Sunday, March 24, 2013

Empowerment 101

Last Friday night marked a milestone in our family's fight against drugs. It was significant on so many levels. I'm going to try to relate the power behind what happened.

I have to preface by saying our town is a beautiful place to live, and it is considered to be one of America's finest cities. People move here because our town is safe, secluded, and it's a perfect town to raise a family. The schools are good (if your kid is Type A. Mine are think-outside-the-box types, but that's another story). Our climate is gorgeous, and the town's atmosphere is charming and welcoming.

What no one likes to admit is that there is a serious drug and alcohol problem in our town that is impacting our youth, and especially our teens. Drug and alcohol usage in our town is 7% higher than the California State average. In the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey (information about this survey can be viewed here), 43% of 11th graders in the greater San Diego area had used alcohol or other drugs with some form of regularity within the past 30 days. In our town, 50% of 11th graders had regularly used within the past 30 days. Okay, that means that out of every FOUR TEENS, ages 16-17 in high school, TWO are using drugs and/or alcohol with some form of regularity.

In fact, I have a quote from a person who is an administrator within our school system who said, "On any given day, over two thirds of high school boys come to school high, or get high during the school day." Now that is downright frightening.

My ninth grader knows about addiction, he's seen what hell his older brother has gone through trying to fight back and regain his life against the powerful pull of drugs. So, last Friday night, my ninth grader asked to "hang out" with friends, including one boy we know to have been mixed up with drugs. I warned my son against this kid, and reminded him that his ability to retain his privileges, including trips to visit his older brother, rely solely on his ability to remain sober and drug free. He told me he could cope with this, and proudly reported that his friend had been drug free for 7 months. (Um, okay, I'll believe it when I see it, I thought, but I kept this to myself...) We devised a 9-1-1 text plan, where he could text me at any moment to ask for help, and I would be there in a flash-minute to help him out of any jam. All he'd need to do was "call".

And, guess what, he did!

His friend, so NOT sober, arrived with a group of older guys, already rowdy drunk, and toting the proverbial backpack filled with bottles of booze, and who knows what else. (So typical in our town. Maybe in your town too...) My son felt things were going down in a bad way, so he sent out the good ol' 9-1-1. And, even though my husband and I were celebrating his birthday, I responded to that text in a flash minute, and gave my son the support and rescue he needed in order to keep that beautiful state of sobriety. It worked like a charm.

Afterwards, we talked about the struggle his friend has in front of him. Certainly, at age 14, he has already opened the Pandoras Box of addiction. His brain, instead of growing and maturing like nature intends, is putting a powerful robot in charge called "Addiction" which is hijacking his brain's development in the name of drug abuse. The most significant struggle this kid has is the force to stop using when everything around him remains the same. Since the pull to fit in and self medicate is so powerful with teens in our town... that "50% of 11th graders" bell is ringing in my ear... I feel certain my son's friend is slated to fail without significant parental intervention, and as long as he remains connected to his current "friends," and of course, is allowed to "hang out" in our "charming", yet drug infested town...

*** 4/20/13 UPDATE: Within less than one month, the aforementioned "friend" is now in juvie.... Apparently, he totally gave up the illusion he was sober, and went full tilt back into drug use. He was caught trying to break into a locked car to get a drug accessory, and was caught by the police. Very sad, and a very real reminder of the trauma drugs cause...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Walking towards recovery

We visited our son last weekend, and he is doing amazingly well. He looks great, seems incredibly healthy, and we saw no sign of depression. He took it upon himself to have a tearful confession with us, and to profusely apologize for his past actions. His words brought our whole family to tears. He is not particularly happy in his current program, but is doing what we ask;  putting one foot in front of the other each day, taking one day at a time, doing what he can to make the best use of his time, and working his program. When you are a reluctant teen, this is asking a lot.

He has been in treatment for one year, one month and one week. (and 3 days, he reminds me)

Statically speaking, the best chance of long term recovery for both the addict and the heavy user is 365 continuous days of sobriety, and 12-18 months is optimal. The brain, especially in males, is not finished developing until the age of 26 (female brain approximately 18 years). If a young person begins using drugs or alcohol before the age of 15, they are at far greater risk for addiction.  It is especially important to note the mean age for experimenting with drug/alcohol usage today is age 13.  Here is the reason why that sucks...

Drug use at a young age actually rewires the young brain for addiction. The longer we can delay our teens from drug or alcohol use of any kind, the greater the chance for full, healthy brain development. The brain develops kind of like a computer, where one task is mastered, and then it goes on to the next task and begins to master that. When drugs and/or alcohol are introduced (and/or trauma, which, when experienced during this critical developmental period, can rewire the brain in the same way exposure by drugs and alcohol does), brain development, particularly in the pleasure centers can actually shut down, the brain will rewire itself to only want more of the substance that gives it immediate pleasure (drugs/alcohol), thereby preventing the brain to develop continuously and normally

You may think of someone you know who has perhaps abused drugs or alcohol for a long time? How they may sometimes seem ... um, "inappropriate". Maybe ... all the time-? Yep, that's what I'm talking about.

Pleasure centers in the brain, when governed by drugs, attach all ability to find pleasure to the drug use. Things that made our kids happy before drug use, such as enjoying time with family and friends, playing games, enjoying time at the beach, etc... all these things soon become secondary to drug usage. A brain on drugs lights up, and seemingly, all the troubles in the world are easily solved. Coming off the high means a return of troubling situations, and the brain demands more of the drug. A vicious cycle  ensues, and pleasure, initially long lasting under the effects of the drug, becomes more and more elusive as the brain cries out for more of the drug. The brain is effectively telling the body the only way to find pleasure is to use drugs.

Each month we travel to visit our son, he is new to us. I'd like to say that he's renewed to his former glory, but last year, along with every prior year in his life, he had seizures going off in his brain and he couldn't think clearly. His former glory was always murky, questionable, tenuous, though we knew deep down he is is capable, loving and kind. Drug use and abuse just worsened the murkiness to the level of being intolerable, both for him, and us. Now, the son we see before us is this amazing, knowing, truthful, perceptive kid. He stuns us with all that he is. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to bring him back from the brink of devastation. He has a life to live, and wants to move forward, living life on life's terms.

We are beyond thankful. We are beyond blessed that we have found 365 days where he could be removed from "life", allow his brain to heal, and introduce new ways for his brain to seek and find pleasure. God is good, so good...