Sunday, March 17, 2013

Preventing Substance Abuse (+ Something for the Kids)

The last several weeks have been enlightening and thought-provoking for me for a few different reasons.
  • I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of David Sheff's tremendous new book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy. (My review of Clean is over at in case you're interested. Look for the review by "deanokat." My wife also read the book and says: "I think every parent with a middle school to high school aged child should read Clean.") Sheff, you might recall, is also the author of Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction; the book that changed my life by changing not only how I dealt with my own son's addiction, but by making me realize I needed to take care of the one person I could control: Me.
  • I became aware of a group called atTAck addiction, which was started by the parents of a young man who lost his battle with addiction and passed away on December 23, 2012. These parents are doing an amazing thing by taking the most unthinkable of tragedies and trying to turn it into something positive. Their mission? "Through Tyler's tragic death from a drug overdose we hope to help young people realize the dangers of alcohol and drugs so that they, and their families, never have to experience the pain, tragedy, and loneliness that accompany addiction." They are passing out "atTAck addiction" wrist bands, doing presentations to students, and are discussing other possibilities like curriculum for schools, hotlines, housing for recovering addicts, etc. What's not to love about that?
  • I have also been asked to be a member of The Partnership at's National Parent Network (NPN). The NPN is "an independent collaboration of parents and other caregivers of children who have been touched by substance abuse. Members of this network, called Parent Partners, provide the perspective of firsthand experience to The Partnership at, in its mission to help solve the problem of teen substance abuse." I have to say, I was quite humbled when I was asked to join this group. And I'm very excited to participate in my first meeting tomorrow afternoon. (If you haven't read the story I shared in the Hope Share section of their website, you can read it here.)
For those reasons, I've been thinking more and more about preventing substance abuse in young people. The incredible difficulties associated with treatment of addicts would go away if we could get kids to not become addicted in the first place. I know that might sound crazy to some people. But it's reality.

Because of this, I'm creating a "post within a post" today. Parents: If you have kids who are old enough to read and understand what I'm about to write, please plop them down in front of the computer screen--or plop the computer screen down in front of them--and have them read this. It's relatively short. And something I say might stick with your child. But before I get to the kids' post, let me present you with a couple of thought-provoking excerpts from Clean:

"A study undertaken by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children of alcoholics were four times more likely than other kids to become alcoholics. Kids who have seen their parents drunk are five times more likely than kids who haven't to get drunk one or more times a month." (Clean ARC, pg. 49)


"Given what we now know about the trajectory of drug use and the effects of drugs on the developing brains of adolescents, it's clear that prevention efforts should focus on children. The onset of the disease of addiction is so early, it can devastate a person's entire life....

As I reported, nine out of ten people who become addicted began using before they were eighteen; a person who gets to age twenty-one without using is virtually certain never to do so (and only one in twenty of those who start using after the age of twenty-one become addicted). The goal of prevention strategies should be preventing all use, but it's also valuable to delay use as long as possible. An older person who tries drugs is less likely to have problems with them, and any problems that do develop are usually less severe." (Clean ARC, pg. 45)

Based on those excerpts, you may want to adjust your own lifestyle to give your kids a better chance of avoiding addiction. And help your children in other ways, too. Like strengthening your family dynamic and getting more involved in your kids' lives. "A NIDA [National Institute on Drug Abuse] report, 'Preventing Drug Abuse among Children and Adolescents,' found the following factors to be protective: a strong bond between children and their families; parental involvement in a child's life; supportive parenting that meets financial, emotional, cognitive, and social needs; and clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline." (Clean ARC, pp. 52-53)

Also, just talk to--not at--your kids on a regular basis. And be sure to listen.

Okay. Enough of my rambling. Here's a short post for the young people out there: 

Kids: Don't do it

If you're reading this it's because your parents love you and care about you. And they want to help you avoid the horrible world of substance abuse and drug addiction (including alcohol).

I'm the father of a great young man (he's 23) who started experimenting with drugs when he was about 15. He didn't know it, but his brain was wired differently, and once he started using drugs he couldn't stop. Addiction is a disease, and there's no real way to know if you have it. It's sad, but sometimes the only way someone finds out is if they start using drugs...and become addicted.

My son is in recovery now, which means he has stopped using drugs and is working hard to be "clean." It's been almost nine months since he used any drugs. This might not seem like a long time, but it's the longest drug-free stretch he's had since he was 15. (Kicking addiction's butt is not easy.)

The years between the time my son started using drugs and when he stopped (on July 2nd last year) were horrible. They were horrible for my son. They were horrible for his mom and me. They were horrible for his little brother. Drug addiction is a "family disease," which means it doesn't just make life miserable for the person using drugs; it makes life miserable for everyone in their family, too.

My son dropped out of high school and got a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) later on. He still doesn't have his drivers license, although he's working on that now. And he's spent more time in rehab centers and hospitals than anyone would ever want to. His life is finally starting to turn around, and I'm so incredibly proud of him. But it's been a long, hard road for all of us.

There's really only one foolproof way to avoid becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol: Don't start using them.

I know that might sound uncool to you. And it might make you seem like a weirdo to your friends. But is it worth risking your life just to be cool? Because people not only suffer greatly from addiction. They die from it. Trust me. Over the last several years I've met parents whose children have died from using drugs. It's not a nice thing.

Don't ever think, "It can't happen to me." Because it can. It happens every day to kids just like you who think they're immune from drug addiction. I never thought it would happen to my son, either. But he started experimenting with pot and other people's prescription drugs. From there he moved on to other drugs, including cocaine and heroin. And POOF! Just like that more than seven years of his life were gone.

I know being a kid these days is tough. And peer pressure can be overwhelming. But if you're thinking of experimenting with alcohol or pot or any other drugs, here are three words of advice for you:

Don't do it.

If you're feeling stressed out or overwhelmed or depressed about school or life or members of the opposite sex--or anything--tell your parents. Or a school counselor. They can help you find ways of dealing with your feelings that are better than self-medication. Trust me: Using drugs or alcohol is not the answer.



  1. Great post here Dean! Sounds like a wonderful book and organization. Thanks for sharing - I will check out both!!

  2. I believe arming yourself with knowledge of the consequences that drugs can do to yourself and the people around you is a great way to prevent its use. Having no driver's license and no job due to failed drug tests, money going down the drain, and strained relationships are difficult to deal with. Thank you for sharing this post, Dean! By the way, kudos to your son for staying sober. As long as he stays on the straight and narrow, that driver's license should be his. :)