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How to Prevent Addiction in Teenagers [Part 1 of a 2 part blog series]

This is the first part of a two-part blog on how to raise healthy, responsible and sober kids in a society where addiction is so common and overdose deaths are increasing at an alarming rate.

Our office specializes in naltrexone pellet insertions for the treatment of opioid use disorder and The Sinclair Method for the treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder.  Over the last 8 years working with patients as an addiction specialist, we are saddened by the fact that overdose deaths in Arizona from opioids have increased exponentially.  Every 2.5 weeks in the US, more people die from overdose deaths than were killed in the Twin Tower attack on 9/11.  Although, our office is world renowned for our unique approach and our industry leading success rate in treating addiction, the best cure we have for addiction is PREVENTION.

About 50% of our clinic appointments involve helping patients with opiate and alcohol use disorders.  One common question we’ve been asked by parents of addicted loved ones is “What could I have done to prevent my child (or their younger sibling) from becoming addicted in the first place?”  Our answer is this:  You need to change your parenting style from maintaining total control to one of gradually giving up control until your child is a self-reliant adult. 

Your adolescent kids need to know that it is normal to go through times when they’ll feel anxious, stressed, depressed, confused, and/or isolated.  This is part of the normal adolescence.  Kids struggling with these issues need to know most people struggle during adolescence and they are not alone in experiencing these challenges.  Kids also need an adult they can talk to about their emotional challenges.   However, the traditional parenting model doesn’t allow a kid to feel comfortable talking with their parents about their problems. 

To promote more effective communications with their kids, parents must change the way they interact with their adolescent child.  This is especially true for the intelligent, ultra-aware and/or sensitive child who is more apt to have an increased level of anxiety when compared with those less sensitive friends in their peer group.

Most parents have an extremely hard time adjusting their parenting style when their son or daughter goes through adolescence.  Obviously, all parents are concerned with the risks of drugs, alcohol, etc.  Most feel the best way to deal with these risks is to place extremely tight restrictions on all their child’s behaviors and especially their experimentation with mind altering substances. 

Mike Speakman, a licensed substance abuse counselor and my mentor in this area suggests, “it is virtually impossible to successfully "control" the behavior of an adolescent.  If they are drug curious or subject to peer pressure, most kids will predictably experiment with drugs.  Putting extreme restrictions and punishments will not prevent their experimentation.  They will just do it in secret and experience a high level of anxiety that they’ll get caught”    

“Just Say No” is a cliché that “Just Hasn’t Worked” and repeating this advice will fall on deaf ears or get one of those teenage “eye rolls” that tells parents our kids are not listening or that the parent just doesn’t understand what the child is experiencing.

Adjusting the parent/child relationship is vital in this situation.   The best parenting style provides a gradual and age appropriate increase in the autonomy and self-reliance of the child.  If we want our kids to mature and become independent adults, we must allow our kids to make more decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions (and the inevitable mistakes made in the learning process). 

When this parenting method is used, the parent is essentially telling the child, “I trust you.  You are capable of making your own decisions regarding your life.”  Initially, this may sound great to the child.  However, the parent must emphasize with the new freedoms and autonomy, the child will be held responsible for all of the consequences of their decisions.”   This “agreement” should include all aspects of the aspiring adult’s life including: schoolwork, money, driving, friends, birth control, household chores, and their highly probable experimentation with drugs and alcohol.   

Using this style of parenting will promote the child’s healthy emotional development towards adulthood.  The empowered adolescent will feel more confident and more personal responsibility as they become more independent.  This will naturally make them less apt to rebel against an overprotective and unreasonable helicopter or “hover-mother/father” that feels the best parenting style is to rule with an iron fist.

The benefits of this style will help lower the anxiety level of both the parent and the child.  Lowering the baseline anxiety level of an adolescent is incredibly important because it will decrease the perceived “benefits” of mind-altering substances.   

Please click on “How to Prevent Addiction in Teenagers”  Part 2  to learn how a lower baseline anxiety level will not only decrease the benefits your child receives when experimenting with drugs or alcohol, but will reduce the risk they may become dependent and potentially addicted to them. 

This information is based on many discussions with Mike Speakman (https://speakmancoaching.com/).  Mike is a life coach and the founder of Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (www.palgroup.org) and the author of “The Four Seasons of Recovery for Parents of Alcoholics and Addicts.”  Mike’s newest project is Raising Adolescents Drug Free.  This program will incorporate the ideas highlighted in this article and is a work in progress.  The goal of the program is to help guide our kids through the “Rites of Passage” known as adolescence and to help them avoid the dangerous and deadly addiction to opiates and fentanyl.  “Prevention is the Best Cure”

Author
Dr. William Nelson William Nelson, NMD, is a naturopathic medical doctor who brings years of medical expertise to his practice, Explore Health, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Nelson is heralded as the go-to physician for patients who feel they have exhausted their time and resources attempting to resolve complex health challenges. He is also respected internationally as a preeminent addiction medicine specialist and hosts ”Your Road to Personal Addiction Recovery,” which is one of the most-listened-to podcasts on the matter.

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