Why do they start? What can I say?
I have been attending the local Wits End support group since it began meeting in Jan 2003. The weekly meeting is for family members who are dealing with the presence of addiction or substance misuse in a loved one. People come seeking support in the midst of chaos and grief in their lives. They find comfort and empathy among people who have walked a similar path. As a long-time member I have benefited from years of listening to others share their wisdom and lessons. I think it’s important to try to reach as many people as possible to share some of the things I have learned. So here is One View from Wits End.
are faced with the presence of the disease of addiction in someone we love or
know, we often struggle to understand why they started using a substance in the
first place. We can become very focused on the act of using and the drug of
choice and lose sight of the person in front of us. Similar to the addict's
obsession with the drugs, we are obsessed with thoughts of monitoring his/her
daily activity and the need to remain vigilant in our futile efforts to control
the disease in that person. All we see and want to talk about is the drug, the
disease, and our need for that person to make a choice to be healthy. Our obsession
to control and cure can make us an adversary, rather than the source of support
and hope we so desperately want to be.
Recently, a parent reached out to someone I know who is in recovery from addiction. The parent was seeking information and guidance for how to talk with their teenage child about her choice to use marijuana. My friend shared the response with me and I appreciate the insight into what may drive the choice of a teenager to start using drugs, and how a parent can respond. Here is what the parent received for an answer from my friend: "First. It's not about the pot. There are always a variety of reasons behind use. These are the most common for teens: We drink/smoke to "relax", because our friends are doing it, for fun, or it "helps" us somehow.
The reasons "relax" and "helps" are more prone to create a habit and I see them as dangerous. "Relaxing" with any substance is about escaping from having to deal with our emotions at the given time. If we don't have the tools to deal with the tough times it becomes easier and easier to resort to the escape. The idea that it "helps" is similar. Using any substance because it helps, or makes us better, creates a self-limiting belief that we need the substance to be our best. That is false. We're just high and think we’re being the best we can be. Even if it does truly help with an underlying condition, the drug is taking away or dulling so much more. The other two reasons I listed, "for fun and because my friends are doing it," can lead to the first two dangerous reasons. Here is my own example: I started to think negatively about myself around middle school. I began to push away from people who made me feel good about myself because I thought I wasn't likeable and that I was dumb. I started to surround myself with others that felt the same way or were viewed by peers as "lesser" people. I started to smoke and drink to be around older kids because I told myself that my own peers didn't get me. In truth, I didn't get me. As time progressed, I realized that I didn't feel bad about myself when I was high. In fact, those serious feelings were not even on my mind. I had discovered an escape. Unfortunately this escape was only when I was high. So when tough times came, I would focus on when I could next smoke. If times got tough and I couldn't be high, I didn't know how to deal with the feelings so I would explode to end what was making me feel bad. Then I would go smoke. Eventually I lived for the escape and was happy to try any new kind of escape. During this entire time, I didn't grow emotionally as a person. When I stopped using, I was right back to where I was before I started. I had no tools to deal with life. The scary part of having an addictive personality is that it doesn't let you see when you transition from using for fun to using for escape or help. Then your addiction has a full grip on you and it's too late. If you question yourself internally as you use, you are already in its grip. Your true self says "no," but the voice of your addiction says that "it can't happen to you," or "it's only a little weed." As for talking to your daughter about pot, it's tough no matter how you approach it. She knows how you "see pot," from growing up with your values. It's natural for her to shut down and hide vs. disappointing you. My biggest advice is to be open. She is becoming an adult and creating her own values by challenging yours. She wants "to see for herself". I would encourage you to not go after the pot in conversations. It's too serious a subject and all of her walls go up. Instead, approach the reason or what's behind it. Draw her out about what is happening in her life, what she would like to have happening, what she likes & dislikes, what she thinks is important/not important, fun/not fun, etc. In other words, get to know this person who is becoming an adult instead of assuming you know all about this child and how she thinks & functions. That’s a healthier way to approach the reason or what's behind the appeal of using drugs. Share your own experiences. She will shut down if she feels her choices are targeted and/or attacked. Never blame her choices for your own feelings and/or situation. The best thing I learned about family dynamics around addiction is that no one else is responsible for our own feelings. We are responsible for our thoughts and feelings. We all have stuff to work on that affect the dynamics of our family. I took a long time to make a change but when I was ready, I knew exactly what to do. I had learned from all the support I had been given when I was struggling.”