackson County, MO, jail he witnessed a person getting stabbed. The food is universally bad at jails, and without money on your books, you can’t even get a toothbrush to brush your teeth. He had food stolen from him and at times had to fight to keep it. He spent two days in solitary confinement for defending himself against an inmate who attacked him. Some jails put the mentally ill in with criminals such as rapists and murderers, and then put them all in together with the drug addicts. It makes no sense to me.

It’s hard to think of yourself as a loving parent when you know that for just a few hundred dollars you could get your child out of those situations. You wonder: if I don’t pay the bail, am I really a loving parent? But eventually, the day comes when you don’t pay. We once let our son sit in the “Johnson County, KS, Resort” for 11 days because we wouldn’t post a $50 bond. Sounds mean doesn’t it?

This is about detaching with love and not enabling. Your boundaries must match your values. It works for us this way. Overriding all is the value that we love our son. When you sit down to think about and discuss boundaries, this goes at the top of the page. Every single boundary is tested against that value.

Another value we hold close and taught our kids is that stealing is wrong. Stealing carries consequences, and it should. Bailing him out removes or minimizes the consequences. Contrary to our values, we were bailing him out. We hated what he was exposed to in jail; however, we had established a pattern: he got caught, he called, we jumped with cash in hand.

Darlene and I sat down and determined where we would go and where we would no longer go. This began to help us establish our boundaries. You can’t cover all of the possible situations; you just cover what you can and know that once you learn how to judge behaviors and fight the instinct to enable by rescuing, the exercise becomes easier and more natural.

Once boundaries are determined, you must sit down with your child, an addict that may or may not be high at the time, and explain where you will no longer go with him. In fact you can even start each sentence with, “Because we love you…” and then, for instance, “we can no longer bail you out of jail. All of your life we taught you that stealing was wrong and you know that in your heart, so we cannot support your actions by bailing you out of jail when you do something you have been taught all your life is wrong. I hope you understand this and can accept our decision.”

For each boundary we had discussed, the conversation went like that. Our son hated it when we turned off the TV and asked him to sit down at the table to talk. This satisfied our need to tell him of our expectations, and it told him what to expect from us. Yes, he still called, begged, pleaded and cried from jail, but what we had been doing in the past didn’t work and was bad for us and him. We had to change the rules, but that didn’t mean we loved him less. It meant we loved him more because it hurt us terribly to let him sit in jail.

Even with his begging and pleading we were still able to sleep at night and have a moment of down time. He was in jail and we knew jail was safer than being on the street scoring and shooting more heroin. We then began to see jail as “protective custody.”

We detached from Alex’s crimes and actions; we did not detach from him. We still loved him, took some of the $10-for-10-minute collect calls from jail. On those calls we always ended by saying that we loved him and asking him to please help himself. We were doing all we could and all we knew to do. Detach from the actions, crimes, drug use, lying and every other terrible thing a drug addict does to himself and others. Love and support the person inside, not the addiction controlling the life.

Today, Alex is two-and-a-half years sober.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Codependency, Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family members, parenting, Patience, Substance Abuse, tough love, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more



The Language of Drug Addiction is Often Negative
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Tough LoveThe language of drug addiction is laced with many terms that seem to be designed to scare everyone. Many words and descriptors of addiction make me cringe “Hitting rock bottom,” is a term I have written about before. Another term that I have recently been exploring and considering is “Tough Love.”

Tough Love is harsh. For a parent to do what is necessary isn’t “tough love” it is REAL LOVE. Real love is letting your child sit in jail (protective custody) when for only a few dollars you could get him out and spare him from the confines of jail. (Only to find them using again within two hours.) Real love is telling your child he cannot live in your home as he continue to use drugs. Real love is when you see your addict hungry, dirty and homeless, and you buy him a meal, give him information of people who can help and encourage him to seek help and not offering to “fix it” for him. Real love is selfishly taking the time to work on yourself so that when your addict has a “profound experience” you ARE able to help in the right way instead of just falling back on old habits of enabling.

Addiction is a disease. When we see a parent sitting bedside of a child with cancer taking chemotherapy, holding his hand, wiping his head, combing his hair as is falls out, holding the pan as he gets sick, we admire that parent and comment how much they must love their child to be by his side. That parent doesn’t love their child any more than you or I. That parent is only doing what they can and must to help their child get better; just like we are doing when we practice tough love real love.

Real Love is why you are here reading these essays written by parents and professionals who have walked this path before you.

Tough love is easy, throw them out and leave them to the world.

What words in the world of addiction make you angry? Share with us below.

Related Links
Moving Away From Enabling
How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success
Losing Your Mind Doesn’t Help Anyone

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, parenting, Taking Care of Yourself, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more



Teens Only Listen to One Person…Themselves: How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success
Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Beautiful Teen Girl In Hospital Gown Crying

This guest post is by Dr. Michael Pantalon, author of “Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast” (Little, Brown and Company).

Imagine you are in the Emergency Department (ED) with your 16-year-old daughter who was brought in for her second episode of alcohol poisoning in six months.  The doctor is about to discharge her because, medically, she’s fine, but you know she’s going to go right back to heavy drinking, if you don’t do something.  You and your husband feel you’ve tried everything to help your daughter, but you also believe that there has to be some way to take advantage of this dire emergency to motivate her to get into treatment and to stop drinking.

I’ve seen hundreds of families in this very situation and their dilemma is always the same: they all want to influence their child to get on a better path, but they don’t know that there is a quick, easy and scientifically-proven way of getting the job done.  The approach I’m referring to is called “Instant Influence.”  It’s based on Motivational Interviewing, which in its briefest form, has been shown to reduce substance use among adolescents and young adults seen in the ED, as well as, my 20 years of experience motivating some of the most resistant to change substance abusing children and adults in a wide variety of settings.

People tend to only listen to one person — themselves.  And, as a result, they’re only influenced by one person …again — themselves.  So, as frustrating as this may be for a parent who would like to sternly say, “You have to stop!” and to have that be enough, the real trick to motivating someone is to get them to convince themselves to make a change for their own good reasons.

But how do you do this?  How might the mom in the example above motivate her daughter to finally accept treatment for her drinking problem?

The two most important things to do are:

1)    STOP trying to motivate your child by telling her about your feelings, thoughts or reasons for change, such as, “You’re worrying me to death!” “I think you HAVE to go to rehab right from the hospital” or “The best reason for you to stop drinking is for your health.”

2)    START asking your child questions that are specially-designed to evoke her own good reasons for change.

To help you remember what things you should vs. should NOT say, I’ve devised two simple lists for parents to follow:

DON’T…

Express your anger. Of course, as a parent, you are feeling angry, but expressing it doesn’t motivate your daughter.  Your anger is very likely legitimate, but if we stick to the idea that kids change when they hear themselves argue in favor of the change, yelling will NOT evoke such reasons – it may even make it harder for her to come up with good reasons to change.

Blame. It’s not a time to figure out who’s responsible for allowing the situation to get so bad, but instead, to garner some motivation to move forward with a better plan.

Confront her with admonitions to stop. Of course she knows you want her to stop drinking!  She doesn’t need to hear that, nor will it be motivating.  I know it feels almost irresponsible NOT to say that she HAS to stop drinking, but because of “reverse psychology,” it could be demotivating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Michael Pantalon, PhD  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, getting help, Motivational Interviewing, tough love, Treatment  /  Comments: more



Tough Love: A Valentine’s Day Message for Those Who Love Someone with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Looking for love in all the wrong places
Love at first sight
Love is blind
Love means never having to say you’re sorry

These are just a few of the themes that come to mind as I contemplate Valentine’s Day.  It occurs to me that I could tell my life story (both before and after recovery) using just the right combination of famous love quotes and song lyrics!

I was looking for love in all the wrong places when I first tried drugs.  I just didn’t know it at the time.  Growing up in an alcoholic home was traumatic.  I was frightened most of the time and very lonely.  Drugs filled the emptiness inside and made my fear go away.

It was love at first sight for me when it came to drugs.  Before long, nothing else mattered.  My family, friends, school and job – all took a back seat to

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Posted by Becky Vance  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, Dealing with an Addicted Child  /  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






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