I once read that the national cost of addiction and all of its related effects is second only to the money we spend on national defense. With this in mind, Christian Thurstone and Christine Tatum’s new book, Clearing the Haze: Helping Families Face Teen Addiction, is both timely and relevant.
The book zooms in on the many dynamics that can either contribute to a teen’s substance abuse problem or help them recover from it. And as a psychotherapist who has spent years working in the field of addiction, I found it to be a refreshing read. Packed with interviews from those who have recovered from teen addiction as well as from treatment providers who specialize in it, the book addresses both the larger, more troubling questions about addiction — such as how to know if your child is using — as well as the often vague and equivocal subject of just what to say to your teen about drugs.
Beginning with a look at why teen substance abuse is such a big deal, Thurstone and Tatum draw on biological science to help us understand how the premature reward circuit in a teen’s brain, coupled with the delayed development of the prefrontal cortex, sets up an adolescent to respond favorably to the impulse gratification drugs offer.
The authors point to recent data, writing that “the lifetime odds of alcohol dependence decrease by 14 percent for each year the onset of alcohol use is delayed.” Likewise, when people start to have a dependence in their younger years, it’s serious.
Thurstone and Tatum then further explore the effects of a variety of drugs on adolescents. Among these effects, they suggest, are academic problems, such as the fact that youth who use marijuana by the age of fifteen are four times less likely to complete high school.
Once we understand the enormity of the problem, Thurstone and Tatum then present the tools parents need to go about addressing it. Among them: the appropriate amount of vigilance.
Here, the authors encourage parents to be aware of a teen’s access to substances, the social acceptance that they themselves as parents have of substance use, and the perceived risk of harm they associate with using drugs. Parents should “be inquisitive and not accusatory,” Thurstone and Tatum write. They should also act proactively with their teen to discuss difficult situations ahead of time. And when it comes to the dicey subject of whether or not to drug test your own kids, the authors give us pros and cons, ultimately reminding parents that they “will need to decide what works best for their family.”
Should a drug test come back positive, Thurstone and Tatum address how a parent should handle it. Attacking the common errors parents make in communicating, such as lecturing, storytelling, and placating, the authors present us with the three C’s of effective communication about drug use. That is, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. With that in mind, Thurstone and Tatum explain the nuts and bolts of “Attachment Communication Training,” which includes first establishing ground rules for communication, understanding the difference between effective and destructive communication, practicing listening skills, and removing the common blocks to communication.
When it comes to treatment, the authors offer sound advice about what to look for in treatment providers, what to expect during treatment, and how to handle family sessions. And they walk parents through the spectrum of mild to much larger problems with drug use, as well as how to differentiate between them. The book draws on the National Institutes of Drug Abuse guidelines to help parents understand the five key questions to ask a treatment provider. For instance, is the duration of treatment sufficient?
Most addicted people, Thurstone and Tatum write, “need at least three months in treatment to really reduce or stop their drug use.” And, they write, longer treatment times are associated with better outcomes. Therefore, one of the more important skills a parent can have is patience.
Still, according to the authors, a parent should also adopt an authoritative stance, though avoid “falling into the traps of being too authoritarian, passive or neglectful.” Parents should be realistic, too. They should, according to the authors, seek to maintain “behavioral control, and not psychological control,” set realistic goals for treatment, be healthy role models, communicate clear expectations about substance use, and maintain appropriate self-care and boundaries.
Substance abuse is a chronic condition, Thurstone and Tatum remind us: one for which parents should have a “recovery protection plan,” and one that requires that parents have appropriate self-care themselves.
Clearing the Haze: Helping Families Face Teen Addiction
Rowman & Littlefield, July 2015
Hardcover, 182 pages