When Your Kid Smokes Pot August 8, 2010 / Paul Elam\t\t\t \t\t O.K., so you found some weed in your teen-agers room. Depending on the kind of parent you are, your reaction to that can range from mild amusement to thermonuclear. But assuming you are not going to smoke the stuff yourself, you are confronted with making some decisions on what to do about it. Perhaps you think it is time to call a counselor, or maybe even the thought of a treatment center for young people with drug problems crosses your mind. As someone who worked in the chemical dependency treatment field for two decades, and who wrote and directed several treatment programs, let me make a suggestion about that. Don’t. Don’t even think about it. To clarify, let me tell you some things you won’t hear from the staff at treatment programs, or anyone else interested in making a buck off your child’s “problem.” First, there‘s this funny thing about teenage drug addicts. There aren’t any. Or at least they are so far and few between that I can count the ones I have seen on two fingers. So for your benefit, an understanding of addiction is in order. We’ll view it in simple, objective terms. Chemical dependency and/or abuse is defined, in that Holy of Holies, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), in pretty explicit terms, regardless of what drug we are talking about. There are two main criteria. First, for physical addiction to be established there has to be the presence of physical withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is stopped. My money is on the fact that if you take your kids pot away they won’t even get so much as the sniffles. This probably has something to do with the fact that marijuana isn’t addictive. The other diagnostic criteria, and the one the treatment centers rely heavily on as their cash cow, is the continued use of a particular drug or drugs despite the onset of severe life damaging consequences. In this we are talking about things like multiple arrests, lost jobs, physical ailments and failed marriages, all related to the use/abuse of drugs. Again, the odds are good that Johnny didn’t lose his paper route or burger flipping position from smoking some weed, or suffer any of these other complications. And as much as Johnny, or even you, may protest, getting caught by your parents isn’t severe and life damaging- unless there is something really wrong with the parents. So why then, you might ask, are there treatment programs spread across the entire western world that will gladly take Johnny in and “treat” him as long as the money or insurance holds out? Well, money, of course. There’s gold in the ignorance of them thar parents. And in their fear and desperation- and in their failure to be good parents. But before we get to that, let me illustrate one of the dirty little secrets of the “helping” profession, just to make the point. The money is in the diagnosis. Up till 1991, there had been something like 6 documented cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) in the entirety of world history. But then a psychiatrist in Houston, a right smart lady with a really keen eye for those pesky extra personalities, diagnosed enough of them in that city to keep a 22 bed unit at a psychiatric hospital full of them for months on end. At around $1,200 a day per head, for stays that often ranged in the months, MPD was a gold mine. The Doc was getting rich, hospital administration was ecstatic and the insurance companies continued to pay. Eventually the authorities took notice; Lady Freud was figured to be Lady Fraud and was charged with scamming the insurance companies. That hospital’s administrator lost his job. Later though, the charges were dropped, mainly because the burden was on the prosecution to prove that the patients, whose confidentiality -and thus treatment information- was protected by law, didn’t have MPD. Case closed, and the lady walks with the money, perhaps to go on and treat teenage drug addicts. The point here is, though, if one psychiatrist can find hundreds of MPD’s, mostly from the same city, all with insurance to cover the stay, how hard do you think it is to find teenage drug addicts? That’s right. They are as close as the nearest scared and insured or affluent parent. And the corruption is just the light side; surface stuff. We are, after all, talking about your child. Who cares if it is expensive, right? I would tend to agree if locking your child away in a treatment program and calling them an addict would somehow resolve their problems. It would be worth the expense. But the truth is that it is more likely to make things worse. It reminds me of a joke. Mom and Dad find Johnny’s stash of pot and take him to the treatment center. Dad is concerned, mom is crying and Johnny looks scared out of his mind. The counselor asks, “Johnny, do you know why you are here?” “Yes,” Johnny says, voice trembling, “I was smoking pot.” Just then another couple walks in with their son, also named Johnny. Dad is angry and reeks of gin, Mom is crying so hard she can hardly open her bottle of Xanax. The dad says, “We were just on our way out of town when we had to come here. Can you fix the little bastard? We’ll pick him up when we get back. A month O.K.?” The counselor turns to the other Johnny and asks again, “Johnny, do you know why you are here?” “F*ck you, bitch,” says the boy. “Isn’t this great!” says the counselor. “Johnny, meet Johnny. You can both share the experience of treatment together. Perhaps we’ll make you room mates!” And yes, that is the punch line. Adolescent drug abuse programs, more than any others, become dumping grounds for all manner of problems, except real chemical dependency. If you take your kid there because you caught them smoking pot, they will be tossed in with a population of conduct disorders, budding sociopaths, even the occasional emerging psychopath. Of course they will all have that evil pot use in common, if nothing else. Treatment programs need customers in order to make money. And as we learned in our MPD program, they are often not too picky about how they get those customers, as long as the money is there. Johnny and Johnny won’t be the exception. In fact, in all the years I worked in that field, I never saw anyone turned away who wanted to be admitted (or whose parents wanted it), unless there was no funding. Those that didn’t want to check in were always encouraged to change their minds in the strongest possible terms. Plenty of the great unwashed were sent packing no matter how bad their circumstances. The standard for the business was, and is, if you’ve got coverage, you’ve got a problem we can help you with. What do you suppose happens when you mix these types of personalities together and concentrate them behind locked doors with their lives under the control of external authority figures while the rest of their family enjoys freedom? Johnny One and Johnny Two might not have much in common when they are admitted, but you can bet they will become fast friends during their stay together. It’s what happens when you create a penitentiary environment. And what your relatively innocent kid doesn’t know about drugs, sex and a host of other things before treatment, he will quickly learn during the process. All this and there is not one bit of reputable evidence to suggest that treatment will stop him from doing drugs in the future. So what, then, is a concerned parent to do? I am afraid the answer to that one is almost as unpalatable as treatment itself. There is one other bit of information that you won’t hear from professionals who are financially invested in keeping the cash flow coming. 99 out of 100 screwed up kids come from screwed up homes- screwed up parents. In fact, if you get someone who works in a treatment setting with adolescents to tell you the truth, they will tell you that the greatest frustration with their work is that they spend all this time trying to help kids with their problems, only to send them right back to the same dysfunctional environment -the environment that caused their problems- when treatment is done. Of all the adolescents I worked with (and quit working with because of this problem) they had more in common with bad parents than with drug use. It was a virtual broken record of the same old same old; parents that were outraged because their kids turned to drugs, but couldn’t tell you the name of any of their teachers at school. Often there was violence and abuse in the home that the parents wanted to call “discipline,” or active real addiction by one or both parents. They often had Dads that didn’t know they were alive unless they were in trouble, and Moms that had turned them into little emotional spouses because they had run off the fathers affections long ago. But that joint in the bottom drawer? Something had to be done! And these parents, afflicted by those or a myriad of other problems, all had something in common as well. Their kid was the problem. Their kid was the only problem. And you could see it in the vacant, glazed over look in their eyes any time you tried to talk about anything else. But what else can a treatment provider do? You push the truth too hard and the parents (read money) goes bye-bye. And so the dance of lies picks up tempo; and the music drowns out every relevant reality that might actually help these struggling people. The kid, in many cases, is often the most sane person in the home. More than likely, they are acting out and calling attention to the problems that Mom and Dad are pretending didn’t exist; screaming at them for help in the only way they know how. And their reward for this service is to be locked up and stigmatized in order to get at their parents money. Or, heaven forbid, some of them are just a normal kids experimenting with some pot. It happens you know, and more than a few of them go on to become happy, well adjusted adults who happen to like marijuana. But for the ones that are real problems; the really troubled kids, parents can likely find the best solution in the mirror. Your child didn’t get to where they are in a vacuum. And your money or insurance cannot help them near as much as your love, ongoing involvement in their lives, and willingness to clean up your own act. There is clearly some cases where some short term counseling might help with that. When kids are in trouble, good parents can often figure it out by figuring out what is wrong with themselves. So do yourself and your child a favor, go there without them first. Or better yet, just take a good long look at yourselves before you talk to anyone else. It’s amazing what that can do.