Teen Drug Usage and Rehab
May 19, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

From past addicts/addiction experience - At what point does a teen drug use go beyond teenage rebellion into a full blown addiction, and can anything be done if the teen doesn't want help, and not all parties are on board with consequences? Snowflake details inside.

Asking for a friend. My friend has a teenage son who is turning 17, is heavily smoking pot with evidence of other drug usage and most likely selling. It's every day, obvious usage, even when he has work, or other social obligations. He will end up leaving school, and come home at night completely baked. He has been reported as a runaway numerous times, has been cited numerous times for pot usage and runaways. Yet still continues to use, and has lost all motivation for doing anything after high school that requires a drug test. He was big into the military, but now decided that since he would need a drug test, he would rather community college. The only problem is he's also failing school. So if it was just pot, it most likely wouldn't be a big deal and cops never would have become involved. But there is strong evidence that he's selling when he's with the dad (parents are divorced 5+ years, coparenting is impossible), strong evidence of other drug usage (most likely pills), and anger issues towards the mom including death threats, threats of physical harm, verbal abuse, etc. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and has been treated for that but there wasn't a huge change in behavior.

The mom has tried to get the teen counseling but he was very resistant to it. Additionally, the dad was completely opposed to it and actively fueled resistance to it to the point that a judge stepped in and ordered him to stop it. So the mom was told by the counselor there wasn't much that could be done, since the teen didn't want help and wouldn't talk. This was after months of counseling. So now it comes to where she's at now, where the teen has threatened her, been cited numerous times by cops, and still doesn't care. The teen is really only held accountable at her house, as the dad is aware of the problems but is in denial about it. He's taken him for the driver license, bought a new car, pays for his cell phone, let's him do whatever and is overall a very Disneyland dad. To give an idea of his denial, 7 people filled out an ADHD assessment and his was the only one that didn't have the teen in the ADHD range. She has talked to numerous professionals, and everyone agrees that from what she's said, it appears he has a problem.

However, he refuses any more treatment or a chemical dependency eval. She has taken everything away from him, tried to talk to him about the issues, tries to know his friends, but it's pretty hard to be a parent when 4/7 days of the week, the teen gets away with whatever he wants. It's to the point that she's talking about the next extreme step, whatever that may be. Any type of boot camp, in patient treatment or anything else is impossible as legally, the dad has visitation on the weekends. So from talking w/ a lawyer, anything that interferes with this is illegal unless the dad signs off on it, which he has already said he wouldn't as he doesn't believe the teen has a problem.

So from past addictions, or those that have dealt with addiction, at what point does it go beyond normal teenage rebellion and usage into a full blown problem. Is there anything that can be done at this stage if the dad is still in denial about it, and will not hold any consequences for the teen? All other family members including grandparents, aunts/uncles have said that they would be on board with what needs to be done.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the mother can show evidence of her sons drug usage, and the father still refuses to help seek a solution, perhaps she could then use that evidence of inaction to revise the visitation allowances until the problem is solved.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, nobody can force this teen to be "better" or to submit to whatever treatment program is deemed best for him. He needs to make that choice himself and be in it wholeheartedly. But what motivation does he have to be sober right now? His parents hate each other, don't seem to care about him, keep calling the cops on him, think he's crazy (by sending him to therapy) and he's obviously being used as a passive aggressive battleground. I'd run away too! And even if you did get him committed into rehab, if he gets dropped back in the same environment you can be pretty sure that he'll relapse.

You say co-parenting is impossible but I'm willing to bet that external stability for this young man is impossible without co-parenting. The two parents need to agree on boundaries, responsibilities and requirements so long as they swap custody this frequently. They need to sit down and discuss what they need to do to get this young man back on stable footing so that he stands a chance at righting himself.

Encouraging stability is so incredibly #1 on the list that it seems almost silly to list a #2, but the next order of business would be to talk to the kid and ask him what's up, what he needs, etc. If he won't open up to parents, then maybe there's someone else he'll confide in (friends' parents maybe?). Again, this cannot be brute forced.
posted by buteo at 9:50 AM on May 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

A lot of this post is legal questions and we don't even know your state, you are in the US right? However, it sounds like in most jurisdictions you friend would have a solid case for obtaining full custody with the help of a competent lawyer.

I'd start there.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2012

But there is strong evidence that he's selling when he's with the dad

One thought is that if this is indeed the case, then she should call the cops on the dad, or at get a lawyer to least push for full custody. However, this will only worsen her relationship with her son, who nearing the age of majority, will then be able to do whatever he wants anyhow.

It's a pretty horrible situation--my heart goes out to your friend.
posted by smirkette at 10:15 AM on May 19, 2012

Hm. The way you describe the parents' relationship makes me uneasy, and honestly a little angry on behalf of the kid. The kid is the one who needs help, and it sounds like your friend's anxiety/fear might have her kind of paralyzed and locked into blaming the dad, rather than focusing (for real) on what would be best for the kid.

In saying that, I don't mean to be unkind. She is doing her best in a frightening situation, and I can totally understand it would be super-scary to see your kid playing around on the edge like this -- even more so, if you couldn't develop a shared strategy with the dad. I understand how that would make a person want to lash out. But this is about the kid -- not about your friend's feelings about her former husband. Please help your friend focus on the real issue.

This is just anecdotal, but my best friend in high school went through a pretty intense rebellious phase -- lots of drinking, drugs (including hard drugs), some police involvement, grades plummeted, future looked grim. It lasted about three years, during which her parents, and many of her friends, were befuddled, angry and scared. But she was fine in the end. She started college a little late, but got all caught up within a few years (marriage, career). No drinking or drugs today.

I am for sure not an expert. But I'd advise your friend three things:

1) Let go of her rage towards the father, for the kid's sake. I am betting some of what's happening here is related to that. "Dad is a no-good party animal, and so am I" ... "Mom is so goddamn serious -- Dad and I are just different from her" ... "What's the point of anything? Mom and Dad did everything they were supposed to do, and they still are totally fucked up,"..... The mom needs to not express anger towards the dad, to the kid. It's very damaging.

2) Set limits and enforce consequences with the kid. My friend cleaned up her act after her mother cut her off financially and refused to see her. That was the shock she needed. Personally I think a boot camp sounds horrific, but I do believe that calmly rationally setting consequences helps kids make good decisions. Indulging them really does not. In my friend's case her divorced parents handled her totally differently, which was fine. So your friend setting limits, as it sounds like she is doing? It *will* help, regardless of what the father does.

3) Kids form a lot of their self-image from how they are characterized by other people, and it affects how they behave. So, your friend shouldn't characterize the kid as "bad" -- particularly, she should avoid saying he's like his father, because the kid knows she hates the dad. Instead, she should describe the kid as she would like him to be -- such as, he has always been an excellent student, he is really smart and thoughtful about the world, he has always been independent and a free spirit, or whatever. She should try to make the narrative something like "great kid goes through horrible but not unusual rough patch" more than "bad ADHD kid continues to reveal his badness."

Oh yes! And, she should also definitely read The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Leadership Institute. It's about conflict resolution among individuals, and the central animating story is (IIRC) about divorced parents bringing their troubled kid to boot camp. Your friend will find it highly relevant and maybe revelatory.

Good luck. This is a hard problem: I wish everyone involved all the best.
posted by Susan PG at 10:50 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's still a minor, she does have some legal options in this regard, and she needs to get his school involved asap.

If he's unable to attend school or unable to pass classes because of his behavior, there's a chance that he could be put on an IEP that will recommend placement in a residential school for kids with similar issues.

I work at a school like this and you have no idea how many parents tearfully come to us because they were at their wit's end, and nobody had ever told them that schools like ours existed.
posted by kinetic at 11:06 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since he's still a minor, she can actually force him to seek treatment. However, she can't force him to get anything useful out of it. There are day programs for teens with substance abuse, which should get around the "weekend at Dad's" issue. It's also extremely possible in many jurisdictions for a parent to get a court order enabling them to send a minor to a residential program without the other parent's consent.

If she is contemplating a residential school, I would suggest you encourage her to first read Help At Any Cost (by MeFi's own Maias!) to get a sense of what red flags to look for. There are very good residential schools for teens with substance abuse out there; there are also horrible, exploitative institutions out there. It's important to do a bunch of research in advance to see which is going on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:20 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

she should call the cops on the dad

I would NOT recommend calling the cops on the Dad. This might spoil the relationship in unexpected ways. Also, the agenda of the cops is NOT the same as the agenda of the mom. The cops job is stop drug trafficking, not help the son or the the dad. Calling the cops on the Dad might end with her son in jail.

I did a lot of drugs in high school. I had friends who did A LOT of drugs. In my experience, there is no way to tell who will walk through the mine-field unscathed, and who will not. Sadly, the vast majority bear some scars, in some form or another, from teen drug use - but most seem to get past it. 20 years out from high school, most of my old druggie friends are doing ok, have no dependence issues, and are mostly ok.

But a handful just don't make it. One guy died of an OD, another died drunk driving, another has a crippling addiction problem. I don't know why some make it and some don't. But my point is, well more than half do seem to come out the other end still intact.
posted by Flood at 11:23 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a difficult situation, but calling the cops can blow up in your (and your child's) face very badly. Here's a story about a different scenario -- sex instead of drugs -- that they're still trying to untangle 20 years later.

I would take an absolutist position on not involving police if you can possibly avoid it.
posted by gerryblog at 12:59 PM on May 19, 2012

I work with addicts. There is a big difference between successful adolescent and substance abuse treatment.

With adult substance abuse treatment, change must start with the addict him/herself.

With successful adolescent substance abuse treatment, the whole family has to change with the teenager. The parents have to initiate this. If they don't, the schools, the police or child protective services may end up stepping in. Schools, CPS or law enforcement can sometimes serve as a catalyst for the parents to rally.

This makes your friend's position very, very difficult. Dad is not on board and is actively fueling the problem. Kid is almost a legal adult. So her biggest pieces of leverage for treatment - dad backing it and laying ground-rules; school; and CPS are gone or nearly gone.

So from past addictions, or those that have dealt with addiction, at what point does it go beyond normal teenage rebellion and usage into a full blown problem.

Uh. Well....when there are threats of violence, multiple police encounters, and escalation in drug use (weed to pills), drug selling, abandoning goals and aspirations because of drug testing, dropping out of school, a parent encouraging and facilitating destructive behavior... And on and on.

I hate to say this, but if this is mom's question, it is a very naive one. One form of denial is minimizing a problem. Framing this as normal teenage rebellion is minimizing to say the least.

She could call CPS and the cops on dad for endangering a minor, exposing a minor to drug use/parental drug use and encouraging a minor to engage in illegal activity. These are all hefty charges. They may be able to help wrest legal control from dad. But time is limited. Police and school records hopefully will back of up some of her claims. At the very least there will be an investigation. If dad is actively helping create the problem, someone has to try to hold dad accountable. Mom can't do this by herself.

I don't understand the other posters' advisement against this. If dad is using/selling with kid and kid is developing a pattern of threatening violence, the relationships are already spoiled beyond all hope of amicable resolution without serious intervention. If what the OP says about dad is true, this is active child abuse. If she can't stop it, she has an ethical obligation to take steps to find help with someone/s who can.

A call to CPS can get her in touch with a social worker who can help her navigate this. Al-anon and a therapist can help her cope emotionally. An attorney consult should go without saying. Perhaps your role could be helping her connect to resources in your area.

Most CPS interventions don't end horribly. I've seen CPS facilitate incredible change in families. The kid is 17 so he's almost out of their jurisdiction, so there's not much time to deliberate.

Effective, more humane drug courts are emerging all over the country that will give folks a few chances in treatment before sending someone to jail/prison. Find out what's happening in your area. A call to the cops could land him in a drug court that lands him in treatment...depending on where you live.

No. She can't force him to change, stop, or get treatment. She can send very strong messages that she will not allow dad to help him self-destruct and she can send strong messages that she will harness every possible resource to protect and help him. That's what moms do.
Good luck.
posted by space_cookie at 2:14 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Let him be. Unless he is truly hurting himself or someone else he'll most likely be okay.
This is from first hand experience.
He may become addicted to drugs fuck up mightily and take everyone around him to hell.
Love him he's your child/ friends child that's all you can do.
Finally do all you can to keep him from the long arm of the law. You and those around him will forgive and forget the law never will.
posted by pianomover at 3:08 PM on May 19, 2012

Just wanted to clarify that I didn't mean to suggest mom should call the cops on the kid unless absolutely necessary. Criminal records often create employment barriers which don't help much by way of getting clean. That said, there may not be much mom can do to prevent him from doing something that lands him in jail. That's where looking into drug courts in your area may help - if anything just to get a read on how draconian the courts are/are not where she lives.

Unless he is truly hurting himself or someone else he'll most likely be okay.
This is from first hand experience.

Turning out okay is great, how things turned out okay...that's the stuff that's super great to hear about.
posted by space_cookie at 6:01 PM on May 19, 2012

You can't make someone want to give up their addiction. At best you can help them see the pain and damage they are causing. Al-anon or Nar-Anon would be a good place for this person to seek more information.
posted by caddis at 6:06 PM on May 19, 2012

My friend's mom sent him to one of those "treatment" schools. It was a horribly traumatic experience for him. He suffered and witnessed some pretty vicious abuse there. He also got out with a significantly worse drug problem than he went in with, about 10 times as determined to continue with his lifestyle, and didn't speak to his mother for several years.

When he got off of drugs, it was long after having being homeless, living in party houses, been arrested for selling & going to jail, getting parole, being forced to live with his mother as an adult after not having spoken to her in years, having spiritual experiences in Native sweat ceremonies, being mentored by an older man, (a former alcoholic and now runs the sweat lodge ceremonies), having responsibilities given to him by that man that he wanted and could handle, finding God, coming to the realisation on his own of what what happening to his life, and deciding that he wanted something else. It didn't happen immediately, but through a long and arduous journey that only he could take. It didn't happen when well meaning people tried to force it on him. It didn't happen because his mom wanted it to happen. It happened when he was ready for it.

A parent can make rules about what is or is not acceptable in their house and at what point a child is no longer welcome in their house. A parent can have their child arrested. A parent cannot force their child to want what the parent thinks the child should want.

When I got off drugs, it wasn't because of anything my mom did. I told my friend's story rather than mine because his is much more extreme than mine. But I did have my years of living on the streets, drinking twixers every day that I could scrounge the cash, and using a shitload of drugs, many of which you've never heard of. And I didn't get out because of my mom, I got out because I realised that I didn't like where my life was going. Nobody else could have had that realisation for me.

All that she can really do is decide what her boundaries are, enforce those boundaries, choose whether or not to be an enabler (I'm not being flippant here. This isn't an easy choice to make. I constantly struggle with it regarding a member of my own family), and love her child. It does sound like the kid might be better off not living with either of his parents right now; honestly, sometimes that's the healthiest thing for everyone. I know that's hard to accept, but it sounds pretty toxic for the kid; he might be better off renting a room and visiting his mom once a week or something.

I'm sorry to say this, but at the end of the day, there's nothing that she can do that will guarantee that he won't wind up a drug addict. She cannot force him to be healthy. She can do her best, but it is entirely possible that there isn't really much that she can do; he's angry and he's going to make his own decisions, and they might be ones that hurt him. I'm very sorry.
posted by windykites at 12:00 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

To clarify my suggestion of a treatment school: I in no way am suggesting one of those boot camp type places or places with incredibly harsh rules.

My school is one of 7 therapeutic placements run by a single organization in Massachusetts, and in no way are we a boot camp. We work closely with the school districts who refer the kids.

Basically, we're a 24/7 school. The kids all live in a house next door to the school building. There are clinicians on staff, lots of group and individual therapy and planned activities, and 5 daily hours of school. Kids often come in hooked on drugs and they safely detox here with a ton of support.

When this type of placement is suggested to the kid, it's often couched in terms that they need to graduate from school and that the district is placing them there. The kid has no choice but to go.

I also wanted to say that even though as a parent, I'm a proponent of letting kids learn from their own mistakes and they'll be better and stronger for it, I don't feel that way when kids choose to start using drugs in a serious manner because there's excellent professional help for that. There's no need to wait it out and see if the kid stops on their own.

Teenagers are smart but their brains aren't completely developed and they will make stupid choices. Parents have a responsibility to step in when the choices are going beyond the spectrum or normal teenage experimentation.

Again, I'd have her talk to the school as a starting point. If she gets no satisfaction there, then she may want to consider a teen rehab center.
posted by kinetic at 5:03 AM on May 20, 2012

« Older It's not a triffid, but what is it?   |   In the mood Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.