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TEENS AND DRUGS: HELPING PARENTS CHILL OUT

It's been almost two years since I lifted my head out the sand and discovered that harm reduction approaches offer me so many ways to be more effective as a therapist and addiction treatment consultant.

My recent article in The Fix, Teens and Drugs: Helping Parents Chill Out  reflects some of what I've found to be very helpful in working with parents to get back in the driver's seat of their family when their child's drug use has become disruptive. 

When I began using harm reduction principles such as 'people use drugs for reasons' 'meet your kid where she's at', I was worried that parents would think that I was condoning their kid's drug use. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that once parents understood the ideas a little better, they were more willing to embrace a different perspective and began to use these ideas to work at improving their relationship with their child.

Enabling and Shame

As an addictions counselor, it’s always a pleasure to work with parents who have the instincts and skills to maintain good communication with their teenager as well as the courage (and energy!) to set appropriate and consistent boundaries and limits.

Sometimes, however, these skills can be a double-edged sword and work against us, especially when the emotional and behavioral instability of our child keeps pushing us out of our parental ‘driver’s seat’ and into the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.

Being in the family back seat contributes to the fear that develops when we start losing control of a child’s behavior. This fear often motivates us to become even firmer in our resolve to ensure our child’s safety while keeping ourselves sane along with the rest of our family.

Harm Reduction and Parenting Drug and Alcohol Users

Your child’s drinking or getting high is worrisome and often a challenge to figure out what steps to take.  Flexibility and being open to different approaches to prevention, counseling and treatment for substance use is crucial. Harm reduction approaches can offer you an approach allowing you to get back into the ‘driver’s seat’ of family control if you find yourself in the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.

The philosophy of harm reduction is based on our knowledge that human beings will always be engaged in behaviors that carry risks, like alcohol and other drug use and unsafe sex. Harm reduction embraces the value of each person’s dignity and the respect of a person’s right to make choices. This shifts the focus from attempting to restrict or prohibit risky behaviors to reducing the negative consequences associated with them.

An Addiction Counselor's War on Drugs

The war in Afghanistan is now considered the longest war in United States history.

Wrong.

The US government’s "War on Drugs" recently turned 40. The longest war in American history by far has been for the most part under the radar of the general public now for four decades. Flashback: Nixon is president, hot pants are in, and Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" is the #1 song of the year.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it's been under my radar also until the publicity this summer about the 40th anniversary. Since then I’ve become aware of the work of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and the grassroots movement Moms United to End the War on Drugs, all of whom advocate for the reduction of the harm associated with drug policies and for policies, as suggested by LEAP, "grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights".

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