What My Daughter Taught Me About Addiction

No parent ever wants to think that drug use might explain their child’s upsetting behavior. If only I had known how to spot it and what would help her most.

“I don’t want to come to dinner. I’m not hungry. Just leave me alone!” She slams her door in my face.
I lean against it, listening to her cry. I don’t know what’s gotten into my bright, sociable teenager, besides the fact that something is very wrong. No parent ever wants to think that drug use might explain their child’s upsetting behavior. If only I had known how to spot it and what would help her most.
In a nationwide survey of parents of high schoolers, most said they would know if their kids were using drugs, yet failed to recognize most of the warning signs. Nor did they know that young women are at high risk.
In fact, girls 13 and up is the fastest-growing group of illicit drug users, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It’s more important than ever for parents to know the signs.
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Know the signs

Of the dozens of tip-offs to possibly risky drug use in teens, two especially set off warning bells about young women. Is her hair unwashed or messy, her clothing rumpled or stained? Has she switched her group of friends? Do you know who she is hanging out with?
Adolescent girls who lack concern about their appearance and stop seeing their friends tend to be depressed and isolated, which puts them at risk of using drugs.

What you can do

Use the experience of other parents of girls with drug dependency. We all wish we’d trusted our intuition that something significant was wrong sooner. If she won’t talk to you, find a therapist trained in adolescent behavior.

Know the why

Depression goes up for both genders when puberty hits, but it’s nearly three times higher in girls, according to Anita Gurian in the study “Depression in Adolescence: Does Gender Matter?”
A major factor: Estrogen levels spike during her menstrual cycle and cause dopamine, a mood balancer, to plummet. That’s when she’s more likely to self-medicate, and if she does, she may feel better – for a little while. But if she continues to self-medicate with illicit drugs, she’ll feel worse.
This is partly because serotonin, another feel-good chemical, decreases with the input of artificial highs in the brain. She’s left feeling worse than ever and needs more of the substance just to feel “normal.” It turns into a vicious cycle.

What you can do

Use carrots, not sticks. Suggest stress-busting activities that stimulate feel-good brain chemicals, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, creative expression, and physical exercise.
Trauma can occur after a deeply disturbing or distressing experience. As many as 80 percent of women seeking treatment for drug abuse report histories of sexual and/or physical assault, including young women who’ve undergone date rape – a significant risk for young women.
When highly stressed, her brain produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which lingers longer in women’s bodies than men’s and leads to the depletion of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.” Her altered brain chemistry tends to pull her away from relationships, leading to isolation and the risk of self-medicating.

What you can do

Again, find a good therapist. Experts say it takes time, in particular for women, to be able to open up and talk about trauma. But therapy can help rebuild her sense of safety and trust and reach out.

Know the talk

Talk to her when you’re both calm. Not, for example, at the end of a long school day or three in the morning when she’s broken curfew. Approach her with kindness, but be firm.
Instead of asking “What’s wrong with you?”, try “What’s troubling you?” Give her choices to get help: “Do you want to go to a therapist or outpatient treatment?” But allow her to face the consequences of her actions: “Do you want to give up your cellphone for a week or miss the party next weekend?”
Don’t stop talking to her. Young women who are stressed, depressed, and/or using drugs can be masters of manipulation and denial. Know that these are symptoms of the brain disorder of addiction. The goal is to get her healthy, so stick to your bottom line.
Mine came when I found drug paraphernalia in my daughter’s room after I thought she had stopped using. I knew that relapse is especially frequent for young women, and it can take more than one try. I framed my ultimatum as a choice: You can go to a recovery center or I’ll help you find a new place to live.
She chose treatment again at a women-centered program, and after a lot of help from addiction counselors, therapists, a peer recovery group, and Medicine Assisted Therapy, she became the vibrant, sociable, productive young woman I knew she could be.

Know the walk

Practically the first thing I learned about dealing with addiction in a child was to lock up medications or dispose of them safely. Many parents also remove alcohol from the home while their child is abusing it or in new recovery.
It was suggested that I needed to model a healthy lifestyle for my children as I am their main female role model. Or, as another mom put it, if we want them to get healthy, we have to walk the walk.
That’s when I heard the phrase “extreme self-care.” During the years of my daughter’s addiction, I came to see that I needed “me time” more than ever: bubble baths, chocolates, old friends, walks with my lug-head of a dog, quiet moments to focus on what I was grateful for – this precious life.

Know you don’t have to do it alone

I never imagined that I’d become part of a very large club that nobody ever wanted to join: the legion of parents of children with addiction, some in recovery, many not yet.
Between 1991 and 2015, the last year official figures are available, over 61,000 young people from 12 to 25 died from a drug overdose (Centers for Disease Control, 2017). The number of parents and other loved ones who have joined together to share support and resources to fight the worst health epidemic in our nation’s history is growing exponentially.
Being with other people who are dealing with a loved one’s addiction cuts down shame and emotional pain. Being able to talk honestly without being judged is a huge relief. I have met so many good, loving parents struggling as I did to accept, understand, and effectively address their children’s disease.
I take comfort now in being part of the solution, of being one more advocate for those who suffer indirectly from the chronic mental disorder that is addiction. Our children deserve nothing less.

Let Go of the Guilt, Love Is Enough

Guilt. From the moment our children are born or even when we first feel those little flutters and kicks, it consumes us.

Moms experience almost constant worry and guilt. From the moment our children are born or even when we first feel those little flutters and kicks, it consumes us. We worry about our children every second of every day and for many sleepless hours in the night when things are dark and quiet and our minds can really take control. This worry and guilt, it’s forever. 

With one child now in high school, I am grappling with the very real fact that in three short years, she could be living somewhere other than under my roof. I can only imagine what my nighttime thoughts will be then…

Moms worry about every single step of parenthood: Did I stop breastfeeding too soon? Did I breastfeed too long? Should I have tried harder to breastfeed? Was it wrong to let them cry it out? Was it wrong to pick them up right away? Did I start solids too early and cause allergies? Did I wait too long to start solids and cause allergies? Do they eat enough vegetables? Do they eat enough of anything? Should I be more firm? Why do I yell all the time? Why aren’t they speaking? Why aren’t they walking? Why won’t they use the toilet? Am I pushing them hard enough in school? Should I push them harder in school? Should I know their friends better? Should I respect their privacy? Should I have let them quit the team? Should I have pushed them to try out for the team? On and on and on and on and on, and the emotions are always the same: worry and guilt. No matter which direction we took or which decision we made, moms always feel guilty about the outcome and question if we’re somehow letting our children down. It’s exhausting.

I have a message for all of you amazing moms out there: it’s going to be okay.

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When I was a little girl, my parents rented a farm for the first truly memorable years of my life. My father was an alcoholic and a pathological liar, so obviously things were not easy for my mom. We were extremely poor. My father spent every penny that he could get his hands on to buy alcohol or eat out at a local pub while his children and wife were at home with nothing to eat. 

My mom doesn’t talk about those years very often and I’m always surprised when she does. There’s such sadness and regret in her voice when those memories surface. She talks about the fear, the sadness, and the poverty; about feeding my brother and me oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it was filling and there was no money for groceries. She talks about buying large men’s jeans at the Salvation Army and using them to cut and sew overalls for my brother and me. She talks about surviving thanks to our large garden and our animals. I can hear the guilt in her voice. I can hear how desperately she must have wanted a different life for us. 

Here’s the thing, I don’t remember this time period in the same way she does at all. I remember a magical place filled with rolling fields and animal friends. She remembers a crappy plastic swimming pool and a rusty swing set. I remember a place where I pretended I was in the ocean on hot summer days and swings where I used to imagine I was flying to far-off lands. I had no idea that our garden was the only reason we would have food into the winter. I remember that a carrot pulled from the ground with a bit of dirt still clinging to it was delicious. I remember watching her can and preserve, the jars filled with color, and the time spent with her in the kitchen. I remember her showing me how to knead bread and the laughter we shared while doing it. I had no idea that our chickens were the only reason we ate some days, I just remember how proud I was when she showed me how to collect the eggs and then gave it to me as my own special job. I didn’t know that we were “missing out” on store-bought yogurt, I only knew that I desperately loved the goats that provided our yogurt, and that I got to help my favorite goat bring her triplets into this world when I was a very little girl. I remember adventures in fields where the wind blew grass that was taller than me; finding fiddleheads hidden in the dark, cool woods; where the chokecherry bushes were, and helping my mom pick them and watching in our kitchen as she made jam. 

No matter how much pain, frustration, desperation, and, yes, guilt she may have been feeling, I don’t remember. I had no idea. I know she worried constantly about not being enough and not having enough, and she didn’t need to. I remember a woman who was always laughing with us, a woman who always had hugs and cuddles and read us extra stories no matter how exhausted she must’ve been. I remember a woman who knew how to grow anything, cook anything, bake anything, and who taught me to respect animals and the earth, probably without having any idea she was doing it. I remember thinking my mom was the strongest person in the world. That has never changed.

Fast forward to my twenties. Even though my mom went on to leave my dad and eventually meet and marry my step-dad, changing our lives dramatically for the better, I still managed to meet and marry a man almost exactly like my father. I had my first two children with him. He was also an alcoholic with assorted other addictions and emotional issues. Life wasn’t easy. After our children were born I spent almost every day worrying about what I had brought them into. I was consumed with guilt that this was their lives and powerlessness to change it for them. 

If the funds were not available for their father to spend on his assorted habits or whatever material possessions he felt would make him happier, he would turn into an angry, emotionally abusive person who would fill me with such fear and dread that I would simply give in, letting him have what he wanted to keep the peace. Then the money ran out and, while he got what he wanted, I couldn’t pay our bills and struggled to buy groceries. There were countless dinners of hot dogs and macaroni because I knew the kids would eat it and it was all I could afford on our insanely tight budget. So many hot dogs. I worried and worried about not feeding the kids properly.

I felt like a robot. I was getting up every day and doing what needed to be done to get through the day at work and then the very long nights. I remember the guilt of feeling that I wasn’t emotionally available for my children. There were no vacations or special activities because I couldn’t afford them. However, there were walks in the swamp and the woods, frog catching, and turtle finding. Yet I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough when we watched other families go away on amazing trips or head off to weekends at water parks. 

Then the money became even tighter (if that was possible) and I couldn’t find the funds to indulge their father’s whims. He became even angrier. The yelling and insults increased tenfold.  So we stayed in the tub far longer than we needed to or should have, every single night, waiting for their father to pass out and for the coast to be clear. We sang and sang and made up games and stories in that bathroom, and we survived. 

Yet the guilt continued to consume me. How could I let them live this way? Finally, one day, we ran and didn’t go back. Life became so much better and so much easier, and I married an amazing man who is an incredible father to all four of our children (we had two more). Even though we left that life behind, the guilt followed. The worry followed. I still questioned, every single day, what damage I had allowed to be done to my children by staying for so long. 

Then, one day, my older two children and I were watching television together and the people on the cooking show were asking what memories people had of their childhood kitchens. What did they smell and feel like? My oldest son turned to me and said, “Mom, do you know what I remember from being really little?”

I cringed inwardly. Here it was, the moment I’d been dreading. 

He said, “I remember hot dogs and love.” 

Hot dogs and love? Really? I was as shocked as I was relieved, and then of course amused. The three of us started to chat a bit. The kids talked about all the songs I sang at bath time that they loved so much, and the extra stories at bedtime. They talked about how funny it was to watch Mommy climb into the muddy swamp barefoot to try and catch frogs, and the countless walks and animals we spotted and the trips to our free local zoo. Whether or not they remember how truly awful things were at the time, what they have focused on is the love. They remember the time I spent with them and the love I showed them.

Here’s the thing: this Mother’s Day let’s take a break from the worry and the guilt, shall we? Life is challenging and heartbreakingly difficult at times. At the end of the day, what our children remember most are the stories we read, the snuggles we gave, and the time that we shared with them. They recall when we showed them how important they are, what they mean to us, and when we made them feel safe. Those are the memories and moments that will sustain them through the hard times in their lives. We can worry ourselves sick and let the mommy guilt eat us up inside, but all that truly matters to our children is that we love them and that we show them that every day. Love: that’s what they will remember the most.

Is Technology the New Drug for Our Kids' Generation?

Teens are using fewer illicit drugs than they have in the past 40 years. But are they trading those addictions for an addiction to technology?

Although we are currently hearing a great deal about the opioid crisis in America, teen drug use is actually declining overall. A new study called “Monitoring the Future” by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that teens are using fewer illicit drugs (other than marijuana) than they have in the past 40 years.

This annual government ­funded report measures drug use by teenagers in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. Specifically, the survey found that cigarettes and alcohol continued to show significant declines, reaching their lowest levels in the history of the study. Illicit drug use, such as cocaine, ecstasy, steroids, and amphetamines, are all down. Use of marijuana has declined over the past decade for eighth and tenth graders even though it is more socially accepted. Although heroin use has become an epidemic among adults in some communities, it has fallen among high schoolers over the past decade. These findings are consistent with other studies that show steady declines over the past decade in drug use by teenagers.

This surprising news has some scientists wondering what’s causing this trend. One possible reason is that teens are replacing their need for drugs with technology, specifically their smartphones. A recent article in the New York Times explored the connection between the rise in technology use with the decline in drug use. The pattern is quite clear and it has many experts anxious to explore this hypothesis in more depth.

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How technology is like a drug

Kids today are spending an exorbitant amount of time using electronics. A 2015 survey published by Common Sense Media found that American teenagers ages 13 to 18 averaged six and a half hours of screen time per day on social media and other activities like video games. In addition, a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center found that 24 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 reported being online “almost constantly,” and that 73 percent had a smartphone or access to one.

What keeps them wanting to come back for more? Much of the interaction with technology can provide a dopamine high for our kids. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released in our brain when we experience something positive. It essentially serves as a reward system. In the same way that drug users experience a dopamine high, experts are now finding that aspects of technology can also provide that same type of physical and psychological reaction.

David Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, explained in the New York Times article that due to the way smartphones stimulate our brains, we’re all “carrying around a portable dopamine pump.” Every time we post, share, like, comment, or send an invitation online, we’re creating an expectation to get a response from others. When someone responds to our emails, texts, posts, comments, or invitations, we feel a sense of belonging and get a rush of happiness and excitement.

Delaney Ruston, a physician who produced the documentary “Screenagers” which explores the relationship between technology and childhood development, points to many studies that review MRI scans of the brains of kids who play 20 hours or more of video games per week. When the scans are compared to people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, their brains look quite similar.

This rush is something that our kids notice and crave. It’s so much easier to get these positive feelings online instead of having to interact in person, such as asking someone out on a date or giving a friend a compliment. That takes courage and work. Technology makes it so easy for our kids to get one dopamine high after another.

Drug addiction versus technology addiction

In the New York Times article, Eric Elliott described his concerns about teens’ increased focus on technology. As a father and school psychologist for almost 20 years, he’s more concerned about technology use than drug use. While his daughter will pass on smoking marijuana, she will take her phone to bed with her. He has seen a decrease in drug and alcohol use among the students he counsels. However, the students are more likely to have an addiction to video games than to drugs, a very different trend from when he began his career.

There is no doubt that technology addiction is a real concern. A 2012 survey of 3,461 North American girls age eight to 12 found that high levels of media use (e.g., talking on the phone, communicating online, watching video, and listening to music) were related to negative social wellbeing, while face-to-face communication was associated with positive social and emotional outcomes. Many researchers have also found that narcissism is on the rise while empathy is on the decline, and they point to social media as a reason for that trend. As with any addiction, experts agree that negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, poor academic performance, and damage to relationships can result.

How common is technology addiction? According to Common Sense Media, it’s actually quite rare. It may seem like your son or daughter is addicted to their phone and other gadgets, but odds are it is simply normal teenager behavior. Teens check their devices often and feel pressure to respond quickly to messages. Plus, friends tend to take priority over everything else going on in their lives – something that has been going on for generations.

On the other hand, drugs kill. Would you rather have your child addicted to their phone or drugs? I would choose the tech addiction any day over the alternative.

What parents can do

Besides cutting back on screen time, we can help shift our children’s attention to more positive ways to get a dopamine boost. All of these activities have been proven to make us happier and stimulate the production of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in our brain.

  • Sports and exercise: Encourage your child to participate in sports, go on family bike rides or runs, or take them with you to the gym.
  • Volunteer work: Our brain chemistry changes when we do something kind for another person. Get involved in community service projects as a family or simply help a friend or neighbor in need.
  • Affection: Research indicates the many positive effects come from something as simple as a hug. Check out these tips for how to bring more affection into your family’s day.
  • Focus on a passion: Expose your children to inspiring hands-on activities like art, music, dance, writing, science, and nature. When our children discover something incredible that gives them a sense of awe or create something from nothing, they get a happiness boost.
  • Play board games: If your kids are getting a boost of dopamine from their video games, set aside a tech break to play some “old-fashioned” board games.
  • Laughter: One of the best ways to distract your kids from their gadgets is to get them giggling. There are so many creative ways to bring comedy and humor into your home, from joke books to silly games to family contests and talent shows. Have fun with it!

Stories and Snuggles and Lights out, Oh My: Regular Bedtime Routines Linked With Decreased Rates of Obesity

Leaving plenty of time for your date with Netflix.

More than a third of American youth are considered overweight or obese, a fact at which we parents have a tendency to roll our eyes at now. Is it because we don’t care that our kids are getting soft around the edges?

No, it’s just that our perception of normal is so warped that instead of being concerned, we nod sympathetically when our friend relates that her smart, athletic, slightly pudgy munchkin has been labeled overweight by the pediatrician. Who are they to say? we scoff as we shake our heads. He is just about to have a growth spurt, we nod. He takes after his grandfather, we nod again. Maybe he should sign up for baseball, we all agree.

But how did we get here?

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The connection between self-regulation and obesity has long been a focal point of research. Indeed, it’s been understood for decades that addictive behaviors have a much broader reach than the oft-publicized alcoholism and drugs.

While we know that there is a genetic link to obesity, we also know that there are plenty of things that parents can do to help encourage health body weight.

And thanks to a recent study released on April 24, 2017 by the “International Journal of Obesity,” we now know of one more.

Regular bedtime routines for preschoolers have now been linked to a decreased risk of obesity by age 11, and researchers believe that the association exists even when self-regulation skills are accounted for.

Researchers from Ohio State University, Temple University, and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in London teamed up to evaluate surveys received as a part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Information was gathered regarding bedtime and mealtime routines, along with the amount of daily screen time for each of nearly 11,000 three-year-olds. Children were also evaluated by parental survey for emotional and cognitive self-regulation skills.

Eight years later, the children’s height and weight were measured and obesity rates were calculated using the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) criteria. Children were also assessed again for emotional and cognitive self-regulation skills.

Unsurprisingly, a link was found between all household routines and emotional self-regulation skills, but no link existed between the same routines and the cognitive self-regulation skills commonly associated with the ability to focus on and persist through academic tasks.

In terms of risk of obesity, a link between self-regulation and future obesity was statistically established, but researchers were surprised that even when differences in self-regulation were accounted for, a regular bedtime routine was the single factor that continued to be linked with decreased risk of obesity at age 11.

Simply speaking, the benefits of a regular bedtime routine extended beyond improved emotional self-regulation. Even children who did not experience the typical improvement in emotional self-regulation experienced decreased risk of obesity at age 11 if they had a regular bedtime routine at age three.

Researchers are still unsure of exactly why this link exists independently of other factors, but one researcher surmised that the answer may be found in how sleep affects metabolism.

“Sleep is so important and it’s important for children in particular. Although there is much that remains unknown about how sleep impacts metabolism, research is increasingly finding connections between obesity and poor sleep,” lead author, Sarah Anderson noted. She went on to explain that future research might reveal how bedtime routines can support healthy development.

Though it’s not clear exactly why, it’s safe to say that consistent, established bedtime routines for preschoolers sets a healthy foundation for future self-regulation skills and diminished risk of obesity.

How can you enact one at home?

Start with the time you want your children in bed, and work backwards. Allow a half hour for stories, snuggles, and songs, then add fifteen minutes for teeth brushing and putting on jammies. You’ll need to allow additional time if your child needs to bathe or lay out clothing for the next day.

Prioritize the bedtime routine over other distractions, and you’ll be on the road to bedtime success.

3 Reasons to Stop Demonizing Our Teens Use of Screens

Parenting teenagers can be hard, especially when they are dealing with stuff that wasn’t even invented in our own teenagehood.

Life is hard for children and teenagers. Depression rates, self-harm, and suicide are increasing at a tragic rate. There is no doubt that social media and phones are involved in this story, but too often we simplify the role that they play.

When we point our finger at screens, suggesting that they are the cause of our teen’s troubles, we run the risk of missing the real cause of depression, the chance to connect with our teenagers around something that is important to them, and the opportunity to support their wellbeing.

The real cause of depression

A recent Time article paints a picture of the dire mental health of our teenagers, the result of a myriad of circumstances. “They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”

Despite recognizing that pressures are coming from a wide variety of places, the article largely focuses on screens, perhaps because it feels as though it is one area parents can affect.

However, just last month a big piece of research confirmed findings that screen time has very little impact on a young person’s mental health. The study, Everything in Moderation by Christopher J Ferguson, found that teenagers consumed on average six hours of screen time a day and that it had no correlation with depression at all. Even when screen time was excessive the link was weak, accounting only for 1.7 percent of the variance in depressive symptoms.

It’s an important study. It tells us we are spending far too much time worrying about screens and teens and asks us to search wider for the cause of teenage depression. Of the causes identified in the Time piece – a fraught economy, a violent society, school pressure, and social media pressure – once we take screens out of it, we’re left with only one thing that we can actually impact: school.

Indeed, a brief study by Peter Gray published in Psychology Today found some shocking correlation between youth admittance to the psych wards in American hospitals and exam periods at school.

We need to switch our gaze from screens to school. We need to advocate for our children and the pressure put on them at their desks, through their homework, and by the exam boards.

Connecting with our teenagers

One thing we are now beginning to understand about addiction is that it is less about the substance and more about social isolation, which is often exacerbated by the use of a substance. If parents are seeing an addiction to screens in their teenagers, the most important thing they can do is engage with the teens, provide opportunities for community, and increase connection in their relationships.

The last thing a teenager needs is to have the important relationships in their life fraught with tension. When we try to control our young people’s screen time or constantly let them know that we don’t approve of the time they spend on their phones, we burden a precious relationship. The alternative is to use screens to connect with them. Learn their favorite video games so you can play with them or get Snapchat so you can put a dog nose on the photo from when she was a toddler.

Demonizing our teenager’s use of screens could also mean that instead of turning to parents when the dark side of screens appears in the forms of cyber bullying or disturbing photos, teens keep it to themselves. If teenagers feel connected to their parents and are certain they won’t be judged or nagged, they’re far more likely to open up about the hurtful effects of being online so that the parents can give them the support they need.

The importance of a positive mindset

Studies have shown that simply having the information that we are doing okay and that we are making good choices can impact our well-being. A recent study from Harvard took a large number of hotel workers and split them into two groups. At the beginning of the study, the majority of the hotel workers rated themselves as unhealthy. They were all unaware that their hotel work exceeded the recommended amount of daily exercise. One group carried on as normal but the other group was given the information about the healthiness of their exercise. A few weeks later, the group that had that information had lost a significant amount of weight and had significantly lower blood pressure. A small shift in our perceptions from negative to positive can open us up to making small, healthy changes in our habits and behaviors.

If our young people use their screens with the knowledge that it is a positive thing, they are more likely to continue to make smart choices around their screens. If they focus on the good side of the internet – the chance to connect with important people in their life, to have fun, be entertained, and get inspired – they will be more able to shift into healthy screentime habits.

We can help with that. Indeed, we must if we want to help our teens manage the guilt they feel with the barrage of information they currently get from the media about how damaging social media and screen time can be.

Tell stories to your teenagers about how technology has helped people, share mindfulness apps with them, send them hilarious videos, and email them the inspirational blogs you find. Set up a private Facebook group for your extended family so cousins can share photos and jokes with each other. Celebrate the brilliant side of the internet with your teens.

That way, when you do need to talk about the internet and safety, they’ll know you understand all the good, they will trust you have their best interests at heart, and they will be able to come up with the boundaries they need themselves.


Parenting teenagers can be hard, especially when they are dealing with stuff that wasn’t even invented in our own teenagehood. But our role as parents is to hold space for them as they find their way through these tricky years.

We have to do this in the face of a media industry that seems to be built on simplifying complicated topics and scaremongering. If we can hold all the different threads of our teenager’s stories, we will be far more able to connect with them and support them, the things they really need from us.

Addiction Trends in America And How They Impact Families

Parents’ greatest fear is that their kids will become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many people in America know someone who’s struggling with addiction.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]P[/su_dropcap]arents’ greatest fear is that their kids will become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

According to a Parent.co survey of over 1500 participants, fear of drug and alcohol addiction vastly outweighed concerns about terrorism, economic collapse, crime, and war.
With help from AddictionWise, we set out to research the scope of addiction in America and how it impacts families
Most people in America know someone who is struggling with addiction. It may be the parent of a child in your kids’ class, someone at your church, or someone in your family. It might be your parent, or even your child. It might be you.

  • 44% of Americans say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, CNBC reports.
  • 20% said it was a family member.
  • 24.6 million Americans used drugs.
  • This equates to 9.4% of the population versus 8.3% in 2002.
  • That’s roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.

An introduction to drug addiction 

Addiction is a complex disease that causes changes in the functioning of the brain.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use.”
While a first-time user may try a substance voluntarily, chemicals contained in drugs compromise an individual’s self-control so that further use gradually becomes involuntary.
Drugs like heroin and marijuana mimic neurotransmitters, disrupting normal messages in brain chemistry. Cocaine and methamphetamine interact differently by producing dopamine, which arouses the brain’s reward center while also inducing the brain to produce less dopamine naturally. As drug use becomes more regular, the user’s tolerance increases with a need to use more qualities of drugs to attain a high.
Longer-term drug use affects glutamate, critical to both the reward center and for learning, which negatively influences certain brain functioning such as critical thinking, memory, and self-control.

Nationwide Trends

Annual surveys conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that drug use is on the rise in America. Participants of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, who are 12 years and older, provide critical commentary on the use of various substances for different periods, indicating weekly, monthly, or lifetime use of drugs and alcohol.
According to the 2013 results:

  •  23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs.
  • 24.6 million Americans used drugs.
  • This is an increase from 8.3% in 2002  to 9.4%.
  • Marijuana accounts for the majority of this increase as 19.8 million reported using this particular drug in 2013 whereas in 2007, this figure was only 14.5 million.
  • Marijuana accounts for the greatest rates of dependence (after alcohol) with 4.2 million users matching standards for clinical trials for abuse
  • 1.9 million met criteria for dependence on prescription painkillers and 855,000 for cocaine.
  • Methamphetamine use also increased from 353,000 users in 2010 to 595,000 users in 2013.
  • Cocaine however is currently trending downwards, from 2.4 million reported uses from 2002 to 2007 to 1.4 million uses in 2013.

Here in Vermont, more parents are permanently losing their children because of drug addiction.
Parents who are hooked on heroin and prescription opiates are driving an increase in child neglect cases, according to state child welfare officials and prosecutors. “It’s the drugs,” said James Hughes, state’s attorney in Franklin County, which has been swamped with juvenile cases. “Young parents are taking care of their addiction instead of taking care of their children.”

Teens and Drugs

The teenage population accounted for 54.1% of first-time drug users in 2013. Marijuana, followed by opioids then inhalants, are the most popular drugs of choice for this demographic.
Statistics show that drug use typically peaks in late teens and earlier twenties, though later generations are demonstrating a marked increase in drug use, especially for people in their 50s and 60s.
Survey results suggest that baby boomers have typically demonstrated elevated drug use compared to their predecessors.
Alcohol use tends to differ amongst the type of use and between ages and genders. Overall, underage drinking has declined from 28.8% to 22.7 % and binge drinking (5 or more drinks at the same time) from 19.3% to 14.2 % from 2002 to 2013.
Men are more likely to partake in binge drinking as 30.2 % of men and only 16% of women indicated that they had done so within in the month preceding the survey.
Heavy alcohol use (defined as binge drinking on 5 different days over the course of one month) is also more prevalent among men, with 9.5% of men versus 3.3% of women indicating this type of use.
Driving under the influence has fortunately declined from 2002 to 2013 from 14.2% down to 10.9%.
Alcohol addiction, which has the highest rate of dependence for all substances, has also declined in this timeframe, from 7.7% to 6.6% of Americans reporting alcohol dependence or related problems.
Tobacco use has also declined significantly between 2002, in which 2% of Americans reported regular cigarette use, and 2013, in which 21.3% indicated being a current cigarette smoker.
Encouragingly, the number of teenage smokers has declined between 2002 and 2013 from 13% to 5.6%.
The Monitoring the Future 2014’s survey, published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that drug use is on the decline amongst American teenagers across almost all categories of drugs (with the exception of marijuana, the use of which has stayed level from previous surveys).
From alcohol to painkillers, cigarettes to inhalants, teens are partaking in less substance abuse than previous generations.
However, this downward trend is countered by the rapid rise of e-cigarette use and a growing perception of marijuana as a less harmful substance. The Monitoring the Future survey reported that of 8th graders surveyed, 8.7% had used e-cigarettes in the past month, a percentage that only increases with each grade level up to 17.1% of 12th graders. 22.9% of 12th graders also indicated hookah use within the preceding year.
Despite the apparent decline of substance use in certain categories and demographics, a “treatment gap” persists for those suffering from addiction and substance dependence/abuse. While 8.6% Americans required professional care for substance abuse, only 0.9% obtained specialized treatment.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that “a majority of Americans say that lack of access to care for people with substance abuse issues is a problem (75 percent), including 58 percent who say it is a major problem.”

Emerging Trends and Opiate Addiction

The landscape of heroin addiction in the US has transformed over the past decades. Migrating from urban to suburban areas, lower income to more affluent neighborhoods, the profile of a heroin addict has changed from that of poor, urban, male and black users to predominantly white addicts of whom half are now women.
According to Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St Louis, first-time heroin users are typically in their mid-20s whereas decades ago, first-time users were generally around 16 years old. Between 2007 and 2013, heroin use has increased dramatically, from 370,000 to 680,000 users.
Similar patterns observed in the market for prescription painkillers like OxyContin mirror the rise of heroin addiction in recent years. The 1990s witnessed an increase in the accessibility to prescription painkillers that created a wave of addiction, surpassing the collective use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamines.
In 2012, 16,000 deaths were caused by painkillers. However, medical professionals are working to combat the oversupply of prescription painkillers in the market. For example, OxyContin pills are now being manufactured in such a way that “when crushed, turn into a gloop that cannot easily be snorted or dissolved for injection”.
Foreign markets are responding to the increased American demand for heroin. Despite Afghanistan’s status as the main producer of opium globally, Mexico is America’s main supplier. Plus, Mexican heroin is cheaper than that imported from Asia or Columbia. Domestic politics also have an important function; as Mexico reorients its resources to combat primarily urban, organized crime, poppy farming goes unchecked in rural regions, thus allowing opium production to flourish.
Since Marijuana is still the most popular drug used in the US and nowadays, since many states have legalized cannabis for medical consumption or just plain legalized it, demand for Mexican marijuana is on the decline. Opium, therefore, provides a lucrative market. Moreover, heroin manufacturing has responded to users’ preferences. Brown heroin is more easily smoked or snorted and offers an alternative to the injection, rending heroin more accessible and perhaps, perceptibly less threatening.

Addiction and Overdose

Pills and Wine
The NY Times reported in early 2016 that the United States has seen a marked increase in the number of deaths from drug overdose, primarily propelled by heroin and prescription drugs.
Deaths from overdoses today are comparable to those of HIV in the 1980s and 1990s. Though deaths from HIV spiked more rapidly, Robert Anderson, CDC chief of morality statistics, has emphasized that unlike HIV, death from drug overdoses is not as localized to metropolitan areas and actually is beginning to occur with more frequency in rural regions.
Certain regions and states are experiencing the impact of opiate overdoses more acutely than others are. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Southwest and Appalachia regions are the most affected in the United States. West Virginia has the highest number of deaths caused by overdose in the United States. In Appalachia, deaths caused by overdose are arguably connected to the use of prescription painkillers amongst particular populations of the blue-collar workforce. According to the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s director of addiction services, Dr. Carl R. Sullivan, III, this population is more likely to experience injuries on the job, which result in the initial prescription to combat chronic pain, a notion deemed “unacceptable” by pharmaceutical companies in the mid-1990s. Despite laws to combat abuse of such medications, those addicted to painkillers adopted heroin use.
Due to a fundamental lack of resources to administer treatment services and programs, deaths from overdose continue unchecked. State by state discrepancies in access to treatment and expenditures for such treatment also becoming more apparent. For example, in New Hampshire, overdose of opiates, mostly connected to fentanyl, caused 326 deaths in 2014. However, Timothy R. Rouke, New Hampshire’s chairman for the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, cites that his state spends less per capita than all other states minus Texas in providing the necessary treatment services.
In other states, like New Mexico, deaths from heroin overdoses have persisted since the 1990s; so much that opiate addiction is almost akin to a hereditary disease.
According to the executive director of the nonprofit organization Healing Addiction in Our Community, Jennifer Weiss-Burke, heroin addiction is seemingly passed down from one generation to the next as “a way of life.”
Furthermore, Weiss-Burke has noticed that the younger generations are more difficult to treat. Some prove unwilling to get sober and “end up cycling through treatment or end up in jail.” Weiss-Burke further articulates that “when you go right back to the same environment, it’s hard to stay clean… Heroin craving continues to haunt a person for years.”
In 2014, abuse of opioids accounted for over 61% of overdose deaths,which has tripled since 2014 according to the New York Time. Almost more troubling is the rise of fentanyl, for which a greater amount of naloxene is required to resuscitate an overdose victim as compared to a heroin overdose. Naxolene is also used to reverse other opioid drug overdoses and it is not specific to fentanyl.

Combating Prescription Drug and Heroin Use in the US

In March 2016, President Obama enunciated a multifaceted plan to enhance resources and treatment facilities and provide greater access to naloxene to address what has rapidly transformed into a “national epidemic”. The Obama administration has thus far appealed for $1.1 billion to fund these new measures aimed at reducing opioid overdoses.
President Obama articulated that as the profile of heroin addiction has transformed in recent decades, experiencing a profound socioeconomic shift as discussed above, the widespread nature of current opioid addiction has altered public opinion. Heroin addiction is no longer an affliction solely of the urban poor and the result of moral failings.
The FDA has moved to strengthen warnings on immediate-release opioid prescription drugs to warn those taking these drugs about abuse and potential overdose. The FDA had previously subjected 34 brands of extended-release tablets to tougher labeling requirements back in 2013.
This time around, FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert M. Califf, emphasized the enormity of this effort, and it will involve editing warning labels for 288 products. New Center for Diesease Control guidelines, though non-binding, will attempt to limit the prescription of opioid painkillers to cases in which no other appropriate option exists to mitigate pain.
Though the effectiveness of enhanced labeling of these drugs is perhaps debatable, Bruce Psaty at the University of Washington in Seattle emphasized that this “should help improve prescribing practices in the near term”. Thus, the new warnings and guidelines remain an integral part of a revitalized national campaign to combat drug addiction and opioid dependency.
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This article is presented in partnership with AddictionWise.

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Should Kids Know the Truth About a Parent's Addiction? 

When it comes to addiction, knowledge is power – and hope and healing. Don’t shy away from these conversations.

In the United States, more than eight million children live with parents who are substance abusers. There are also 18 million alcoholics in the U.S., according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). As a result, an estimated 26.8 million children are exposed, at varying degrees, to alcoholism in the family.

Living in a home where there is parental alcohol or substance abuse can be scary and confusing for children. Family life is often characterized by chaos and unpredictability because behavior is erratic and communication is unclear.

Complicating matters, family members are often unsure how to bring up the issue of addiction, or choose to ignore the problem for fear of pushing their loved one away. Yet experts stress the importance of being honest with your kids. Unusual behaviors, withdrawal, arguments – when they go unexplained, children often come to their own conclusions. Kids who feel unsafe, unwanted, or question their surroundings tend to withdraw, act out, or even become addicts themselves – leading to a perpetual cycle of addiction. And those effects extend beyond the here and now.

According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, “The child may no longer be living with the substance abusing parent because of separation, divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death. And the parent does not have to be still actively drinking or using for the child to continue to feel the impact of their addiction.”

There’s also a need to reduce the stigma in society associated with addiction. Julie Dostal, PhD, Executive Director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addiction and NCADD board member, says, “It is my greatest hope that one day we will talk freely about the disease of addiction as just that: a disease. We talk openly about diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and multiple other chronic diseases, we should be so bold about the disease of addiction. It is not a moral failing or a character flaw to be whispered about, it is a disease that can be treated and a disease that people recover successfully from.”

When it comes to addiction, knowledge is power – and hope and healing. Don’t shy away from these conversations. Dostal says when an addiction has progressed to the point that it is having an impact on the family, it’s time to talk to the children. They know “something” is wrong and it’s important to validate their observations. There are some parameters to keep in mind though, including the age of the child.

Jen Simon, mother, writer, and addiction advocate, publicly shared her addiction story in a piece called “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m an addict” in The Washington Post. She believes age makes a huge difference in what and how you tell your children about your addiction. “I think parents should tell their children about their addiction in an age-appropriate way. My sons are still young … they’re only just 3 and 7, so we haven’t gotten to that talk yet. But it’s important for them to know about my history because addiction has a genetic component,” says Simon.

How much you tell your child should also be guided by age and maturity. “You’re not lying to a seven-year-old if you don’t provide ALL of the details; you’re explaining things in a nuanced, step-by-step way,” Simon explains.

Dostal shares Simon’s sentiments, “If you can tell a child about the disease of addiction in an age-appropriate way, then by all means, talk to the child. For some, the truth (as they understand it) is that ‘Mommy/Daddy won’t stop drinking and doesn’t care enough about us to stop.’ Even though this may feel like the truth, it is not the truth. Blame and judgment toward the person with addiction will not help a child cope with the situation. If the truth is, ‘Mommy/Daddy is sick, and because of this, he/she does things that none of us can understand,’ then, yes, tell the child about addiction.” ​

Younger children and teens both understand the feeling of desperately wanting something, even when it’s something that’s not necessarily good or healthy. Opening a conversation this way allows you to explain how Mom or Dad is struggling with a similar choice and that sometimes we make choices that hurt us.

Experts also suggest asking children how they feel in a situation. For example, asking them if they’ve ever seen Mommy getting sleepy or if they’ve noticed Daddy stumbling around and being loud pulls them into the conversation and allows them to explain how they feel.

Explain that addiction is a disease. Let the child know that their parent is sick much in the same way a person with any other illness (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, etc.) might be sick. Make sure they know they’re not alone, and that millions of families are struggling with the same challenges. Keep in mind, this difficult conversation is not the time for a lecture on addiction.

Children also need to understand that addiction is not their fault. They didn’t cause a parent to abuse drugs or alcohol and they cannot cure or control it. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and this applies to children of substance abusers as well, children benefit from knowing the “Seven Cs of Addiction”: I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I can care for myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices, and by celebrating myself.

According to Dostal, it’s best to have these conversations when things are calm and cool. Just after a blow up is not the time open a discussion. If you’re the addicted person and you’re going into rehab or have decided to get better by attending support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), it might be best to wait until you have some recovery under your belt, she suggests. 

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease and it does not help a child to promise them that you’re going to get better when it is well documented that the first few weeks or months can be bumpy (at best). So, if possible, wait a little while, she recommends.

It’s okay for the parent who is not addicted to open the conversation, too. “If the addicted parent will not accept help or has behaviors that impact the family it’s important to validate your children’s experiences. Just remember to leave your strong emotions at the door and keep the children’s best interest in very sharp focus,” says Dostal. 

“If your relationship with the addicted person is still strong and intact, you can certainly invite them to join you in the conversation. If the addicted person strongly objects to having a conversation with the children, you may then want to consider bringing in a third person to assist.”          ​

Before having these tough conversations, it’s important to educate yourself about the disease of addiction so that you can answer any questions a child may ask. Here are some helpful links for the family of alcoholics and addicts:

What are your thoughts? Should children know the truth about a parent’s addiction? Share in the comments.

My Cigarette-Smoking Neighbor is Killing Her Kids. And I’m Fuming. 

Secondhand smoke is well known as a proven health hazard. How can a parent knowingly expose their kids to it?

I try to teach my children not to judge people. You don’t know what anyone’s life is like until you walk in their shoes, or at least take a moment to consider what might be going on in their life. As cheesy as it sounds, I try to live that way in hopes that by doing so, my kids learn empathy and kindness.

It’s possible my whole “cutting some slack” thing is a little self-serving. After all, I’m a far cry from perfect. I’m always late. My car’s a mess. I’d rather cuddle on the couch than play Barbie. I yell way too much. Sometimes I squeeze my kids’ arms a little too hard – and I really hope no one is judging me.

But I have to confess, I’ve judged my neighbor. I think she’s a horrible mother.

I know this announcement is mother-on-mother sacrilege. Judging a fellow mom’s parenting is like taking the holy grail of motherhood and lighting it on fire, along with all of your child’s most beloved stuffed animals. You just shouldn’t do it. But I can’t help it.

I’m convinced she’s a horrible mother because she’s killing her children. And all I can do is silently watch her.

No, she is not beating them. She’s not starving them. In fact, I’ve never even heard her raise her voice at her well-behaved, adorable kids, who I’m guessing are around five and two. I’ve never asked because I can barely look her in the eye.

While she creates elaborate jungles with rainbow chalk on the sidewalk in front of her house, she is killing her children. She’s killing her children as she teaches them to play hopscotch. She is killing her children while she wheels them around the block in their red-wagon. She is killing her children as they plant purple flowers by their gate. She is killing her children as she sets up a tent in their front yard and camps out on a warm Chicago summer night.

How is she killing her children? Because during all of these activities she is smoking cigarettes. In fact, I’ve never seen her without one. And the smoke blows right in those innocent faces. I can’t get past it.

According to the CDC, secondhand smoke causes children’s lungs to grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke. This means they they may have severe life-threatening asthma attacks. They contract more bronchitis and pneumonia. They wheeze and cough more than other children.

Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. This is even worse for children. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.”

See what I mean? She is a horrible mother.

The empathetic part of me tries to understand. Maybe she has a really stressful life. Maybe smoking cigarettes is her answer to an even worse addiction. Maybe a gun-wielding monster holds her hostage in her home and orders her to slowly kill her children or he will kill them all instantly. Honestly…the last one is the only excuse I’d consider worthwhile, and my instincts are telling me that’s not what’s happening here.

It’s not the fact that she smokes that bothers me. I could care less if she lit up on her front porch every single night while her children were in bed. After all, she’s an adult in charge of her own body. It’s her choice. But inhaling secondhand smoke is not her children’s choice. She is making it for them.

I’d like to know how a mother who clearly adores and cherishes her kids can be so selfish, and put them in so much avoidable danger? I’d ask her, but since I don’t even know her kid’s names, it seems a little personal.

What I’d like to say is this: “If quitting is not in the cards for you, then why don’t you try other alternatives? Like nicotine gum, or a patch, or even e-cigarettes, which don’t create any secondhand smoke?” I may even admit to her that I know I’m being judgey, but aren’t there options? They may not be as satisfying, but think of the kids!

Empathy fails me here. And I can’t help but feel like I’m failing as a neighbor, too. Maybe I should get to know her better. Maybe if I could get past the smoke, I’d really like her. She is soft-spoken and kind, and creative. But I’m torn, because how can I like someone who is killing her children?

How to Tell If Your Child Is Addicted to Video Games – and How to Help

If you’ve determined that your child likely has a video game addiction, there are a number of ways you can help.

I was addicted to video games for seven years.

During those seven years, my gaming addiction sucked the joy out of my life and kept me from learning important social skills. If you suspect that your child (or someone else) is addicted to video games, I’m here – as a former video game addict – to tell you that they need your help.

Before I get into my own story and the different ways you can help, you first need to understand what it means to be addicted to video games.

First, a gaming addiction isn’t reliant on a certain kind of system or even a certain amount of time. An hour a day on a smartphone, tablet, console, or computer is more than enough to have a full-fledged addiction.

Second, your child may be able to play video games for hours at a time without becoming addicted. I have a number of friends who are this way; they can take it or leave it. Video game addicts, on the other hand, aren’t the same. Gaming consumes them.

No matter where they are or who they’re talking to, thoughts about the game pop into their mind:

“When can I play again?”

“Maybe if I try this strategy when I’m gaming again, I can do better.”

“If I leave now, I can have another hour to game.”

The ecstasy they feel from gaming means everything else in life is simply less joyful. When I was addicted to gaming, all of the things I used to enjoy seemed dampened, like a black shroud draped over me, relative to the high I experienced from gaming. It was powerful enough that I would do things like stay downstairs and game for most of Christmas day, which I did one year while the rest of my family spent time upstairs with each other.

Finally, being addicted to video games isn’t reserved for outcasts. This addiction can happen to anyone. At the time of my addiction, I made decent grades, had a number of solid friendships with good kids, and maintained other hobbies.

In short, being addicted to a video game has the ultimate effect of pulling you away from everything good in life, and despite what I would have argued at the time, it was truly a dark period in my life.

Why would anyone get addicted to a video game, of all things? For me, it all came down to self-worth. When I beat someone else in StarCraft, Tribes, Age of Empires II, or any of the other games I was addicted to, I received an instant injection of self-worth. “Wow, I really am pretty good at something.”

I know it might not make complete sense, but, trust me: That is a powerful, powerful message, especially for kids like me who have a strong fear of failure.

Your child might be addicted to video games if they exhibit the following signs:

  • Talk about their game(s) incessantly
  • Play for hours on end (I played for up to 14 hours a day when possible)
  • Get defensive when told about their excessive gaming habit
  • Get angry or explosive when made to stop
  • Sacrifice basic needs (e.g., sleep) in order to game
  • Hide or downplay time spent gaming
  • Seem preoccupied, depressed, or lonely

If you’ve determined that your child likely has an addiction, there are a number of ways you can help. You can educate yourself at sites like video-game-addiction.org and On-Line Gamers Anonymous. Once you have reviewed treatment options, such as therapists or wilderness camps, you then have to take the bold step of actually intervening.

The good news is that your child can break the addiction. I’ve been free from my addiction now for nearly a decade, and while it still rears its ugly head every once in a while, it is by-and-large behind me.

Because the intervention process can be very difficult, depending on the seriousness of the addiction, I want to give you some extra motivating factors to follow through with it. Studies are beginning to show that excessive gaming (approximately 3 hours per week) by youths is linked with increased levels of depression, anxiety, and social phobia, all of which can last years into the future.

As a final thought, I’d like to recognize the fact that not all games are bad and not everyone is prone to addiction. My goal here isn’t to demonize gaming as I fully recognize that gaming also brings with it some benefits, like the accepting culture of the gaming community and the cognitive benefits of educational games for children.

But for video game addicts, the dark downsides of their addiction far outweigh any potential benefits. If your child has a video game addiction, please consider helping them break it.

You Are Worthy: Thoughts for a Friend Facing Alcohol Addiction

It’s not going to be easy, taking ownership of the vice that’s destroying you. But I see you. I’m here, and your hard work is inspiring.

I know this is not how you thought 2016 was going to go down. Remember how strong you felt in January? Running your ass off, up and down mountains, across bridges? You’ve still got that. Now you have to channel that stamina into something new.

This isn’t the first time you’ve had to fight this dragon, I know. Addiction isn’t a light conversation topic while pushing kids on swings, but you’ve said enough over the years. I’ve always been impressed by how you own your past and celebrate who you are today. So many of us, including me, feel like we have to hide our mistakes. Or we pretend our biggest fault is leaving dishes in the sink overnight, feeding the kids cereal for dinner, or some other nonsense.

But struggle is what makes us who we are. One reason you’re so great is how real you are. Everyone around you can feel it. They are attracted to your candor and spirit, even if they don’t know why.

I wish I’d known how bad things had gotten. This isn’t about me, but I feel like a crappy friend. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you slipped back into bad patterns. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t ask for help. My heart hurts for you.

I’m proud of you right now, even with all the sadness. Proud of you for heading to rehab, leaving the kids, the man, the house – all of it – to get on top of things. Doing it instead of just thinking about it, talking about it even, hemming and hawing? That’s pretty bad ass.

Addiction is sneaky. Alcohol isn’t my vice but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. My obsessions are different but equally unhealthy, emotionally. The way we talk about drinking is so messed up. Life needs booze! Have a drink! Relax, you deserve it! But not too much, obviously. Only losers can’t control their drinking, right? Never mind that we laugh when someone’s had too much, and use it as an excuse for letting go.

I don’t really know what to say to you. I don’t have a lot of experience with rehab. My brother went, for a whole year, and I know we’ve talked about it. All I could do for him was write – nearly every day just so he’d know he wasn’t alone. I can do the same for you. Even more, I’m here for after, when you have to try to take care of yourself and real life, too.

I can’t imagine how you feel right now. I don’t have to. Know I love you, even the broken and ugly and dangerous parts. Really. You probably don’t believe me right now. That’s the addiction talking, making you feel worthless. That’s the lie. You are worth so much, even drunk and falling apart and doing stupid things. You still have value.

Talk to me, stay silent, punch a hole in my wall, shave my head. I’m here. And I know you can do this.