Dr. Kimberly Dennis is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New National Study Shows Deeper Issues in Teens Today

A new report issued by The Partnership at Drugfree.org says teens today don’t see a big problem with downing five or more alcoholic drinks nearly every day and that there is an upward trend in marijuana and Ecstasy use among high school teens. I attribute this rise to the growing number of teens who identify themselves as “social” drinkers, denial in our society and deeper issues in teens today.

We see it extensively at Timberline Knolls Treatment Center in adolescents (and adults) who identify themselves as "social" drinkers but really have serious substance use disorders (abuse or dependence). But I say to the called "social" drinkers or drug users, please define social. Social to me means being fully alive and fully present to connect with loved ones and other people in our lives. I'm not sure what is social about pouring or snorting or inhaling or injecting a toxin into your body.

I also see denial as a part of the problem and call on parents to get involved. Some of denial and minimizing comes from families, especially if one or both parents drink or use "recreationally." Denial or blindness can also occur if the parent is not consistently emotionally involved with their teens, because they don't know how to be (their parents weren't) or they have their own substance/work/food/money/sex addiction.

The worst thing a parent can do is disconnect if they suspect a problem, and this can happen in the form of turning a blind eye, rationalizing it, or keeping it secret. Underage substance use is always a signal of deeper issues going on in a teen. Many times the issues are related to low-self esteem and trauma/abuse/neglect (including emotional neglect).

A kid that needs to turn to a substance to connect with other people or have fun has missed out on some important human relationship/connection skills. But it is critical these teens seek help and that loved ones help them do so. It's never too early to ask for help as a parent or teen and to get potentially life-saving treatment. Recovery is possible with the right treatment and support system.