Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Parenting

Red Flags in Teenage Behavior to Look Out For

We’ve heard the jokes and the comparisons before – teenagers are like little aliens, their moods change on a whim, their logic is incomprehensible, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with, and so on. While it’s true that most adults won’t remember what it’s like to think like teens, most teenage behavior still follows some sort of logic – even when it’s purely instinctual or based on very short-term benefits. But what if becomes more than that? What about the red flags in teenage behavior that nobody told you about, you know, the ones that could create a mental health condition later on?

Being a teen means transitioning from childhood into fully matured adulthood – a process that begins with the onset of puberty but lasts well into a person’s early 20s or even later. With that process come a lot of bumps and challenges. Differentiating between these and real mental health issues – which are becoming increasingly common for teens – can be difficult.

Outside of being boneheaded or self-centered, teens will often struggle with emotional maturity, consistency, and long-term planning. Sometimes, “normal” teen behavior can be conflated with a serious behavioral issue, and in other cases, it is a precursor to a serious behavioral or mental health problem.

Even if your teen infuriates you, there’s a line to draw between annoying or troublesome teen behavior and genuine mental health issues. Learning to recognize those is important, whether as a parent, friend, or close relative.

What is Normal Teenage Behavior?

Defining normal behavior is difficult. There’s the societal norm, then there’s the researched average, and the matter of what feels normal from an individual, anecdotal, or cultural perspective.

Most people can agree on a few general things about teens – such as their shortsightedness or lack of emotional maturity – but there are case-by-case differences on where normal ends and where red flags in teenage behavior may begin. There’s no real way to “treat” a teen’s sexual drive, their will towards rebellion, or their curiosity for the taboo.

For example, our laws make it illegal for kids to get drunk or engage in sexual intercourse before a certain age.

Yet despite these laws, we know that the average drinking age in the US (i.e., age of first drink) is 13-14 and that half of the population has their first sexual encounter between the ages of 16 and 20. Teens do things they shouldn’t do all the time, and we need to intervene on a case-by-case basis. But that doesn’t mean we pathologize every teen’s mistakes.

In other words, we just need to draw a line between normal individual expression and signs of pathology. In the case of the latter, your teen might be struggling with something they can’t deal with on their own, and getting help as soon as possible gives them the best chance of fighting it.

It’s the difference between trying out a beer and becoming a heavy drinker by age 17. It’s the difference between trespassing for a “prank” and routinely engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. And it’s the difference between having a teen’s typical short temper and becoming violent towards others on multiple occasions.

Important Red Flags in Teenage Behavior to Spot

Let’s start with the red flags. These are signs of a serious problem. In other words, if your teen is exhibiting one or more of these red flags, you should consider speaking with a professional and talking to your teen about counseling or therapy. These red flags include the following:

  • Heavy drinking and other signs of repeated drug use.
  • Knowingly engaging in illegal activities, including speeding or vandalism.
  • Becoming violent towards other teens or people on multiple occasions.
  • Often referencing death and talking about death, especially what it would be like if they died.
  • Frequent signs of physical injury and hiding/lying about cuts and bruises.
  • Burns and other signs of self-harm.
  • Suicide attempts.

Red flags are meant to highlight problems that most teens don’t have. While a large number of teens have had a beer or tried marijuana, most teens are not habitual users of “hard drugs” or struggling with addiction. Most teens aren’t engaged in routine illegal activities, whether it’s vandalism or theft. Most teens aren’t routinely assaulting each other or struggling with suicidal thoughts.

These are serious behavioral issues that warrant a professional opinion. There’s no point trying to diagnose your teen’s behavior yourself – it might look like addiction, but it might be a combination of drug use with a mediating mental health condition, like social anxiety. It might look like depression, but it might, in fact, be a bipolar disorder, which may require a different treatment plan.

If you’ve observed certain red flags in your teen, then seeking professional help is important.

Other Important Signs

However, you don’t need to wait for a teen to show red flags to be concerned for your teen’s mental or physical well-being.

Some of the behaviors listed below might indicate a mental health problem or personal issue, but they may also indicate that your teen needs someone to talk to or that they are finding themselves engaged in unhealthy coping mechanisms for their schoolwork or personal life. These behaviors include:

  • Illicit drug use.
  • Losing interest in old hobbies.
  • Rapid weight loss (or rapid weight gain) at an unhealthy scale.
  • Overexercising (i.e., to the point of repeated injury and/or hospitalization).
  • Social isolation (withdrawing from others).
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time online (never going outside or logging off).
  • Sudden and severe mood swings.
  • Struggling to enjoy things and being gloomy most of the time.
  • Having a very quick temper and becoming easily frustrated at minor things.

Talk About It and Get Help

Some people worry about pathologizing normal instances of negative behavior – for example, it’s normal to act out after a messy breakup or feel terrible after the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, we do things that aren’t in our best interest, and that goes for doubly for teens. We all cope in our own ways, and it isn’t always clean.

But the concern is still valid, even when there’s a “good reason” your teen might be acting a certain way. They may “snap out of it,” or it might start them down a seriously dark road as their symptoms get worse. If these behaviors apply to your loved one, keep an eye on them, and see if things get better. If they don’t – there’s still plenty of time to talk to them about getting real help.

Mental health issues are difficult to deal with, and many of them have their onset in the late teen years. Understanding why your teen is acting the way they are is important – but oftentimes, they might not even have a reason. Things like depression and anxiety can and often do develop without good cause, and their symptoms come and go without a specific trigger. If you’re concerned for yourself or your loved one, be sure to talk to a professional. At Visions Treatment Centers, we are here to help.

Categories
Communication Feelings Parenting

How to Talk to Teenagers for a Better Relationship

It’s no surprise that books on teen behavior sell millions – while we’ve all been teens at one point or another, it’s very difficult for an adult to remember what it was like, and it’s even more difficult to try and empathize with another person’s teenage behavior or mental health problems, even when they’re your child. For example, learning how to talk to teenagers to develop an awesome relationship can be unique and pose its own challenges for every situation.

How to Talk to Teenagers for a Great Relationship

If you struggle to communicate with your teen and are finding that it’s affecting your relationship, it’s time to take a step back and analyze how you approach conversations with your teen and where your inadvertent priorities lie.

1. Don’t Be a Judge, Be a Listener

Sometimes, all your teen needs is a sounding board – someone to talk to who will listen without trying to address every issue or step in with unwanted advice. This is even more important if your first reaction to your teen telling you anything is to figure out what kind of judgment you should make as a result of their experience.

If you tend to scold your teen more than anything else, don’t be surprised if they eventually stop telling you what they’re really doing and start trying to hide things.

It doesn’t matter if what your teen did was wrong – most of the time, your teen knows that. It matters more to understand why they did it and talk to them about that. Be there as your teen’s champion, your teen’s coach, your teen’s guidance – not another reflection of the world around them enumerating all the things they’ve messed up in the last week or two.

2. Don’t Try to “Fix” Their Problems, Because You Can’t

At least, not all the time. The crux of this piece of advice is not to treat every question or encounter with your teen as an opportunity to deliver a straight answer.

For example, if a teen is having trouble with their friend, avoid giving specific advice or telling them what you’d do. Let them figure out what they should do – and provide guiding principles to help them make the right choice.

Similarly, when your teen misbehaves, ask questions. What were they thinking? Did they have a plan? What do they want? As parents, it’s impossible sometimes to control certain frustrations and avoid lashing out with accusations or condemnation. But whenever possible, use the situation to help your teen navigate their problems themselves.

3. Provide Guidance

It’s a popular sentiment that teens continuously pull away from their parents on the way to adulthood, but while that is true, it’s often paired with the misconception that parents become a waning influence on the health, well-being, and personality of their children.

Teens are absolutely shaped by their parents more than any other individual at that point in their life, provided their parents are around to shape them – much more so than their peers or teachers. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it’s usually a teen’s parent-child relationship that affects who they choose as their peers, and it tends to be the greatest influence on their overall mental health and likelihood to struggle at school or with substance or drug use.

Your teens will continue to mirror your attitudes and behaviors whether they realize it or not and will be reliant on you as their main role models until they leave home. That’s a significant portion of most people’s teen years as well as their young adulthood, especially as the economy worsens and more young adults opt to live with their parents.

All this is to say that no matter how it might feel at any given point, remember that what you say, do, and think as a parent will continue to impact your teen substantially, even as they become increasingly independent.

4. Manage Your Emotions

A lot of teens thrive on eliciting conflict. It’s not really something they do on purpose – teens are just generally getting accustomed to managing their emotions and, as such, are quick to resort to the dramatic. That means yelling, screaming, “I hate you!” and running away at the first sign of confrontation.

The worst thing you can do as a parent is give in to your inner frustrations and start scolding them or lobbing insults and yells of your own. Always, always, try to keep your cool.

Again, we’ve mentioned that we aren’t robots, and frustrations can seep through sometimes. But as much as possible, you need to emphasize rising above as a parent in order to provide proper guidance and set an example of emotional maturity. Show your teen that, while it’s healthy to let loose and blow off steam sometimes, it’s never appropriate to deal with a situation – especially a problem – by venting emotionally, especially towards other people.

5. Don’t Press the Issue, A Stone Won’t Bleed

As much as it pains a lot of parents to hear this sometimes, timing is quite important. Your teen won’t be open to a conversation all the time, and you can’t always press the issue just because you demand it. Your authority isn’t absolute anymore, especially when a teen feels quite strongly about something.

All you achieve by pushing when it’s no longer time to push is a much more antagonistic teen and an increasingly frustrated mindset.

This circles back to why it’s important to treat teens as individuals. They’re at a point where their development necessitates boundaries, privacy, and the ability to make choices that matter. Teaching them that also means understanding that there will be times when they draw these boundaries against you, and you need to give them some time to calm down.

6. Don’t Escalate

This last piece of advice can be very simple and very powerful. When your teen disagrees or responds aggressively, don’t immediately match their tone. Parents sometimes think the best way to respond to a teen with aggression is by displaying that aggression back towards them, but more often than not, this just seesaws into a screaming match.

Instead, try to take a pause. A moment of silence can mean a lot more than a loud yell. Sometimes, frustrated teens – whether it’s school stress, relationship problems, or even just simple hunger – can respond to questions like “have you done the dishes yet?” or demands like “take out the garbage, like you were told twice today” with venom.

But if you give them a moment to reconsider what they’ve said with a simple, stern look, you may be surprised how often you’ll get a begrudged “okay, fine.” In moments like that, a win is a win, and it’s better than taking on their energy and spewing it back at them to no avail.

Practice Talking to Your Teen Today

Talking to teens isn’t easy. The context of any given moment, the million things on your teen’s mind, the way their emotions are at play at that given moment, and their individual personalities can make each and every conversation a minefield of its own.

Learning to deal with that takes time, patience, and a keen mind to understand how your teen tends to think and work. But it’s worth it. Becoming a better listener and developing a healthier verbal relationship with your teen can be a good predictor for positive outcomes in life, including better academic achievements and mental health.

For more information on teen mental health and treatment, visit Visions Treatment Centers.

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Mental Health Parenting Therapy

Can a Teenager Refuse Mental Health Treatment?

Can a teenager refuse mental health treatment?

It’s an important question many parents ask themselves when faced with a teen who refuses to get help for their worsening mental health symptoms. The answer is that it depends. For the most part, minors cannot refuse care – but some states do insist that mental healthcare providers need a minor’s consent to continue treatment. And most therapists and psychiatrists will not work with a teen if they are not interested in seeking help, unless their care has been court-appointed.

If your teen is an adult – meaning, 18 or older – then there’s nothing you can do to force them to seek treatment. The most you can do with a teen under the age of 18 is force them to show up to the therapist’s office – but without their consent and willing participation, the whole exercise can feel a little pointless. And remember, depending on the state you live in, you may not be able to force your teen into any kind of mental health treatment without their consent.

An inpatient program can help, a little bit. You can make your minor go to rehab, but it’ll likely damage your relationship with them if it isn’t something they ever agreed to, and it can take a lot of time for them to begin opening up to the lessons they will potentially learn while in recovery. This can be a very expensive mistake.

What Should I Do If a Teen Refuses Treatment?

Depending on your teen’s condition, they may be interned in a psychiatric hospital or may be forced to go to rehab against their will. Psychiatric hospitalization is a short-term treatment plan utilized in cases where people suffer from an acute episode of self-harm, suicide, psychosis, or other mental health conditions that cause harm to themselves or others around them.

After psychiatric hospitalization, a person is often referred to an inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program, such as a partial hospitalization program, to transition back to living at home. All in all, it can take multiple weeks for them to return home and feel better.

In some cases, a court might force someone to go into rehab for their condition. Court-mandated or court-ordered rehab is only imposed in cases where people committed a crime in connection to their drug use. If your teen went on a drinking spree and drove drunk, endangering others, they may choose to go to rehab instead of facing jail time.

But if you’re aware of your teen’s condition and its worsening symptoms, you will want to fight as hard as you can to make sure it doesn’t have to come to that. You can work with a therapist to convince your teen that getting help is the best thing for them to do right now.

Should I Even Force Mental Health Treatment on My Teen?

It’s rare for your only option to be to force your teen into treatment, whether it’s a therapist’s office or an inpatient facility for drug use. You may still have options in between.

The most obvious downside to seeking forced treatment is that your teen doesn’t want it. This means they won’t be receptive to treatment. They won’t trust their treatment providers, be dismissive towards therapists and other treatment specialists and professionals, and have a harder time benefiting from treatment in any possible way.

It’s hard enough as it is to successfully seek help for conditions like depressiondrug addiction, and anxiety and come out the other end with improved symptoms and a better quality of life. It’s much harder when you start off vehemently against the idea of getting help. However, you may have other options.

Talking to a Professional About Interventions

Interventions are basically confrontations between loved ones or family members with the goal of convincing the target person to seek the help they need. Interventions might feel famously cliché, but when done right, they can break through to a person and make them realize that getting treatment really is the best thing for them and what they need to do right now.

Teens may be becoming adults, but they’re still ultimately children, and they may be your children. Mental health symptoms can be scary and make the world a more terrifying place to be in. Seeking help might be something they’ve been conditioned to avoid or not accept, and helping them remember or learn that it’s okay to be helped can open them up to finally seeking care.

It’s important to talk from the heart here, but it’s also important to stick to the framework your therapist provides. It’s easy for interventions to break down into arguments, and that will not be conducive to your goal.

Try To “Sell” Your Teen on Mental Health Treatment

Your teen might have all manner of misconceptions about what treatment really means. Maybe they’re worried about having to take medications and being forced to endure all manner of side effects. Maybe they’ve heard horror stories about bad therapists and poor experiences in rehab centers. It’s important to talk to them about their treatment expectations and find out what it is they’re specifically worried about.

Most teens who struggle with anxiety or depression to a debilitating degree are aware of the fact that they’re different and that they might have trouble with things other people don’t.

Talk to your teen about treatment and what it might mean for them. If your teen feels like committing to treatment ignores all the problems they’re facing at home, consider making a commitment for them. Talk to a therapist about family therapy or group therapy. Take notes and apply what you learn in therapy at home together.

However, some conditions are harder to seek care for. For teens with schizophrenia, it might be hard to convince them to get help if they’re currently experiencing a psychotic break or have been more paranoid than usual.

Some personality disorders also feature paranoia as a primary symptom, which can make it harder to get treatment. Other conditions, like narcissistic personality disorder, may become violent or irritable if you imply that they need help. It may be in your best interest to talk to a therapist about approaching your teen with these conditions.

Commit To Mental Wellness at Home Together

One of the reasons group therapy is helpful to many people is because it helps remind them that they are not alone, and that they are not the only people who need help, or who are getting help. It also allows people to forge new friendships with others who have shared their experiences and have a unique insight into what it might be like to live with certain conditions.

If you and your teen both similarly struggle with certain symptoms, getting help together can not only improve your mental health but strengthen your bond as parent and child.

It’s not easy to convince someone who doesn’t think they need help that they should reach out for it. But if you reach out together, it might feel a little easier.

Categories
Communication Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Parenting

Talking About OCD with Your Teen

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects approximately 500,000 children and teens in the US. While it is a well-known condition, OCD is frequently misunderstood and more common than most people expect. However, talking about OCD with your teen can encourage open conversation, help you and your teen recognize symptoms, and find appropriate treatment.

At its core, OCD is an anxiety disorder. Like social phobia or generalized anxiety, it centers around the physical and mental symptoms of fear and worry. However, it functions differently from those disorders. OCD is a recursive condition defined by two major characteristics: unwanted and overpowering obsessions and ritualistic, soothing compulsions.

These characteristics feed one another and keep the cycle going. When an obsession is ignored, the anxiety and discomfort around it grow exponentially until a compulsion is used to soothe it. However, this ineffective coping mechanism usually leads to the next obsession in due time. Alternatively, certain environmental triggers – from stress to timing – can trigger an obsession.

Children and teens with OCD may not necessarily know or understand that they’re struggling with something most people don’t struggle with. But the obstacles OCD can throw into schoolwork and home life can further feed the anxieties, frustrations, and depressive thoughts that may plague your child.

In teens who do know what OCD is and suspect they may have OCD, it becomes common to try and ignore or avoid the issue to dodge the stigma surrounding mental illness. Making sure your teen feels comfortable enough to talk about their anxieties, and seek treatment, is important. Here’s what you should know when talking about OCD with your teen.

Learn More

OCD is a complex disorder and not one to be lightly diagnosed. If you suspect that your teen or loved one might be struggling with OCD, especially if it runs in the family, it may be worth taking note of your teen’s behavior and speaking to a specialist first.

Learning more about OCD can help you talk to your teen about how they’ve been feeling and how they’ve been coping. Learn more about the different obsessions teens can struggle with and the many different ways in which compulsions develop.

OCD symptoms can even appear in the least likely of places, such as your teen’s gaming habits. There’s a difference between a quirky habit and a ritualistic devotion to certain daily practices.

If or once your teen is diagnosed, taking the time to learn more about OCD and how it is treated can help give both you and your child a better perspective of what’s to come and what to expect.

Dealing with Treatment Refusal

People are not often enthusiastic about being encouraged to see a therapist or mental health professional. We do ultimately still associate mental health disorders with personal failings, despite the fact that they are not related.

It is crucial to ensure that your teen understands where you are coming from as a parent, in the sense that you want them to have a chance at their best life, rather than center on the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with them. We don’t blame people for having a bad knee or for suddenly receiving a cancer diagnosis. We can’t blame anyone for having OCD. But we can do something about it together.

Recognize Your Role

It can be hard to admit that we may contribute to our teen’s compulsions and behavior, but even inadvertent involvement can negatively affect your teen’s perception of their own condition, being misinterpreted as tacit approval or a sign that things are fine.

This can come in many unexpected ways, such as providing excessive reassurance (feeding the proverbial feedback loop of OCD) or inadvertently participating in ritualized behavior, such as nighttime rituals your teen can’t sleep without.

If you find yourself involved in your teen’s compulsions, it’s best to see a professional yourself and bring it up. They can guide you through a context-sensitive way to help your teen and introduce better coping mechanisms.

Champion Transparency and Honesty

This can be difficult for some parents. It may sound counterproductive to give your teen more space when you want to have a greater effect on them. But sometimes, pulling away is the best way to get your teen to come to you.

To truly help your teen, you ultimately need their full trust and their total honesty. That comes from showing your teen, time and time again, that you trust them, too, and that your love and affection towards them is entirely unconditional, no matter what they think or feel.

Begin by respecting both their privacy and their right to a non-judgmental home environment. Snooping is an effective way to figure out what your teen is doing, but it’s an even better way to break their trust.

You want to make sure that you foster an environment where your teen feels that they are being increasingly treated like an independent adult – while still being your child and your loved one. Then, talk to them in earnest. Be honest about your own experiences. Relate to what they feel, whether it’s anxiety about school or your own experiences with depression and stress.

When you can’t relate, be empathetic. Ask them what they want to do. Start talking about OCD with them. Talk to them about getting help. Offer to bring them to a therapist the next day.

Support Their Treatment

Conditions like OCD are difficult to treat and difficult to live with. They can be a lifelong obstacle, requiring continued treatment and varied coping skills to make do. But when a person’s loved one is diagnosed with these conditions, it poses a unique challenge.

Standing on the sidelines is difficult because your influence on your teen’s condition is, while important, ultimately limited. It is a battle you cannot fight for them. The most you can do is be in their corner, always.

At times you will be their cheerleader. At times you will be their caretaker. But with patience, compassion, and the right help, you will also have many, many times where you will feel nothing but pride and joy for how your teen has overcome their challenges and continued to lead a good life in spite of them.

OCD Treatment for Teens at Visions

If talking about OCD with your child isn’t enough, contact us at Visions Treatment Centers. We can provide the tools and best OCD treatment approach to help your teen get back on track.

Categories
Addiction Marijuana Parenting Smoking Substance Abuse

Understanding Teen Marijuana Use and its Effects

From its depiction in pop culture to worldwide discussions surrounding decriminalization and legalization, marijuana use has been a central point of discussion in both policy and household arguments for generations. Yet the question remains in the minds of many – is it dangerous? And if so, how dangerous? Furthermore, what about teen marijuana use and its effects on adolescents?

While it is still a Schedule I drug, marijuana cannot quite be compared in the same vein as heroin or cocaine. Years of research have shown us that it is impossible to overdose on a drug like pot, and statistically speaking, it does not have the addictive potential of “harder” illicit substances. For comparison’s sake, marijuana is still named in the same breath as ecstasy and LSD, while schedule 2 drugs include cocaine, meth, and Ritalin.

But that does not make it a harmless substance, nor does it relegate marijuana to the likes of nutritional supplements or minor over-the-counter medication. Marijuana has a psychoactive effect on the brain, can be linked to cases of addiction, and can have long-term consequences for heavy or chronic use, especially in teens, who are more prone to the effects of mind-altering substances.

Is Marijuana Dangerous for Teens?

Marijuana, pot, or cannabis, is a drug derived from the cannabis plant, usually split into two major variants: Sativa and Indica.

Marijuana Strains

There are countless different popular strains of marijuana, each of which features different concentrations of CBD and THC, two of the main chemical components that give marijuana its mind-altering properties. In general, THC is considered the “active ingredient” in marijuana, while isolated CBD lacks the components needed to create a “high.”

Marijuana today is more potent, meaning it has a higher concentration of THC than in previous decades. This makes the drug more powerful, but grown, and harvested marijuana is still limited in its effects on the human brain.

Side Effects of Teen Marijuana Use

We do not know if marijuana use, even at a high level, leaves a permanent mark on the brain the same way alcohol, meth, or cocaine does.

Overall Long-Term Effects

But we do know that both the short-term and long-term consequences of THC in early adulthood and adolescent years include short-term memory loss, negative impact on cognition and coordination, poor time perception, and lowered attention.

In other words, even by the most conservative estimates, marijuana use affects a teen’s ability to do well at school by interfering with their memory and capacity for problem-solving.

Risk-Taking and Lowered Inhibition

Because marijuana is a psychoactive drug, it also affects risk-taking attitudes and natural inhibition, meaning that people who use marijuana are more likely to get into risky situations, accidents, and engage in unprotected sex, which makes the transmission of STDs more likely.

Teen Marijuana Use and Driving

The effects of marijuana on driving are less apparent. Studies that do point towards a greater likelihood of impairment show low to moderate effect sizes. Marijuana may increase reaction times (i.e., it takes longer for you to react to something on the road) and increase lane weaving, but also improve following distance. One way or another, it’s still clear that any and all mind-altering substances, from alcohol to pot to an inordinate amount of caffeine, increase the risk of a crash on the road.

Lack of Focus in School

If your teen is using pot, at the very best, it may be affecting their ability to focus on school and retain information learned between lessons – even if they aren’t using the drug on school premises. The CDC notes that adolescent marijuana use can also affect the development of the brain in negative ways, affecting teens later in adulthood.

Mental Health and Teen Marijuana Use

At the very worst, high levels of marijuana use may be a sign of something worse – such as self-medication for anxiety issues, or an emotional crutch, repressing their actual, urgent mental health problems.

Some studies also indicate that teens with a family history of schizophrenia and other acute psychotic mental health issues are more likely to experience an episode of psychosis if they use marijuana frequently. If your teen is often high, there may be more going on than just some light experimenting between friends.

Is Teen Marijuana Use Increasing?

While drug use has dropped significantly across nearly all substances among children and adolescents, the two major exceptions are vaping and marijuana.

At least part of the reason for this growth in use comes from the increased acceptance of marijuana as a recreational drug as a whole. However, it’s clear to most adults that there is a distinction between considering legalization and making pot available to teens.

Many teens might not be considering the dangers of pot use at their age because they aren’t aware that marijuana can affect developing brains differently than fully-developed brains, or they might not consider that the long-term consequences of pot use during school time might affect their ability to finish school and launch into their work lives.

As of about 2019, more than one in three high school students in the US has tried marijuana, and one in five has used the drug as recently as last month (when surveyed). Mental distress from increased anxiety, victimization, or identifying as LGBTQ+ (and the stress that accompanies an undisclosed or unaccepted gender identity) was also linked to increased rates of marijuana use, highlighting the danger of marijuana as a common maladaptive coping mechanism for teens in need of effective mental health resources.

Recognizing Teen Marijuana Use

Some of the signs of teen marijuana use are classic and obvious, including its distinctive smell and common bloodshot eyes.

Sudden or strange changes in personality or behavior, including increased irritability and memory troubles, as well as a sharp increase in appetite, are also linked to marijuana use. Keep an eye out for common drug paraphernalia, including papers (to roll and smoke), loose tobacco, glass pipes, and the drug itself.

What Should I Do?

Talk to your teen. They might not consider marijuana use particularly harmful, but just because the drug has been extremely vilified with false claims in past decades does not mean it is a good or healthy idea to smoke weed as a teen. Impaired memory and decision-making aside, pot smoking has a definite effect on lung health.

Be upfront about the effects of marijuana based on modern, impartial research, so your teen cannot refute your claims. Make sure they know that your concern stems from a concern for their emotional and physical well-being, and let them know that they can be open with you about the thoughts and worries that might be plaguing them and driving them to use marijuana more often these days.

In cases of constant use, consider speaking with a mental health professional or a therapist about a drug intervention or a treatment for marijuana use disorder in teens who can’t stop or refuse to stop using weed. Marijuana use disorder does occur and can be treated with a professional treatment plan.

Treatment for Teen Marijuana Use at Visions

For more information about treatment for teen marijuana use, give us a call at Visions Treatment Centers.

Categories
Adolescence Communication Feelings Mental Health Parenting

Supporting LGBTQ Teen Mental Health

LGBTQ youth (teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning/queer) are far more likely to experience victimization because of their identity, are far more likely to struggle with symptoms of mental illness, and are far more likely to resort to self-harm and suicide. With all of these variables at play, it’s essential to support LGBTQ teen mental health to provide help, empowerment, and growth.

These statistics are not inherent to being queer, but they are often a side effect of identifying as part of the LGBTQ community or living under circumstances that force repression and self-hatred. Getting help can be difficult, especially when teens worry about or fear the repercussions of coming out as LGBTQ or struggle with acknowledging their identity.

Acceptance goes a long way. Mental health rates and suicide have gone down among gay and lesbian teens, although they are still above the rates for their straight peers. In the same vein, suicide rates remained highest among trans teens, especially in the wake of a rise in violence against LGBTQ youth and continued attacks on LGBTQ groups – especially trans individuals – in both media and politics in America.

Helping your LGBTQ teen get the support they need to lead a fulfilling and happy life can be difficult, but it can be done. The resources are there, and the communities exist, both locally and online. You are not alone, whether as a teen or as a parent.

Beware of Conversion Schemes

Seeking help is an important part of getting better, whether you initiate it with your teen or through your teen’s own research. But with the desperation of wanting treatment comes the vulnerability that leads thousands of teens and parents into the trap of conversion therapy.

Regardless of your personal beliefs, research shows that conversion therapy is unethical and harmful to children and teens. It does not work and only causes lasting psychological trauma as a result. It is under no circumstances a form of “therapy” to begin with, and it is, with good reason, banned in 19 different states and jurisdictions.

Finding a Therapist with Knowledge of LGBTQ Teen Mental Health

The best thing you can do for your teen’s well-being, and to help your teen cope with the growing mental stressors associated with coming out as an LGBTQ+ individual, is to accept them as they are and, if they are struggling with their mental health, find a professional therapist or psychiatrist who has a history of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ teens, and/or LGBTQ teen mental health.

A therapist with a personal history and knowledge of the different struggles that LGBTQ teens go through today may be able to have more success in helping your teen find treatment than someone with no experience with LGBTQ.

Just as personal representation in media can make a difference for many teens and adults who feel invisible in a heteronormative culture, working with a mental health professional who has personal experiences in the LGBTQ community to draw on or can better relate to your teen professionally through their LGBTQ identity may be a better fit for them.

Comfort is important when choosing your therapist. A gay man or a trans woman may have a better idea of what it is like to be in your teen’s shoes, in addition to their professional training and academic experience as psychologists and therapists, to help identify valid treatment options, root out local resources, and help cope with individual stressors.

How You Can Help Your Teen

There are countless ways in which parents contribute to their teens’ well-being, knowingly and unknowingly.

While professional treatment is important, especially in the event of self-harm, suicidal episodes, or debilitating mental health symptoms, parents should never underestimate the significance of their influence and supportive parenting, nor should they lose sight of how their actions and behaviors continue to shape their teens’ lives. Here are a few things you could do or are doing that can continue to help your teen with their mental health.

  • Let your teen know they’re loved unconditionally.
  • Talk to them and hear them out. Listen to their thoughts and words.
  • Spend time getting to know their interests a little better. Spending time with your teen and showing interest in what they like can help them feel more comfortable talking to you about other things, and helps them understand that you aren’t out to judge them as many others might be.
  • Review your misconceptions. Well-meaning intentions may lead to ideas and sayings that are actively hurting your teen. For example, don’t shrug off their identity or their mental health issues as “just a phase.” Learning more about gender identities and sexual orientation can help you relate to your teen and avoid alienating them.
  • Advocate at school. Not all schools have LGBTQ+ ally groups or LGBTQ-friendly student bodies, but all schools have LGBTQ teens. Talk to teachers and parents about organizing queer-straight alliance organizations to help LGBTQ teens in your community feel welcome, and to reduce victimization.
  • Talk to the teachers. Teachers can be a good source of information about what’s going on at school. Your teen might not always be forthcoming about what’s going on at school, especially if they’re being hurt or bullied. They may blame themselves or feel ashamed.
  • Get into therapy together. If your teen is struggling with depression or anxious thoughts or has a history of self-harm, then getting help can be daunting. Mental illness, in particular, has a way of feeding on self-doubt and shame, and many teens who know they need help may be reluctant to get it. Encourage them by making an appointment together and tagging along the first few times. Alternatively, look into remote online therapy as an option, to begin with.
  • Give them privacy. Being there for your teen is important, but there’s a difference between being aware of what’s going on in their lives and spying without their consent. If you try to monitor all of your teen’s online activities, for example, they’re just more likely to go to greater lengths to establish secret accounts or carve out some other niche of privacy and foster resentment. The best way to keep your teen from keeping too many secrets from you is to ensure they know you’re always available to talk to and are willing to listen.

LGBTQ Teen Mental Health Services at Visions

Being a parent is hard, and it can be harder yet when your teen is struggling with depressive or anxious thoughts. LGBTQ+ teens are just like any other teen but are much more at-risk for mental health issues, often as an indirect result of their identity. Helping them protect themselves, know they are loved, develop stronger self-esteem, and feel proud in their own skin can go a long way towards helping them feel better.

If you or a loved one is seeking additional information on LGBTQ teen mental health, reach out to us. At Visions Treatment Centers, we offer unique mental health programming for LGBTQ+ teens, addressing many issues often found in the LGBTQ+ community.

Categories
Communication Mental Health Parenting

5 Ways to Scope Out Your Teens Mental Health Status

Maybe they’re not eating as much as they used to. Maybe the enthusiasm in their voice has disappeared. Or maybe, they just seem different, and it’s got you a little bit worried. But you’re not sure how to approach the topic, or even how to scope out your teen’s mental health status. Asking them about it, you get little more than a grunt, a deflection, or an unconvincing “I’m fine.” Are they? You can’t tell.

Scoping out a teen’s thoughts and emotions isn’t easy. While we’ve all been teens at some point, it’s often pretty difficult to put yourself in the shoes of your child. Teens, after all, think a bit differently than adults tend to.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t probe them the right way. Even if your teen really is fine, it’s still a good idea to ask them about their mental health from time to time. But how?

Ask the Right Questions

Open-ended questions get you unsatisfying answers. The right questions can get you a little closer to the truth. If you want to figure out how your teen is doing, you need to evoke the kind of responses that give you better context clues as to how they feel.

It’s not enough to use a lead-in sentence. Saying: “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating well lately, are you okay?” might net you an “I’m fine” or an irritated “I’m just not hungry.” Instead of “are you okay?”, ask: “What’s bothering you? You seem distracted, and your head’s been all over the place lately.” If your teen is acting much more scatterbrained than usual, it’s something they probably can’t deny. Alternatively, try:

  • “When was the last time you spent some time with your girl/boyfriend?”
  • “When was the last time you hung out with your friends?”
  • “Did you have a bad day? Wanna talk about it? Tell me what happened.”

It’s Not Always About Solutions

If and when your teen does start talking about the way they feel, don’t take it as an open invitation to offer nothing but solutions.

Sometimes, a helpful solution can be just what the doctor ordered. A nice piece of advice forged by insightful experiences. But a canned response, or a clichéd statement, is more likely to push your teen away than get them to continue talking to you.

If your teen is feeling anxious about something, it’s not exactly helpful to tell them to take it easy or that they’ll be fine. They want you to hear them, to validate how they’re feeling, to share your own experiences of being scared, of being anxious, and of overcoming that feeling.

Take them seriously. Listen to what they have to say. Don’t try to offer up a solution right away, especially if you don’t know exactly how your teen is feeling.

Notice the Red Flags

The common stereotype is that teens are unruly and emotional, so it’s hard to differentiate between a normal mood swing and a mental health issue. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Despite a few irrationalities, teen behavior can and does make sense – and there are always red flags that help parents indicate something is seriously wrong. A few things to keep an eye out for include:

  • A sudden and dramatic change in weight. Weight loss or weight gain is normal, but a drastic weight change may sometimes indicate a physical, mental, or eating disorder problem.
  • Physical signs of excessive stress. Frequent or chronic headaches and stomach aches, unexplained pains (i.e., no indication of why pain is being felt), signs of hairpulling, nail-biting, or nervous tics.
  • Signs of self-harm include hiding scars or cuts, self-starvation, or excessive exercise (to the point of chronic injury or deteriorating health).
  • Signs of drug use include empty pill bottles, fake prescriptions, other people’s medication, hidden alcohol bottles, or drug paraphernalia.
  • Excessive and sudden anger issues/irritability, including getting physical or frequent shouting. Unusual temperament changes, almost like a different personality.
  • And more.

Keep In Touch with Their Friends

It’s always a good idea to know who your teen hangs out with, not just because it gives you a better idea of what they’re up to, but because it can help you keep in touch with your teen, give you better context for what’s happening to them or how they’re feeling, and gives you people to ask when things don’t see to be going well for your teen.

If your teen won’t tell you what’s going on, try to ask their friends.

Reassure Your Teen

Some teens try and hide their problems from their parents for multiple reasons – but the most common ones include wanting to keep their parents from worrying and avoiding a parent’s judgment.

If you’re busy a lot of the time, then your teen might feel like bringing this up with you is just adding to your plate – especially if you’ve been having a hard time keeping up with them lately, neglecting to ask them how they’re doing, or shutting them down when they were about to tell you about their day.

Prioritize Good Communication

Prioritizing healthy communication with your teen is important, especially as they complete their transition into adulthood. Teens are increasingly independent individuals and continuously seek to define themselves while seeking distance from their parents. Giving them further reasons to push away can alienate you from your children and make it harder for you to reconnect and keep connected over time.

On the other hand, not all homes are safe spaces, and sometimes, your teen might not feel comfortable talking about how they really feel. Perhaps it’s because of something you’ve said in the past, an unfortunate association between their symptoms and someone you don’t like, or a parenting style that has eroded the trust between you.

Establishing a safe space for your teen at home is important to help them not just talk more freely about how they feel but also make progress in their treatment. Shaming your teen or making them feel even worse about how they think or what they’re doing will only send them down a deeper spiral.

Affirming Unconditional Love

Regardless of the context for why your teen might not be talking about how they’re feeling, reassurance is important, affirming your teen’s identity and worth as a person with or without their symptoms, and affirming your unconditional love for them, and the trust you want to foster between each other.

Make sure your teen knows that they can count on you and should always count on you to be in your corner. Help them come to terms with who they are in a positive sense, so they can tackle their mental health in earnest and separate themselves from their condition.

Don’t Forget Your Own Mental Health Status

Parents want the best for their children. But it’s important not to neglect your own needs in the process. You cannot offer effective support to your loved ones without doing the work to maintain your mental health status as well.

That’s a lot to ask. But you’re not in it alone. Just as you should support your teen, find others who can help support you. Friends. Family. Partners. People you can lean on in tough times, people you can talk to, people to open up to.

Stress management and adequate coping skills matter too. That means utilizing constructive coping skills – exercise rather than drinking, for example.

Taking care of yourself both mentally and physically can have a direct and positive impact on your teen, as well. While we like to think that our influence as a parent will wane strongly with each passing day after a teen turns sixteen, parents continue to be the most important role model for a teen’s behavior until well into adulthood. Children tend to continue to mirror their parents, even if they don’t want to. Improving the way you take care of yourself can help your teen take better care of themselves, too.

Get Help at Visions Treatment Centers

If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue, contact us today. For more information, visit us at Visions Treatment Centers. We offer professional help for teen mental health conditions via residential treatment and a range of modalities, using specialized treatment plans.

Don’t wait. Reach out now for an evaluation and testing.

Categories
Communication Family Mental Health Parenting Transparency

Mental Health Literacy: A Convo Guide for Parents

Finding ways to help their child is every parent’s top priority – but mental health topics can be difficult conversation starters. How do you approach a teen’s recent behavior without shutting them down? How can you safely lead the conversation in the direction of help and understanding without seeming overbearing, condescending, or controlling? In what ways can an understanding of mental health literacy assist parents lead such conversations?

Picking the Right Time

The first step, in every case, is to pick the right time. Teens are naturally emotional, regardless of temperament or personality. There’s a lot going on during adolescence, and it can be difficult to unpack it all. Picking the right time to address your worries can help defuse a potentially difficult situation. That means waiting for a good day, avoiding ambushes, and maybe finding an opportunity to talk to your teen in private (in their room, while doing chores together at home, on the ride back from school, etc.).

Once you’ve found the right time, it’s important to pick the right conversation opener. Fumbling your opportunity to discuss your concerns can keep your kid on guard for the rest of the week or longer. No matter how conflicted you might feel, remember to focus on what’s important: your goal is to help your teen, not judge them.

Starting the Conversation

To start things off, research goes a long way. Learning about mental health issues on your own time, understanding mental health literacy, and speaking with mental health professionals can give you a better understanding of what your teen might be going through, and differentiate between regular teenage problems and the signs of a more serious mental health issue.

Approach the Topic Naturally and with Observations

If you feel that your teen is going through something they need help with, approaching the topic naturally is important. Begin with observations. Obviously, you’ve noticed something. Bring up what you’ve noticed, and why it concerns you. Then, listen.

Some teens might feel relieved that their parents picked up on what’s going on. Others might be worried that they’re being judged or alienated from the rest of the family. It’s important to make sure your teen understands that your concern for them comes from a place of love and inclusion, and that they’re free to say what’s truly on their mind.

Don’t be Afraid to Say Something

If you’ve done prior research, don’t be afraid to bring it up. You don’t need to help confirm your teen’s self-diagnosis or make a judgment call of your own – diagnostic work is best left to experienced psychiatrists. But showing that you’ve moved on from concern to action might help your teen realize that you’re invested in helping them, and want to understand how they feel. It can be comforting to know that you’re open-minded and on their side.

Learning to Listen

There are important dos and don’ts to keep the conversation going once your teen is open to discussing how they feel with you. These include:

  • DO give your teen the time to finish their sentences, and don’t interrupt or stop them.
  • DO normalize how they feel, letting them know that you’ve read about many other teens feeling the same way and that there are ways to get help.
  • DO keep their information confidential – if your teen has only told you, don’t go on discussing it with other members of the family without first bringing it up with your teen, let alone a mental health professional (unless their situation and behavior are life-threatening).
  • DO acknowledge your own fear and anxieties in these situations. It doesn’t help to bottle your feelings up because you’re scared of affecting your teen.
  • DO continue to learn about what your teen is going through, even after they’ve started therapy (especially after they’ve started therapy!).
  • DON’T minimize how they feel or tell them that they “shouldn’t feel this way”, or that you “know exactly” how they feel without having previously been diagnosed with the same condition and the same circumstances.
  • DON’T feed excuses or blame other people. It’s always tempting to find something to blame, but no case of a mental disorder can be squarely blamed on a single factor. It’s almost always a convalescence of complex internal and external factors, melding together in an unfortunate way. Instead of directing your anger at something, use it to help your teen get better.
  • DON’T compare your teen to their siblings or ask them why they couldn’t have been more like your other kids.

Mental Health Literacy: Recognizing Mental Health Issues

Teen temperament can feel disjointed or confusing, so it’s important to separate “normal” teen behavior from potential red flags for a mental health issue. Some things to keep in mind include:

Is it Consistent?

Consistency is important. If your teen’s mood has been consistently low for several weeks now, chances are it’s more than just a rough patch for them. Conditions like depression can affect the way we perceive things around us, actively inhibiting the ability to feel joy or pleasure.

If your teen hasn’t talked about their favorite hobbies in weeks, hasn’t hung out with friends in a while, and generally hasn’t laughed or been in a good mood for a noticeable period, they may be going through more than just a period of grief.

Has Academic Performance Changed?

Academic performance may be a helpful metric but shouldn’t be the absolute focus here. How well your teen is retaining information and focusing on their studies can be affected by the onset and growth of a mental health issue, but there are dozens of other factors that can affect a teen’s grades without necessarily affecting their mental health.

Furthermore, while your teen’s grades might be important to you (and them!), focusing on them might make your teen feel that your priorities are misplaced (i.e., putting their grades above the way they feel).

Nervous vs. Anxious

Nervousness is one thing, especially if your teen has been rather skittish since early childhood. But anxiety symptoms are something else. If your teen seems constantly worried about the same things, is having trouble concentrating or focusing on anything, easily loses their cool, and struggles to perform under pressure – whether it’s during a driving lesson or a breakdown during school exams – they may be overly sensitive to their surrounding stressors, or worse.

Anxiety disorders are the most common kind of mental health issue worldwide, ranging from complex disorders like OCD to a generalized feeling of worry and dread that affects a person’s mood, personality, and behavior on a daily basis.

Susceptibility to Addictive Behavior and Long-Term Substance Abuse

Teens are smart, often smarter than we might give them credit for. But they still make mistakes, lack experience, and are usually more short-sighted than adults through no fault of their own. This is part of the reason why teens are more susceptible to addictive behavior, and why early onset of addiction usually predicts long-term or life-long substance abuse.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling due to an ongoing substance problem – whether it’s frequent drinking binges with friends or sharing prescription pills at school – keep an eye out for some of the more obvious signs, including hidden stashes, physical symptoms (bloodshot eyes, constantly tired, slurred speech, frequent hangovers), and mental symptoms (irritability, memory problems, altered behavior, becoming defensive).

Issues with Eating

Eating disorders also disproportionately affect adolescents and are some of the most dangerous mental health disorders we know of. Signs of an eating disorder include constant cycles of self-deprecation and shame, followed by binge eating, signs of binge eating such as wrappers and hidden stashes of food, frequent bathroom breaks between and during meals, diuretic or laxative drugs, and calluses on the index knuckle from induced vomiting.

When Is Professional Help Needed?

In general, the moment you no longer know how to help your teen is the moment you should consider approaching a mental health professional for help – even if it isn’t to schedule an appointment for your child or figure out an intervention. Mental health professionals also work to assist parents in understanding what might be going on in their teen’s lives, and helping them navigate their way around a conversation with their child.

If your teen approaches you about therapy, then they’ve thought it over and likely made the decision to seek help – with your assistance. Work with them to find a mental health professional they are comfortable with. First and foremost, their comfort is paramount. Trust is an important aspect of therapy, and teens will be unlikely to get the help they need if they cannot set up a strong bond with their therapist.

If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue, reach out to Visions Treatment Centers. Let’s start the conversation together.

Categories
Parenting

The Benefits of Joining a Parent Support Group

It’s a tough world, and for parents raising children with mental health issues, it also feels like a terribly lonely one. But you are not alone – far from it. A parent support group helps you connect with other parents of similar stories and experiences who understand your journey and can offer assistance. They can help us locate resources to continue taking care of our children while taking care of ourselves. They help create a community for us to belong in. And so much more.

Raising a child affected by a long-term or chronic mental illness is difficult. There are countless challenges to overcome, uncertainties to face, and a lifetime of endless responsibilities. When we spend our energy and existence doing the best we can to care for the ones we love the most, we often find ourselves with no time for ourselves. Even while you’re being adamant about placing your child before yourself, letting your own sanity and well-being deteriorate will only serve to make life harder for those who care about you, your child included.

What Is a Parent Support Group?

A parent support group may be run by an organization, a clinic, a treatment facility, a practice, a local community, or a number of parents who banded together to create a local space for other parents with similar experiences to visit and talk. Parent support groups are largely informal gatherings, with either regularly or sporadically scheduled group sessions where parents meet and talk about their individual worries and thoughts, problems, breakthroughs, hopes, frustrations, and moments of gratitude.

They’re a place to share and breathe hope, as well as a place to define and break down despair together. And, crucially, they are also a place to share critical resources, spread information, talk about treatments and treatment providers, help seek donations and financial support from the community, and gather more knowledge on coping mechanisms, parental self-care, and mundane life tips that are life-saving, more often than not. Parent support groups usually define themselves by a certain cause, illness, or disease.

There may be support groups specifically for teens with drug abuse problems, or children with special needs, or handicapped children, or teens with rare disorders. Some support groups are founded to help parents come together under a more generalized umbrella of shared experiences, usually categorized by either physical or mental disability, or mental health problems.

Why Would I Need a Parent Support Group?

The first and biggest reason why any parent with a disabled or troubled teen might want to consider joining a parent support group is to be around other people with similar experiences.

Support Groups Remind Us That We Aren’t Alone

There is something so very different about being able to speak up about what you’ve been going through with people who were in the very same boat. It’s not quite the same talking about it with your friends or family, if none of them can quite relate. You are not alone! There are many others who have been going through something similar, and who may be much farther along their journey than you are. No one’s experience is going to ever be a one-to-one comparison of what you have gone through. However, there is still a lot to learn from listening to the experiences of others, sharing hopes and frustrations, sleepless nights, and the journey towards coping.

Support Groups Help Us Identify Ways to Cope

Coping is critical when facing down something we have no hope of defeating. Many progressive or chronic illnesses are not curable yet, and while treatment can help children reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and live a fulfilling life, they will always have a life experience that is not only totally different from that of anyone else’s, but also much harder than what most people live through.

Learning to cope and overcome our own emotions and despair in the face of something inevitable is a crucial part of becoming a better source of support for our loved ones. There are many things that happen in life that we have no control over, but we always have control over what we do next, how we react, and the actions we take as a result of the things we experience. A parent support group can guide you in taking the right actions, feeling the right things, and working through your experience the best way you possibly can.

Support Groups Give Us a Place to Talk

Parent support groups give parents a space to truly be heard. It’s one thing to be able to say what you want, but it’s another when you know that what you’re saying resonates with those around you – when you know that they’ve felt similar feelings, thought similar thoughts, said similar words. That shared experience is crucial, both in times of pure distilled joy, and utter sorrow.

Support Groups Provide Resources

Parents and teens with disabilities or mental health issues need all the help they can get. Healthcare is expensive, both mental and physical, and it’s exhausting. Having a full-time job while taking care of your loved ones can leave you feeling lifeless at the end of the day. Resources to help out with the bills, seek the right health insurance for your family, get in touch with the right doctor, or simply learn more about local and state healthcare policies and the newest in clinical trials can be very important.

Parent Support Groups Help Us Find Hope

When there isn’t anything left to do but survive for the next day, a parent support group can become the emotional backbone you need to rely on, just as your child has relied on your support for years. No man is an island. We all need help, and some days, we need it more than others. The experiences, the highs, and the lows of those around us can help remind us to cling to hope. Parent support groups are a powerful and important element of self-care for any parent with a special needs child. Not only can they help you be better equipped to care for your children, but they’re there for you in times of need.

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Holidays Parenting Prevention Substance Abuse

A Parent’s Guide to Relapse Prevention During the Holidays

The holidays are some of the most stressful weeks of the year, as families come together to prepare for big dinners, long interstate trips, parties, and shopping sprees. Along with all that stress come the joy and gratitude of long-time family traditions, the yuletide spirit, and for many, more than a fair share of indulgences. This makes the holidays a dangerous time for many adults and teens struggling to avoid relapses. The stress, resurgence of old memories, promise of confrontation with loved ones, and availability of unhealthy drinks and food can compromise someone trying to stay on the path toward recovery.

But for most of us, skipping the holidays is neither an option nor is it the right answer. There’s a lot to love and cherish in these rare moments where we all come together to reflect on a year of hardships, lessons, and growth. If your teen has a history of addiction, they will need to learn to build resilience in the face of the stressors that are most likely to make them drink or use again – and just as importantly, learn when and where to ask for help and support in their time of need. In this article, we’re exploring a few ways for parents to encourage relapse prevention during the holidays.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays Starts With Avoiding Triggers

Everyone has specific stressors that drive them to a point of no return – or close enough to the edge to teeter on it. Cravings aside, identifying and reducing triggers over the holidays can be one way to help minimize stress. This might mean banning alcohol for this year, avoiding parties or get-togethers where drinking will be normal, encouraged, or expected, and working with your teen to identify memories, scents, activities, or people that might strongly affect or challenge their sobriety.

In some cases, it’s best to avoid these triggers. In other cases, effective relapse prevention during the holidays includes coping strategies that minimize and recontextualize triggers to help strengthen their recovery. If your teen is or was in treatment, it might also be a good idea to work with their therapist on this task. Every person’s story of addiction is unique and requires a unique approach. Aside from individualized triggers, try to help your teen identify and verbalize the more common and mundane relapse triggers, such as:

  • Hunger
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue

Stress the importance of taking care of oneself, and looking after one’s needs.

Minimizing the Unexpected

Aside from accounting for triggers and helping your teen reduce their impact, it’s also important to preserve some consistency over the holidays. Try to create a schedule of what’s to come in the following days and weeks, and help your teen prepare for the preparations and events to come. On the other hand, while preparing for the holidays with your teens, work with them to preserve their schedules. Avoid letting the holidays get their sleep schedules out of whack by encouraging everyone to get a good night’s sleep each day.

Balance out the cake and gluttony of holiday cooking with a few healthy meals between events, plenty of protein and vegetables, fiber, and lots of water. Help your teen remember their medication (and supplements like vitamin D, if they take any), and exercise with them. Don’t let the holidays become an excuse to skip important routine elements or fall out of rhythm. They might not be going to school or work, but they can still take the time to invest in their recovery and their physical and mental health.

Identifying and Setting Boundaries

There are limits to a person’s energy and capacity to engage with others during recovery. Going through recovery leaves you with less energy than before, alongside a more fragile mental state, and a lower tolerance for anxiety. It takes time for these tolerances to return to normal, and it’s always possible that they might never be quite as high as they once were. That’s okay. We all change as we grow, and going through addiction and recovery can drastically develop a person’s identity and personality.

It’s during this time that your teen might need help understanding and figuring out what they can and can’t handle, and they may need someone around to help them communicate when they need to leave or take time for themselves. Be an advocate for your teen during the holidays, give them an out during parties or get-togethers, tell them to call you the moment they want to leave, and be sure they’re always with a sober friend who can help them avoid certain choices, and keep them honest.

Balancing Holiday Meals With Good Nutrition

The importance of good nutrition during recovery cannot be stressed enough. Recovery is more than therapy and medication, or time spent away from drugs. You need to give your body what it needs to heal both mentally and physically, and food is an important part of that. However, it can be very difficult to balance a healthy diet with the typical treats and overindulgences of the holidays. Be a role model with your own choices, and support your teen’s needs throughout the coming days and weeks. Help them keep on top of their daily intake.

Remembering That Recovery Is a Life-Long Process

It’s important never to forget that recovery, as a whole, takes years. Teens with a young history of addiction tend to have struggled with both chemical influence and severe emotional trauma at a formative and young age, which can have a major impact on their health and future. A successful recovery process helps them cope with the aftermath of their addiction as they mature into adulthood, and prepares them for the stressors of life in spite of their cravings and thoughts. They need your strength as much as they need their own. Friends and family become important elements of a crucial social safety net as teens go through recovery, and fight back against their addiction.

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