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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1998 Issue #51


By: Patricia Quinn
Pacific Options
Seattle, Washington

As a parent of three bright young children, I was prepared by the books that I read and by more experienced parents that I talked to for “the onslaught of adolescence”, but nothing I read and no one I talked to prepared me for the day when I was confronted with the serious concern that my precious child was using drugs and alcohol! 

As parents, many of us go through a period when our children are young when we hear friends and colleagues talking about their hassles with their teenage children, and we think, “Oh, dear, that will never happen in my house!” Then, over the years, very slowly at first, things begin to happen. Our children’s friends change to friends we don’t know as well and whose parents are harder to reach by telephone. When we do reach them, sometimes they tell us, “No, we don’t check on our kids too much. We trust them!”

Or we become aware that she has been pretty vague lately about where she spends her time after school. And she simply must spend the night with her friends every weekend. Perhaps his grades, which were once a source of pride for him and us, begin to decline, and this may be accompanied by an increase in “tardies” and unexcused absences at school. Often, we don’t even see what we would consider solid evidence of drug or alcohol use, at least not a lot of it. And besides, didn’t many of us experiment with drugs and /or alcohol some time during our teenage years? 

These are some of the puzzling situations that can give parents many sleepless nights and take a huge toll on family relationships, effectiveness at work, and general physical and mental health. 

In an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the author states that “Currently, 1 in 30 high school seniors drink daily…The negative consequences of alcohol use include impaired relationships with family, peers, or teachers; problems with school performance, problems with authorities, and high-risk behavior…” (1) 

Without a doubt, a certain portion of the adolescent population is abusing drugs. Furthermore, drug and alcohol abuse masquerades as behavior that runs the gamut between normal adolescent rebellion and significant mental illness. Therefore, it is critical to rule out substance addiction before sending an adolescent down a long, expensive path of behavior modification and mental health counseling. Once the addiction, if present, is diagnosed and treated, then other issues such as rebellion and poor school performance can be addressed, if those behaviors are still a problem. If the addiction is not addressed and treated, the chances of a successful treatment outcome, no matter how good the adolescent program, are doubtful, at best. 

At Pacific Options, we begin with a complete assessment by an independent, certified chemical dependency counselor who has experience evaluating and working with adolescents. This avoids the possible conflict-of interest that can occur when a treatment program whose goal may be to fill an inpatient bed does a “free” assessment. Did you know that adolescent mental health counselors and psychologists are often not trained to do a competent drug and alcohol assessment? And if they do suspect or know of drug and alcohol use, they often feel compelled by “confidentiality” not to disclose this use to parents. 

Equipped with substantial information regarding the adolescent’s substance use, Pacific Options can recommend options ranging from one time drug and alcohol education programs all through the gamut to residential drug and alcohol treatment, if this is deemed to be necessary. Of course if drug/alcohol problems are determined NOT to be a root part of the problem, there are a number of other quality programs effective in working with general behavior problems. 

We have a growing computer database, which has been compiled from visits with over 100 adolescent programs in the Pacific Northwest and around the nation, and this is used to match the adolescent and his or her family with programs that meet their needs, their personalities, and their pocketbook. In all the programs that we visit, we pay close attention to the substance abuse component of the program, so we know how the substance abuse issue will be addressed in that particular program. 

Having gained substantial information about the young person’s use of drugs and alcohol, we feel confident referring a family to a program, knowing that substance abuse and addiction will be addressed appropriately for that client. 

1. Alcohol Use and Abuse: A Pediatric Concern (RE9513), American Academy of Pediatrics, Volume 95, Number 3, March 1995, p.439-442. 439-442. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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