Boozy Bears

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You know things are desperate when you start soaking innocent gummy bears in…vodka. The Fix posted something about this a little over a week ago, and I’ve been sitting on it for fear that it could encourage kids NOT in the know to experiment. Frankly, it also reminds me of the absurd vodka eyeballing trend we wrote about last year. Really, what it shows is the obvious desperation that occurs when we want to get loaded, and the seemingly insane steps one is willing to take to make it happen.

It’s the true nature of adolescence to experiment, and holy heck are they creative about the way they do it. Who else would come up with soaking gummy bears in vodka or pouring vodka directly into their eyes? Think about it, no adult in their right mind is going to check their kid’s gummy bears (well, they might now.). But aside from the clandestine nature of getting drunk this way, there is certainly a clear danger. While a handful of these cute, sweet, sugary bears can get you loaded, there’s no telling how much alcohol you’re actually ingesting. Just because it’s small, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

If you’re concerned about your teen, and noticing signs of secretive behavior, then it’s likely you need to start looking beyond the obvious. Adolescents, beyond all of their bluster and displays of parental revulsion, are actually crying out for help when they behave like this. As parents, it’s our job to toughen our resolve and learn to take things less personally so we can provide the help that’s needed. No one wants to live uncomfortably in their skin, even sugared up on “boozy bears.”

Mental Health

Stormy Adolescence

“There’s only one thing harder than living in a home with an adolescent — and that’s being an adolescent,” according this recent article in Time Healthland. I think they’re spot on. It’s tough being a teen: they’re on an emotional rollercoaster, managing ubiquitous hormones, issues with friends, annoying parents, and that ever-growing pile of homework and subsequent pressure to be the best…at pretty much everything. I’d say that’s stressful. Teens certainly tend to blame their parents and/or siblings for most things, partly because they are the mainstay in their lives and partly because it’s they’re the easiest scapegoats. Parents, at that point, are considered nagging, nit-picky pests, right? Well, not entirely. A recent study by researchers from Seoul National University, UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, suggest that arguments at home may spillover to an adolescent’s social circle, and vice-versa. In other words, there tends to be a significant carry-over from one area of a teen’s life to another. Parents I know will often talk about how a rough night at home might translate to a bad day at school and how issues at school are likely to play out at home. Truthfully, teens, at their very core, can easily be thrown off-balance when trying to emotionally process all of this tumult at once, particularly with the cognitive complexities of their brains working earnestly against them. It’s a lot to manage.

Interestingly, kids with siblings are often better equipped with handling conflict. As Jeffrey Kluger says in his book The Sibling Effect, “Fighting is not just an unfortunate part of growing up, it’s an essential part.” He says it “serves as a sort of dress rehearsal for the outside world,” which gives kids a chance to practice “conflict resolution and avoidance and the subtle art of knowing when to assert yourself and when it’s best to stand down.” I would imagine this could also hold true for a child who’s gone to pre-school, though this isn’t always the case. Environments that introduce varying personalities at a young age are invaluable in teaching the life-long lesson of conflict resolution. Surely, be it via the push and pull of sibling relations or even early education, this is a tool for having less conflict at school and in the world at large. What does this mean for only children? Since they don’t have an inbuilt battering ram (a sibling), they need to learn their conflict-resolution skills from parents, teachers, and the like. It’s not going to be as intuitive of a process though, because the circumstances are significantly different. More on this in another blog.

As parents, the question is always, “What do we do?” Again, teaching, both verbally and by example the ins and outs of positive conflict resolution at a young age is the most helpful tool we have (along with keeping our cool and becoming aware of our child’s triggers). If that didn’t happen, and a child got off on the wrong foot, new efforts to teach this aren’t lost. It may take time. It may take extra doses of patience. It may take additional rides on the rollercoaster. It may even take an intervention by a therapist. Regardless, children do tend to be resilient, and even when we don’t think they’re listening, most of the time, they really are. They are just doing so in their own way—a way that isn’t always convenient for us as parents.

The bottom line is, as our teens learn new ways of conflict resolution,  parents need to hone their own conflict-resolution skills. Just as teens can’t blame everything on their parents, neither can parents blame it all on their kids. At the end what we have is a family problem, requiring a family solution.

Mental Health Recovery

Fight or Flight: When the Anxiety Wheel Spins

Image by jpmatth via Flickr
Why are our kids so stressed out? Is it the pressures of school and peer relations or is there something else going on? Sure, stress is a naturally occurring phenomena that can help and/or hinder someone, depending upon the situation. There are surely instances where the slight adrenaline rush of stress can actually prove beneficial, but when it’s constant and unyielding, stress can be overwhelming. The body’s natural fight or flight response occurs when stress is introduced, allowing us to ready ourselves for “battle,” so to speak. That “battle” can be an exam at school or even a mild confrontation on the school yard, but it’s usually temporary. “Fight or flight” is a term used to describe the body’s natural physiological response to stress. The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah has a wonderful example (see it here) showing the physiological changes that occur!

The qualities of the fight or flight response include:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster intakes of breath
  • Enlarged pupils
  • The digestive system slows
As I noted, these particular physical changes occur naturally when the fight or flight response is triggered. In small doses, it’s appropriate and helpful, but as with anything, remaining in the a state of fight or flight for a long period of time can create untenable stress as the body and mind begin to work against itself. You know unpleasant but often typically temporary feeling of having “butterflies in the belly”? Well, imagine it lingering for a long time: It would become more and more difficult to ignore.

Some kids, and perhaps these are the one’s enduring sustained periods of stress, the fight or flight phenomenon happens without warning, and without a clearly identified trigger fueling the body’s response. For these kids, the sense of deep worry and impending doom are a prevalent and may often seem unwarranted. This is anxiety, and with it comes:
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Stomachache
  • Dizziness
  • Dread
  • Worry
Anxiety can have a genetic component, for example, mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, et cetera, may suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can also occur after an extremely stressful event: childhood trauma, divorce, loss, a car accident. Some kids are clearly more sensitive than others and may very well react intensely to something another child can walk away from. Rather than shaming them about their reactivity, we need to offer them solace. These kids need as much support as possible, not only from parents, but from clinicians trained to help sufferers manage their anxiety. It takes time, dedication and hard work, but in time, one will have many healthy tools to choose from, hopefully avoiding the dead-end path to addiction. 
Articles used as reference and for more information:
Mental Health

Adolescent Treatment: Mind and Body As One

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Since 2002, Visions has been in the forefront of providing adolescent treatment. Being well-versed in the characteristics of adolescent behaviors and cognitive development, it was only natural for us to refine our Mental Health Track in order to provide an optimal treatment model for teens. As we’ve seen time and time again, drugs and alcohol aren’t always the sole, causative factor in behavioral issues. Often times, there’s a mental-health component which needs to be addressed with the same skill and finesse used in the treatment of substance abuse.

It’s not easy being a teenager: for one, there’s the physical awkwardness, there’s the social constructs of trying to fit in and be liked, and there’s the desire to do well in school and meet the expectations of your parents. It’s tough. There’s no denying that. For some, it’s harder than others, and the pressure of “doing it all” is simply too much, which can present as the self-deprecating feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression, et cetera. Unfortunately, the environment of adolescence isn’t always conducive to one talking to their friends about these experiences without the fear of being stigmatized. Most of the time, one’s left trying to figure things out for themselves, and that never really works out well.

This October, Visions will light the path to a refined treatment model, addressing the complex issues relating to adolescent mental health. By thoroughly addressing and updating the mental-health component to our existing modalities, we will ultimately provide an environment which will allow teens struggling with mental-health issues to truly achieve physical and psychological health. The goal is to do so while also removing the stigma typically associated with mental-health issues.

We all come with the physiological footprints of our families. On occasion, we need help navigating those seas so we may begin to create new, emotionally sound paradigms in which to live our lives. Between successfully providing mental health, substance abuse, and family treatment, I believe we are well on our way to helping families achieve this goal.


Social Media: Helpful or Harmful?

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University’s (CASA Columbia) recently published
their 16th annual back-to-school survey which takes a look at adolescent behaviors regarding substance abuse in relation to social media. CASA Columbia took a look at American teens ages 12-17, their social media use and how it might ultimately affect their alcohol and drug abuse behaviors, and parent involvement or lack thereof. The findings, though not terribly surprising, were substantial: “70% of teens report spending time on social networking sites on a typical day,” which come out to approximately 17 million 12-17 year olds doing participating in some sort of social media activity on a typical day.
With the naturally uncensored dynamics of teen behavior, the typical day-to-day posts can range anywhere from being tagged in a drunken photo from the previous weekend’s house party to the false braggadocio of one’s sexual prowess. From the outside looking in, sites like Facebook and MySpace certainly show implications of promoting an environment of peer pressure. After looking at the results from this study, that impression is pretty spot on:

“Compared to teens that have never seen pictures of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs on social networking sites, teens that have seen these images are:
• Three times likelier to use alcohol;
• Four times likelier to use marijuana;
• Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less; and
• Much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.”

Where parents tend to fall flat is in relation to their ignorance and denial of the powerful effects of suggestion, a key factor associated with the subversive allure of social media sites. Parents must be careful not to adopt the “Not my child” attitude and get informed instead. According to the CASA study, “Eighty-seven percent of parents said they think spending time on social networking sites does not make it more likely their child will drink alcohol; 89 percent of parents felt it would not make their child more likely to use drugs.” That’s not a particularly positive result, and frankly, it confirms the high level of denial that aids and abets the social media petri dish of reckless behavior.
This isn’t hopeless, though. The results of the CASA study present an opportunity for change. It’s a chance for us fuddy-duddy adults to learn to look at the world from the lenses of our kids. We were teens once, too, and though memories are often clouded, it behooves us to remember that we were once reckless and secretive and convinced that our parents were the enemy. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare suggests the need for parents to “give their children the will and skill to keep their heads above the water of the corrupting cultural currents their children must navigate.” While I agree that our kids need the skills and strength of character to manage social media, I think we need to be careful not to incite a sense of imminent fear, but instead look at the results of this study as something from which we can nurture an opportunity for behavioral metamorphosis. Growing up is scary enough.
Related articles
Mental Health Mindfulness

Mindfulness: Looking at Addiction In a New Way

The benefits of a mindfulness practice can be felt by anyone willing to be present and prepared to stop running from their feelings and fears. The practice of mindfulness allows us to come into direct contact with the here and now, bringing with it a sense of awareness and healing. In doing so, we are able to directly see how our addictions, actions, and behaviors are causing us suffering.  Similar to the 12-step model, mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to take contrary action. As a result, we begin to notice and work with our uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and reactions to the physical and emotional cravings closely associated with addiction.

Image via Wikipedia

Confronted with anxiety or fear or panic, our basic, human instinct is to run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible, hoping to get out of harm’s way. These feelings are uninvited guests, after all, right?  In this case, our bodies’ “fight or flight” response is immediately triggered. So, what happens if we go the other way? What happens if we turn into our fear, into our anxiety, or into our trauma? What if, through conscious breath and direct attention, we learn to give those feelings space? The interesting thing about doing this is the intensity of those feelings will eventually begin to lesson and our unwanted guests start to lose their footing. No, the trauma isn’t gone, but in that moment of stopping and facing our fears, we have done something incredibly powerful: shone light into the darkest corners of our hearts and minds.

Through my own experience in recovery, dealing with trauma and its corresponding anxiety, I have found the most peace and healing through my practice of meditation and yoga. I have learned to use my breath in a way that allows me to move with my emotions rather against them. I liken it to moving with the ebb and flow of the sea. In early sobriety, when a higher power was in question, I remember being told to “try and stop a wave” only to discover that I most certainly could not. Within that phrase also lies an inference that we cannot “stop” something from coming at us. Utilizing mindfulness, we then learn how to to ride the wave without causing additional harm and without getting lost in the energy driving the fear or addiction. In turn, we may discover that those blasted shadows we are accustomed to running from appear much larger than their reflecting counterpart. From this perspective, things look a heck of a lot more manageable.

As we are challenged to turn off the autopilot we’ve become accustomed to, we are given an opportunity to learn to respond to triggers and cravings in a non-harming way. As such, we are beginning to view our feelings, thoughts, cravings, and sensations with curiosity and non-judgment rather that the usual disdain. In those moments when the freedom of awareness and being present are there, the real healing has a chance to begin: one breath at a time.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. has a wonderful series, which I’ve linked to below:

Mindfulness and Addiction, Part 1

Mindfulness and Addiction, Part 2

Mindfulness and Addiction, Part 3

Further reading:
Meditation for Addiction Recovery

Kevin Griffin

Mindfulness and Addiction meetings:
Against the Stream

Addiction Smoking

Can Graphic Imagery Deter Smokers?

Who actually smokes anymore? I find myself saying this every time I see someone light up; especially after all we’ve learned. It’s not like there’s some beneficial properties to smoking chemically treated tobacco!

Anti-smoking laws have been on the rise for years. Truth is, being a smoker is expensive and isolating, not to mention bad for your health. Looks like the ultimate goal is to eliminate smoking in public places once and for all. It used to be that folks could smoke in restaurants or planes, negatively impacting the communal air space. Over time this has changed. As a former smoker, I remember feeling the heat when those first changes were initiated. I remember being resentful and feeling as though my rights were being violated.  My young, feisty attitude screamed, “I can do whatever I want!” and of course, I smoked anyway. I realize now that it wasn’t my “right” to harm those around me. That self-righteousness was really the selfishness of my addiction talking. True to addict form, all I could think about was my next cigarette.

Recently, the FDA released 9 graphic anti-smoking images that are required to be placed on the top half of cigarette packaging by the Fall of 2012. At the same time, Australia will begin enforcing a ban on brand labels on cigarette packaging in an effort to lesson the intrigue and coolness factor associated with smoking. Despite the usual grumblings from the tobacco industry, the FDA is holding firm. Sadly, the graphic images haven’t really impacted the way people are smoking, though. According to a new, German study, smokers that have been deprived of nicotine for short periods of time have a lower response to fear.  “In those who stop smoking, the activity of the fear center has been lowered so much that they are not very receptive to the scary photos,” said study researcher René Hurlemann, of the University of Bonn in Germany.  They came to this conclusion after scanning the brains of 28 smokers and 28 non-smokers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)[1].  And researcher Özgür Onur of the University of Köln noted that smokers, particularly after a 12-hour abstinence, were “indifferent to fear.” Onur went on to say, “It seems that they (smokers) are mentally caught up in their addiction, resulting in a lowered receptivity for fear-inducing stimuli.” That’s a problem, particularly when fear is our body’s natural way of keeping us from doing something perilous. 

While the FDA’s imagery may be useful in deterring non-smokers from picking up in the first place, I hesitate to think that it will greatly change the way current smokers look at their legal drug of choice. The teens I come across certainly aren’t deterred. If anything, they are viewing the graphic images as a joke.

Beyond the current results of these scientific studies, the taste left in my mouth is really one of denial seasoned with a nicotine chaser.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Children and Teens

Bipolar disorder isn’t soley an issue for the adult population—it affects children and teens as well.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness categorized by its behavioral and mental extremes. Often called “manic depression,” this illness is clearly defined by its moods. Typically recognized as the manic stage, the sufferer may be elated or intensely “up,” even hyper. The flip side of this is the depressive stage, identified by its extreme lows, deep sadness, physical ailments, and for some, suicidal ideation.
According to NIMH, several factors may contribute to this mental illness:
  • Genes, because the illness runs in families. Children with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to get the illness than other children.
  • Abnormal brain structure and brain function.
  • Anxiety disorders. Children with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop bipolar disorder.
Since the causes aren’t concretely defined, scientists continue to do research, seeking more definitive answers in hopes of finding viable solutions, including a possible means of prevention.

These mood episodes can last a week or even two and are heavy in their intensity.  NIMHhas provided a listof symptoms from the two phases of bipolar disorder. Keep in mind, these symptoms are determined by their intensity and are not to be confused with the natural ups and downs of childhood emotional development.

Children and teens having a manic episode may:
  • Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual
  • Have a very short temper
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
  • Have trouble staying focused
  • Talk and think about sex more often
  • Do risky things.
Children and teens having a depressive episode may:
  • Feel very sad
  • Complain about pain a lot, like stomachaches and headaches
  • Sleep too little or too much
  • Feel guilty and worthless
  • Eat too little or too much
  • Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
  • Think about death or suicide.
Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose in children because symptoms often mirror other issues, for example: ADHD, conduct disorder, or alcohol and drug abuse issues. Bipolar disorder can, however, occur alongside these other issues, so it’s important to see a professional skilled in recognizing the affectations of various mental health disorders. Treatment for bipolar disorder requires the use of medication, but because the effectiveness in children isn’t as well researched, it’s wise to take note that children may respond differently to medications than adults. NIMH recommends children and adolescents take the “fewest number and smallest amounts of medication possible to help their symptoms,” additionally noting the danger in stopping any medication without the advice of a physician.
Pay attention to any side effects, and immediately tell the treating physician if you recognize new behaviors. Remember: the treatment for bipolar disorder is based upon the effective treatment of adults, which typically applies the use of mood stabilizers like lithium and/or valproate to control symptoms of mania and act as a preventative to the recurrence of depressive episodes.  Still, treatment of children and adults is still being researched. At this time, “NIMH is attempting to fill the current gaps intreatment knowledge with carefully designed studies involving children andadolescents with bipolar disorder.”  Further, scientists continue to perform studies looking at different types of psychotherapy, which would support the pharmaceutical treatment used in children and teens.  
Please see below for links to additional information (note, I also used some of these as reference for this article.)
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Self-Care

Love and Boundaries

What happens when someone you love relapses and decides not to get sober again?
Regardless of whether that person is a parent or a close friend, it’s a challenge, to say the least. In AA, we are told  “we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on a higher power¹” This statement alone verifies the need to allay one’s reliance upon the static nature of the sick, and instead turn the focus on paving a new path toward healing.

In 1951, Al-Anon began using the steps, giving those married to and reared by the alcoholic, tools with which they could live by. One thing is key: Al-Anon and Alateen don’t focus or talk about the alcoholic; they instead focus on themselves and learn how they can lead a happier, freer life. Here, the lesson is not to fix the person we love, but rather how to live life fully and independent of their disease. That’s tough, especially when  our expectations have taken hold: “If only they get sober, then everything will be okay.” or  “I’m not the one with the problem, they are.” But when we place our focus on fixing someone else’s problems, obsess over their emotional health, and base our lives around their well-being, that IS a problem.

Alateen is a wonderful support for kids struggling with alcoholic/addict parents or siblings. When chaos is the norm, then Alateen provides tools for weathering the storm. As kids living with alcoholics and addicts know, reaffirming reality in their day-to-day lives is the norm; the steps and fellowship: however, help provide a healthy, non-threatening way to do that. At some point, we find that part of supporting someone else’s sobriety means allowing them to walk their own path, no matter how rocky that path may be. We can’t walk it for them. If that means that their sobriety is tenuous at best, then we have to learn how to step aside. I call it loving someone with boundaries. In other words, we can love you when you’re in your disease, but we won’t hold you up.

¹ BB Page 98 (Note: “God” was replaced with “higher power” in the post.)


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