Helping a Teen - Helping Yourself
anonymous Asks ...
My son is 17 and he is addicted to marijuana. We have tried counseling and family counseling and nothing changes his habits. He says he is trying but that he cannot quit. I am not sure if he is really trying or not. He smokes multiple times each day and I cannot control him to make him stop. He says he is willing to go to rehab. Is it appropriate for him to go to rehab just for marijuana? How long will it take for him to beat this addiction?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
When you are faced with a teen that has become addicted to substances - whether it is alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other substances, there is no magic way of beating the addiction. If you are like the person who posed this question, then there are a number of factors beyond what is shared that will also come into play:
- How long has your son been abusing marijuana?
- What is the pattern of your son's use? Is it related to activity with others?
- What problems has the use of marijuana caused for your son?
- What forces are on your son that would encourage abstinence (especially legal and work)?
- Why does your son say he is trying to quit?
- What has the previous counseling been focused on?
- What support has your son received to help him quit?
- What barriers has your son felt as he has tried to stop smoking?
These will all have an impact on your son's ability to "beat this addiction".
Now, let us turn to that phrase - "beat this addiction". Given the description of the use, there is a high likelihood that the questioner's son is dependent on marijuana (and perhaps other substances along with it). When there is a pattern of substance dependence, a realistic goal for treatment is needed. A person may never be totally past their addiction and may have to deal with this for the rest of their life. The goal in this sort of a situation is more appropriate if it is towards abstinence from using the substance and developing the coping techniques to be able to address the addiction when it raises its head. There are a range of treatment options and this is best determined after a person has been able to asses the person dependent on a substance. There are times where withdrawal is expected to be severe enough that a person withdrawing from use of substances needs to go through detox - a medically managed program usually inpatient in a hospital. After withdrawal, a person may be ready to go through any of a number of levels of programs to help them develop the skills and health to maintain their not using. These options range from inpatient treatment in a rehab center or hospital, partial hospitalization (essentially all the day services of inpatient but going home at night), intensive outpatient (individual and group counseling several times a week), outpatient (individual or group counseling, usually weekly but frequency may vary) and community programs. If a person starts out earlier in the list they usually will move through the less intensive options on the list. A large number of factors affect where on the list is an appropriate start, so an assessment by a qualified substance abuse professional is best to help determine this.
Okay, with the core of the question answered, there is still one thing that I feel the original question also brings up. Let me highlight a few things that are int he original question:
- "We have tried..."
- "I am not sure if..."
- "I cannot control him to make him stop."
The last of these is exactly right. It is frustrating and hard, but you cannot make him stop his use of this or any substance. You can call things to his attention. You can provide a supportive presence. However, it is also possible to provide too much support and in stead end up enabling him to continue his use. As family members, you have to be careful to also look at your own role in the current situation. Most communities have a program similar to AA for family members of those who use. Larger communities may have a meeting called Nar-Anon where the focus is on those close to someone with a drug problem. The more common group is Al-Anon, which is focused on those connected to someone with an alcohol problem, but is usually open to others. They will help you address any issues of codependency and support you as you try to provide a healthy response to your son or other loved one. That is why I titled this piece, "Helping a Teen - Helping Yourself" as the latter part is also important.