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Teen Recovery from Substance Abuse

More than 80% of youth who have completed a chemical dependency treatment program are unable to maintain sobriety after returning to their home, school, and old peer group. (Source: SAMSHA)

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  It’s like a slow death, not just for the teen, but for the entire family.  And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.   That’s why it’s far better for parents to test for and catch substance abuse early, before it gets a foothold.

Sadly, more than a million teenagers are admitted every year to drug or alcohol abuse treatment programs.  These adolescents come through a 30-, 60-, or 90-day treatment program, only to find it impossible to maintain their sobriety, because their peers and influences back home haven’t changed.  Without ongoing help, they return to drinking or drugs most of the time.

Heartlight is often enlisted by the parents of teens whose substance abuse has become an endless cycle, or when the teen has been using drugs to cover up other issues in their life.  While not a chemical dependency treatment program, Heartlight is a very important “next step” after such treatment, to help solidify recovery. It helps a teen deal with the issues that led them to substance abuse in the first place, and teaches them to lead a more positive, drug-free lifestyle.  It also provides a longer buffer of time away from the teen’s peers.

But the teen eventually needs to return home.  Once there, they will face the same negative influences that got them into substance abuse in the first place.  So, if they’ve had serious addictions, they’ll need ongoing support and counsel to keep them on track and sober, sometimes lasting months or years.  Don’t ever think that a treatment program or rehab is a “cure.” It’s just a fresh start down the road to recovery.

To aid in recovery, there are a number of public school districts across the country offering programs specifically designed to provide a sober environment for teens. Commonly referred to as recovery high schools, sober high schools, or rehab high schools, they feature a high school curriculum along with recovery support services and a typical 12-Step model of recovery.

A typical sober school program provides the following support:

  1. They address the risk for relapse by enforcing a strict no-drug-use policy, and expect recovery and sobriety as a social norm for students in their program. No exceptions.  A code of discipline and accountability involves both the student and parents.
  1. Specially trained, caring personnel pursue a student’s complete success, both in academics and in life. This may include a full or part-time licensed counselor, or a relationship with an outside agency acting as a consultant, in the event of a student crisis or relapse.
  1. They provide positive academic and recreational activities, and community exposure within a protected environment.
  1. They operate at the individual, peer group, and social network level, and not just within the bounds of the school setting, to protect the teen from relapse.
  1.  They assess work readiness, job skills, and sometimes provide limited vocational training.
  1. They focus on the positive steps a teen has made in his life, and build on them, rather than focusing on a teen’s past failures, or what he’s done wrong.

Sending a teen directly home to their old environment from drug treatment sometimes results in an endless cycle of relapse-treatment-relapse.  A therapeutic program like Heartlight and ongoing counseling or a sober school program when he or she returns home can be a powerful mix to both build the teen’s desire to change and to maintain sobriety.   Your teen doesn’t have to go through “treatment” to be a part of this alternative environment. It might be a good thing to look into such a program, should your child need an environment that is working for them and not against them.  Check with your local school district to see if there is a sober school program near you.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Signs of Suicide in Your Teen, Part 1

Watch any episode of a classic family TV shows from the 50s—Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or The Donna Reed show—and there’s one thing you will not hear teens Wally, Bud, Jeff or Mary talking about: suicide.

Fast forward to 2016 and today, most teens not only talk about suicide—they can tell you exactly how they would do it. Thanks to Google, they have plenty of tutorials on how to take their own life. There are even websites that put forth a suicide or “self-euthanasia” worldview. One site even encourages people to “do their part”—complete with instructions—in reducing the world’s population.

It gets even more disturbing. Teens that are considering suicide are often encouraged by their peers to go beyond the contemplation stage and “just do it.” And “doing it” they are. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death in the 15- to 24-year-old age range. It’s more common among boys. Male adolescents commit suicide five times more than females, though females are three times more likely to attempt suicide.

Gone Too Soon

For Gerard Long, the president of the ministry, Alpha USA, this statistic became highly personal when his 17-year-old son, Alex, hanged himself on a beach after being given one dose of a recreational drug. Like most parents of teen suicide victims, Gerard and his wife, Jeannie, didn’t see it coming. Up until a week before his death, Alex had been a good student, an outstanding athlete and a seemingly happy teen. But it’s what his parents didn’t know that would come back to haunt them. He shared his story when I interviewed him sometime after.

The day that Alex killed himself, he was home all day with his mom, who stayed close by his side—monitoring him. The drug his “friend” had given him had a particular insidious effect on their sensitive son. His rational thinking was skewed and his emotional equilibrium was clearly off kilter. After Alex had confessed to his parents about his foolish mistake, they kept a watchful eye on him. On Gerard’s part, he had prayed with his son for an hour that morning before he left for work. That night, when his father returned home, Alex greeted his father warmly, even quoting Psalm 103:1-5—a psalm he had memorized.

So to his parents, Alex seemed to be on the mend. Still, when Alex asked his mom if he could “go for a ride in the car” she said, “No.” Given his still questionable mental state, Jeannie didn’t think it was safe. But Alex snuck out anyway. When the police finally found his body hours later, Jeannie became hysterical with grief. It took her two years to stop blaming God, and her husband, for her son’s death.

When I asked Gerard during that first interview, what he would have done differently to try and prevent what happened, he said: “I would learn as much as could about signs of suicide and I would be more direct and decisive when I saw some of those troubling signs.”

In Gerard Long’s case, his son didn’t suffer from depression—he just happened to have had a very bad reaction to a street drug. One dose was enough to send him into a depressed, suicidal state. For most teens, it takes more than one dose of a drug to send them into a downward spiral. It’s usually a cumulative effect. Studies show that at least 90 percent of teens who kill themselves have some type of chronic mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or a behavior problem.

So, what are the signs of possible suicide in your teen and what can be done about it? It’s a good question—and an important one. Not taking the time to study these signs could be deadly. As Gerard says, “Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you… it can happen to anyone.”

DANGER SIGNS IN YOUR TEEN

  • Withdrawal from social activities, as well as friends and family.
  • Giving possessions away
  • Increased sadness and hopelessness
  • Obsession about death, including talking about it. For example, after someone dies, a teen might talk about who he would like to come to his memorial service if he ever passed away. He may also watch films or listen to music that is centered on death.
  • Engagement in risk-taking behaviors—what might be called a “death wish”
  • Bullied at school
  • Changes in eating or sleeping behavior—especially eating less and sleeping more
  • A lack of concentration—unable to focus

If your child is manifesting several of these signs, or he begins to actually threaten suicide, then it’s time to ramp up the prevention strategy. He will need to be constantly monitored. Hide all prescription drugs and eliminate any access to guns. Take all suicide threats seriously—it’s your teen’s cry for help and you need to heed it. At Heartlight, if a teen says, “I want to die” then we take him to the hospital for observation.

If your teen is chronically depressed and it’s serious enough where it’s causing suicidal behaviors to manifest, then consider a short-term solution, like anti-depressants. Sometimes this regime is necessary if there’s a chemical imbalance. Still, it’s a decision that you need to make wisely and prayerfully as some anti-depressants can be worse than the condition they’re supposed to cure. Do the research. Even “safe” drugs can be toxic. It all depends on the particular chemical make up of your teen.

Whatever extra measures you need to take to keep your teen safe, be encouraged— teen depression is not a life sentence. According to a 2014 study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, around half of teens who experience brief episodes of depression or anxiety do not go on to have a mental illness in adulthood.

You can increase those odds with good parenting, including lots of love, prayer and vigilance. As Gerard Long said, “Be direct and decisive.” This means knowing what your teen is doing at all times. Don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure (“bad company corrupts good character”) or other external influential factors like the Internet and TV. Do these things, and chances are good that you’ll be helping your teen over a temporary “hump” in his volatile teenage life—after which you can both breathe a huge collective sigh of relief.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 

 


Intervention and Recovery

Susanna came from a great home, with conservative Christian parents. She grew up attending church with her family, playing sports in a private school and participating in her church youth group. But by the time she was 17, she had become a cynical, street-savvy teenager. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol had spiraled into a dangerous lifestyle that included selling illicit drugs and abusing alcohol.

A photo of Susanna before coming to Heartlight reveals her sitting among stacks of cash from selling drugs, and holding an automatic weapon.  Amazingly, she led this secret life while living at home and under the care of two concerned but unknowing parents.

Susanna’s parents never touched alcohol, and didn’t allow it into their home. Their extended family tree suffered with those who were addicted to alcohol.  But by the time they figured out there was a secret problem with Susanna, she was already using Meth at the rate of $500 a day, and what’s worse, she was influencing her younger sibling to experiment with drugs.

That’s when her parents intervened, offering care and recovery at Heartlight as her only option.  Otherwise, she would be forced to leave home.  It was obviously hard for loving parents to consider kicking their daughter out, but they also had a younger child to protect from Susanna’s bad influence.  In addition, they told her that returning home before graduating the Heartlight program would not be an option.  This parental hard line helped Susanna come to a new understanding of herself and her problem. She agreed to accept their offer to get the help she needed.

Susanna came to live at Heartlight to receive regular counseling and mentoring to complete her recovery. She was able to make a break from the drug influences and her peers back in her hometown. Today, after nearly a year in our program, she is clean from drugs and has a new perspective on life.  She’s blossomed into a beautiful and confident young lady who is looking forward to graduation and planning to go to college.

Sometimes the only way that a troubled teen will face the depths of their misbehavior is for a parent to hand the problem and its consequences back to their teen. Supplying an ultimatum along with a solid plan for recovery may help a child to make a turn in the right direction. It’s up to parents to draw the hard line – especially when their teen is abusing drugs, is drug dependent or bordering on addiction.

Does your teenager need to hear, “Honey, I love you, that will never change; but we’re not going to live like this anymore?” If so, don’t wait too long to intervene, and arm yourself with the right kind of help when you do.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.