Breaking the Addiction Cycle

Pills on abstract colored background.

Familiar Story

Our office recently received a call from a parent who was concerned  her daughter was a drug addict.  It started with catching her coming home drunk or stoned when she was 13 and still in junior high.  Then it escalated to finding  marijuana, ectasy, and prescription pills in her room that she explained away by saying that the drugs belonged to her boyfriend.  The parent has received numerous calls from school that her daughter is habitually absent and is failing several classes.  Her behavior is becoming increasingly erratic and her moods are volatile and unpredictable.  She has been hanging around with a very negative peer group and this influence shows in her toxic attitude toward life.  The parent is torn between wanting to help the daughter she loves but also wanting to throw out the addict that she has come to hate.

This is a common story that is acted out to its tragic denouement time and time again.  Substance abuse is a trap that catches many young people, even sometimes people you would not expect.  Addiction is one of the most serious problems confronting young people today.  If the young person is not equipped to deal with this issue effectively it can set him/her up for life-long struggle and suffering.

What are we dealing with?

Increasingly, experts in the field of addiction have come to understand addiction as a behavioral problem instead of a disease.  This understanding is useful as it is personally empowering.  It is now believed that addictive behavior is conditioned and that it is a learned, dysfunctional coping mechanism for dealing with life’s problems through escape and avoidance.  The development of the addictive personality in a young person occurs when they opt for the quick-fix approach to dealing with negative moods or stress.  Eventually this patterned, maladaptive response becomes the default way to address life’s frustrations as opposed to learning more effective coping mechanisms.

Left unchecked the addictive personality can wreak havoc in one’s life by destroying relationships and wasting opportunities in favor of satisfying the addict’s hunger for his behavioral fix or mood changer, whatever it may be.  Due to the way in which the addict mentality lays claim to the young person’s mind and the role that denial and resistance play in protecting this maladaptive mindset, breaking the addictive cycle often requires formal intervention and serious life changes.

Just as addictive behavior is initially learned and conditioned, the best means of solving the addictive riddle is to break the pattern of addiction, formally recondition the young person’s behavior, and teach him/her healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with problems and essential life skills to build self-esteem.  Experience has shown that one of the more successful ways to shock the young person struggling with addiction out of the haze they are living in is by formally invoking the juvenile justice system.  This strategy is especially useful when the person is under 18 and any records of juvenile proceedings can be sealed. It is also important to note that the juvenile justice system is sympathetic and accommodating to young people who are sincere in wanting to recover from addiction and rebuild their lives.

What Can Parents Do?

The first step in conquering this problem is to pick up the phone and make an appointment.  One of our attorneys can meet with you and your child, gauge the extent of their problem, and explain to them the dangerous course they are choosing.  More importantly, we can lay down the law, so to speak, and help you establish a Contract for Responsible Living with your child.  This contract entails 100% sobriety, 100% accountability, honest effort in school, and contribution around the house in exchange for support, education, and the opportunity to do something meaningful with one’s life.  The minor is told there will be no cover-up.  The parent will seek police assistance if they violate the law.  It reconditions the young person from a mentality of selfish opportunism to a more mature mindset where the importance of contributing to one’s family is established as a core principle.  Unfortunately, it is likely that these rules will be flaunted if the young person is truly mired in addiction.  The addictive personality does not give in to responsible living without a fight, as this threatens the addictive behavior that the young person has come to depend on as the magical mood changer.

This is where we can  help with formally invoking the juvenile justice system if necessary.  This may be a difficult decision, but the police need to be contacted if your child is continuing to use drugs and alcohol, drive a car while intoxicated, steal, or engage in other manifestations of addictive and anti-social behavior.  The alternative is not acting and standing by while this cycle of negative behavior becomes more entrenched.  As the young person’s life spirals out of control, they run the risk of suffering serious criminal consequences and irreparable physical harm.  Consider felony drunk driving cases where there is an injury or death, drug overdose, felony assault inflicting serious injuries, or felony drug arrest when the child is 18 and past the age of majority, to name but a few of the countless, possible consequences of this lifestyle.

An arrest for drug or property crime related to addiction will often cause the young person to experience a combination of embarrassment, guilt, anger, and resentment.  These negative feelings need to be addressed so that they do not inspire a return to use.

The most essential thing in dealing with addiction is to act quickly, as one of the insidious consequences of addiction is that, in addition to destroying opportunities and removing sources of pleasure from one’s life, it also invariably steals time.  Especially important is acting before your child is of the age of majority so that the case can be handled in the juvenile system where records can be sealed upon successful completion of probation.

What happens inJuvenile Court?

Formal disposition of the charges will result in court supervised probation.  This is where the child’s behavior can be successfully re-conditioned.  Conditions of probation in drug cases typically entail random drug and alcohol testing, substance abuse education classes and meetings, curfew, and often driver’s license restriction.  These conditions need to be strictly complied with in order to avoid more serious consequences such as incarceration and drug court, which can result from a violation of the terms of probation.  It is important to remember that records are sealed upon successful completion of probation.

It is also imperative to address the resentment, anger, and other negative feelings that the young person may be experiencing at this point.  Psychotherapy tailored to addiction is often helpful, as well as encouraging the young person to take a proactive approach toward their recovery and read up on addiction literature.  Often the child will feel they are being singled out and penalized for doing what everyone else is doing.  The essential objective is to show them the destructive life course that addiction is and that it does not lead to happiness, wisdom, or fulfillment.  This is where attending substance abuse recovery meetings can be helpful.  Listening to the stories of people who have had their lives wasted by addiction can really dispel the romance of that lifestyle, even though it may have seemed so ‘cool’ at one time to your child.

This is the crucial stage of recovery where through compliance with the terms of their probation and dedication to their own recovery they can begin to develop a new identity and personality away from drugs and alcohol.  Instead of passively interacting with the world and seeking pleasure through these channels, they can begin to find pleasure in hard work and learning to face life’s challenges and their own shortcomings.  The young person learns to approach life seriously and not to take things for granted that he or she once did.  It is a hard road to travel but it is the road out of addiction and the way to escape a miserable future and the inevitable pain of having to come to terms with a wasted life.

We have found that this spartan, tough-love, direct approach to dealing with addiction has had better results than softer approaches or the unfortunate wishful thinking that the problem will somehow go away on its own.  Some parents opt for expensive residential rehab facilities, which in some cases works, but just as often the parents are out of pocket for months of treatment and their kid is back using with the same crowd after leaving the program.  The bottom line is not to assume that spending a lot of money is necessarily the answer to the problem.

The main thing to remember is that effectively dealing with addiction problems requires fast action and unwavering commitment to a plan.  Our experience has been that formal intervention has consistently shown some of the best results.  Please feel free to call us for a consultation if you or your child is struggling with substance abuse problems or if he/she is acting out in ways that are likely fueled by substance abuse.

This blog was written by David Kaufman an intern with our office awaiting his State Bar license.  Email us and tell us your comments.  If you would like us to do a blog on a particular subject, please let us know.  Share experiences you may have had that could be helpful to others.   Visit our educational videos on YouTube or at Juvenile Law Center McGlinn & McGlinn, Attorneys at Law.

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