by AC Osberg
I had my first drink of alcohol when I was 12 and smoked my first joint at the same age. I did feel like I had to at the time because I wanted to fit in. Fitting in is so important to preteens and teens it is just the way their brains are wired.
At this stage in life I felt like I needed to know who I was and to get away from the control of my parents. I felt like my world was opening up and was able to see my family for what it was—messed up.
When I was young I thought my dad was the best dad ever even though he was never around. I made excuses for his absence and even more excuses for the absence of my mother. Who by the way was basically non-existent as a child.
I am not writing this for sympathy I have come to understand the struggles of both my parents. I am now a father of two beautiful children.
I am telling you this so you understand some of the reasons for youth who turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the stresses in life. I was frightened that everything was changing and that school was becoming more of a challenge.
I did not have anyone to teach me the coping skills I needed to manage my anxiety and pain.
When I drank that first time to fit in, it was normal for my friends and they made it seem like it was no big deal. To me it was a big deal since most of my immediate family struggled with addiction and were in some sort of recovery.
I would spend a few hours a week sitting in a dark basement with my father at AA meetings watching all of these adults talk about how drinking messed up their lives, how they regretted their decisions in life and felt like they could never escape the grips of this disease.
When I was 6 years old I vowed that I would never drink at all. That all went out the window when I had the chance to go to a friends house 6 years later. Well he wasn’t really my friend he was one of the cool kids.
So cool that I felt like I needed to impress him and show off. This is a familiar circumstance for many teens even today. A desire to fit in and a desire to go with the crowd. Like I said before it is just wired into our brains.
Unfortunately, 10 percent of us are prone to addiction and wired differently and that’s an evil combination. After the first drink and the puking that followed, I was hooked.
It made me funny, more confident, and even braver. It fixed what I thought was wrong with me. Or so I thought. My anxiety went away and I was even fitting in. By the age of 16, I was drinking every day. I was not fitting in not with achievers and successful kids, I was fitting in with the street kids.
I found myself sitting on a street corner begging for change so I could get more booze. This addiction didn’t just make me a have a few bad grades in school or lose sleep. It took everything from me. It took me out of school, it took away my mother, it took away my home.
People who suffer from addiction do not want to hurt the people they love, they just need that next fix.
Dopamine is the game and the more you get the more you need. It’s a neurochemical hardwired into the brain that lights up the pleasure center.
Addiction is not fun. Alcohol causes death and destruction over time. Even scarier are deadly drugs like opioids and fentanyl. I cannot imagine losing anyone to an overdose.
So how do we keep teens from substances?
#1 Talk about it and be honest
Talk to your kids as a friend. This is best done not right after the event but, at a time where you are both in a good mood.
Teens are more likely to listen without the feeling of being judged. Take them out to a movie or stay home and watch their favorite show with them. Then bring up something that you have noticed maybe you can find a story in the media or online that they may have seen.
Your child is aware of more things in the media than you think.
#2 The no judgement policy
Give your child a safe keyword that they can text to you no questions asked and you will come and get them no matter what. (Remember to follow through on this pick them up and do not ask questions.) Teens need to feel that it is safe for them to ask for help without being punished.
You can also role play and ask them what they would do in certain situations.
#3 Apply positive peer pressure
Your teen may not say it but they do look up to you. Having one positive adult role model is important in the life of your teen. Encourage them to make good choices and go beyond their limits and try new things and be uncomfortable with doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable in a good way. We all have to grow and expand and step out of our comfort zones. (Uncomfortable zones)
When I first started writing and speaking I was not comfortable and it took awhile–like 3 years. I ended up getting better as I time went on and I am still stepping outside my comfort zone.
I hope this has helped you in your decision to help your teenager through a difficult time in life. I wish someone would have told my mom and dad how to help me before I found myself in the grips of addiction, homelessness and desperation.
You can find out more about AC at www.acosberg.com