As with a number of other juvenile problems, family members are usually the last to know that a son, daughter, or sibling is hooked on drugs. Young people experimenting with prohibited substances will always attempt to hide such activities, and parents often find out about them only by accident, like when a youngster fails random drug testing at school and they get informed about it.After 13 years of dealing with juvenile and chronic users, SELF has identified a number of telltale signs that can warn parents about the presence of a serious situation. The primary indicator of this is the loss of focus on or interest in studies or work. Other symptoms include lying and manipulative behavior, abnormal schedules, low frustration tolerance, impulsiveness, and withdrawal from family activities. In more advanced levels of drug dependence, the family can experience the loss of household valuables, unwholesome and troubled friends, and even violent behavior.

When a youngster exhibits a number of these symptoms, the parents must seek help early. Parents often hold back hoping they have made a wrong assessment, but their gut-feel is seldom wrong. A good way to start is finding out all they can about addiction. Even if their suspicion turns out to be unfounded, they would have gained valuable knowledge about this social menace.

The involvement of the entire family in this type of intervention is ideal. But much too often the parents themselves do not agree with each other about their child’s drug-taking condition. However, all it takes is for one parent or any adult member of the family to confront the problem and set the ball rolling.

Confront the Problem

Indeed, the best way is to confront a suspected drug dependence head on. As SELF’s philosophy says: “The only way out is the way through.” When parents try to keep their child’s drug habit hush-hush, they often only worsen the situation and buy into the manipulative behavior of the young offender. Forcing the problem out into the open compels the drug user to deal with his/her condition.

It is also important that parents learn to make a big issue out of a developing drug problem. The child concerned should be tested for drugs. Drug test kits are available at pharmaceutical suppliers or at a drug rehab center near you. Then parents should take it a step further. They should find out who among their child’s friends are users and convey their concern to the parents.

In addition to exposing the problem, parents need to set up new systems within the family that will help inhibit any more use of and experimentation with prohibited substances. For example, parents could forge agreements with their children on how to track and place limits on their activities and movements. These must be accompanied by corresponding consequences for violations and parents must never falter in the application of such sanctions.

New Evaluation Program

As noted earlier, parents can be expected to lean toward denial at the start. However, if there is really a problem they will eventually have no choice but to acknowledge it. What to do at this point becomes the daunting question, especially whether or not a long term rehab program is needed. At any rate what is always important is to obtain a professional assessment of the user’s condition—the earlier, the better—so parents as well as the affected child can make the proper choice of how to go about addressing the problem.

In this regard SELF now offers the Assessment/Awakening Program to help families evaluate the drug-taking habit of young offenders. This 20-day live-in process is conducted in the Pre-admission Building at SELF’s Taal View House treatment facility in Talisay, Batangas.

Clients undergo psychological tests, basic psychiatric assessment, and various therapeutic activities and counseling sessions. All these seek not only to evaluate how substance abuse has affected a clients’s physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being but also to give the youngster a beginning understanding of the grave consequences of substance abuse and various ways of how to get away from it.

At the end of the term, SELF furnishes parents with a report on its findings and recommends an appropriate treatment method best suited to a client’s particular needs.

Possible interventions range from a home-based program like the one discussed above involving clear guidelines and strict house rules with corresponding sanctions for violations that SELF can help facilitate through a short formal program of counseling and group therapy sessions to a full course of rehabilitation with the commitment of the client to SELF’s Therapeutic Community (TC) program.

The TC Approach

Widely acknowledged as one of the best treatment approaches in the world, the TC is a residential program in a familial setting that utilizes confrontational methods of intervention geared to the recovery of basic human values toward the formation of new and effective habits to fend off the drug-taking lifestyle.

Through especially formulated behavior shaping tools (BST), SELF motivates residents to correct deviant attitudes that gained prominence in the course of their immersion in the culture of substance abuse.

There is a point when the level of drug abuse and collateral damage arising from antisocial behavior leaves no recourse but to send the offender to a rehabilitation program. Despite this it has been SELF’s experience that parents are still wont to ignore the untenable situation.

They choose to ignore the problem and sweep it under the rug or apply palliative measures like locking up the child in the house for several months or sending them abroad for a change of environment.

Others would go as far as confining the child in a hospital for detoxification but stop short of seeking proper follow-up treatment and rehabilitation. There are even some parents who go to the extent of allowing the child to use drugs at home. Needless to say, such measures are by and large inutile.

Act Immediately

When a child develops a curiosity for drugs, parents should nip it in the bud. The earlier a substance abuser gets treatment, the better the chances of achieving recovery. The problem only gets compounded when the parents procrastinate.

Prolonged substance abuse ultimately leads to an overall degeneration, not only physically but, more important, emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, it is far easier to restore the physical well-being of a person ravaged by drug abuse than to reverse and recover the psychosocial stunting it has wrought.

When all is said and done the most important thing to remember about substance abuse is that it is never too late to address this problem. Whether a youngster is experimenting or has already progressed to full-blown addiction, simply summoning the courage to confront the situation is half the battle won.

President, SELF
December 2005