Clearing the Myths about Adolescent & Young Adult Drug Use
Jon Daily, LCSW, CADC II
Myth: All adolescents & young adults (young people) “experiment” with drugs. Statistics show that the rate of drug use remains at a very high level for young people (1). Part of the myth of “experimentation” is that drug use is a naturally occurring “rite of passage” from adolescence in to adulthood. However, not every young person has tried or will try drugs. In addition, not all will pass through their drug use without experiencing negative consequences from their use. Drug use is risky and unhealthy behavior. In today’s society even “experimentation” can lead to car accidents, driving while under the influence, unplanned sexual activity, date rape, and sometimes death. Moreover, the word “experimentation” can be misleading. When we get calls from parents seeking counseling for their adolescent or young adult child, we often hear the words, “I think my son is experimenting with drugs.” When asked how long the parent has been aware of the drug use, the reply can be anywhere from weeks to years. The parent’s response implies that “experimentation” is a phase, when “experimentation” is not a phase at all. In fact, it is a “one-time event. ” (2) Once intoxication has been experienced, the experiment is over. The user has achieved the results of the experiment, “I like this feeling,” or ” I don’t like this feeling.” Subsequent intoxication indicates misuse, abuse or addiction.
When helping young people with substance use disorders, at the end of the day what we are assess and treating is a “pathological relationship to intoxication.” The name of the drug they are using is an illusion . They need to know they are not hooked on weed, they are hooked on intoxication and therefore must see all intoxicating substances as the same. Take away weed from the pot smoker and they drink and/or take pills. Take away Oxycontin for the opiate user and they use benzodiazepines and marijuana. This is because they were not hooked on the particular drug, they were hooked on “intoxication.” The focus of treatment for young people is to severe their pathological relationship to intoxication so as to open up their capacity to have regulating relationships with their counselor, support groups, rebuilt family relationships and healthy peer groups. Such social supports promote dopamine(3), and endogenous opiates (4) which the user has been chasing on the streets, but can be created in health relationships as they were intended to. Helping them and the family to understand this and supporting their growth in this way is the core of treatment after we have helped them to become drug-free. Read More
(1) Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2011). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 77 pp.
(2) Gust, Walker, Daily, How to Help Your Child Become Drug Free: A Guide for Parents of Adolescents & Young Adults with Substance Abuse or Addiction. (2006). Available at www.recoveryhappens.com
(3) Siegel, D. J. The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. (New York: The Guilford Press, 1999).
(4) Schore, A.N. Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self. (New York:
W.W. Norton, 2003).
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