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Drug Use Among Teenagers

The pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ are alternated for brevity.

When parents are struggling with their teen using drugs or alcohol, they may choose therapy as an option. After the initial relief, however, comes the surprise at the amount of work placed squarely on their shoulders.

When a therapist specially trained to work with teens who are using initially meets with parents, he has one goal in mind: learn the family rules. This may take several sessions, but it is vital for the therapist to learn what is permitted in the home (respect, compensation for chores, doors locked/unlocked) and what is not permitted (eye-rolling, substance use, failing grades). If the therapist is confused by the rules, it is likely the teen is also.

Next the therapist will ask the parents to identify and prioritize two or three behaviors they wish to change. Of course using drugs or alcohol is the primary symptom, but typically grades, curfew, and respectful behaviors are identified as well. The list is kept short to maximize effort and success.

Finally, the therapist will need to know how the parents plan to ‘parent’ the identified behaviors (design and enforce consequences). This is important because not only must parents have a plan for the other six days their child is not in therapy, their influence must increase while the therapist’s decreases. Failure to do this could lead to the therapist becoming the ‘influential figure’ in the family (“didn’t the therapist tell you drinking was wrong?”) and this will lead to therapy becoming the consequence rather than the place for help and healing.

Leaving a session with a therapist trained to help teens who are using may leave parents confused. The hard work will pay off, though, and parents will have tools to help them help their child be successful, and drug and alcohol free.

 

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