Drug of Denial─Awareness and Impact: Part 3

Youth Matters

Editor’s note: This column (the third in a three-part series) is sponsored by the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. Columns will appear periodically with the goal of informing parents and the community about issues that impact local young people and their families.
Drug of Denial─Awareness and Impact: Part 3
By a Los Alamos parent

Despite the signs, we didn’t recognize our son’s substance abuse for years and his dependence grew with time. We wish we had questioned some of the risky behaviors we saw and sought help sooner rather than later. Paying attention to even a slight suspicion that your teen is using drugs could help prevent what our family has experienced.

We have found that there are a surprising number of other parents in Los Alamos that are facing very similar problems to ours. Just check the Los Alamos Police Blotter for the number of underage arrests for a minor in possession of alcohol or marijuana being referred to the juvenile probation officer.

The process we went through with our son has been described as “raising the bottom.” Most alcoholics and addicts have to “hit bottom” before they realize there is a problem and seek help to change their habits. Until then, from their perspective, there is no problem—they are a successful user.

Teenagers who are athletes and do well academically often think they can pull this off. They consider all the anecdotes (or “scared straight stories”) they hear about those who have come to some terrible demise as a result of drug and alcohol use are only about those who failed. Even stories such as the recent untimely death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman do not reach their radar as something that could happen to them. They don’t intend to fail.

However, with time, they become more careless and the substance abuse progresses. It takes more and more to achieve the same level of a high. This is one way that the bottom is approached.

We thought that being arrested for a minor in possession (MIP) of alcohol and going to Teen Court would have been a bottom, but it wasn’t. Then, we thought that an intervention and residential treatment would have been a bottom, but it wasn’t. Then, we thought that having to move out of our home due to overstepping clear boundaries we set as a family for substance use would have been a bottom, but it wasn’t either. 

These consequences haven‘t been enough for my son to completely change his habits. We continue to work on that with him. It seems that when something goes badly for him, he typically refuses accountability and adopts a victim stance. The consequences are never his fault.

Many parents may continue for long periods of time denying the signs of drug and alcohol use by their teenagers. We did. It took us many years to really discover what was happening to our son. We don’t want him to have to hit a bottom that has irreversible consequences and have been trying to raise that bottom to prevent that, but now realize that he will have to define the bottom for himself.

As parents, you can see destructive behaviors in your teenager and attribute them to the frivolity of youth. You may be concerned that seeking help may create a stigma for you and your family in the community. We were in denial about our academically and athletically gifted child not having a healthy lifestyle.

As unquestionable evidence appeared, we were concerned not only about his health and potential legal consequences, but that our security clearances at the lab could be compromised as a result of our son’s behavior. We learned that Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) does not require reporting of drug and alcohol abuse by family members only workers. You can seek treatment for your child without fear of LANL employment repercussions.

We have had a very difficult path that we never could have predicted. We don’t want any other teenager or their parents to have to go through our experience. There are resources in Los Alamos that can help with these challenges. A good first step is to contact Troy Palmer, JJAB’s youth resource advocate (jjabyra@gmail.com, 505.690.7889). He can help your family assess the situation and connect you to appropriate resources.  

There is the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line, 1.855.662.7474. This crisis line is operated 24/7 by master’s-level counselors. Drug tests also are available, at no cost, through Teen Court and the Municipal Court. In addition, agents of your health insurance company can assist with finding treatment options that are covered by insurance.

Our main concern now is getting our son to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle and have a successful future. Until he does, we will keep working with him on his judgment, hope to gain his trust, and continue to support his recovery.

About JJAB – The Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB) funds and organizes programs that have a positive impact on youth, families, and the community. Our board is made up of parents, judges, teens, government leaders, and representatives from numerous community organizations. JJAB offers a comprehensive set of resources for families in Los Alamos. When youth are in trouble, we step in as early as possible. We organize positive activities for young people and provide powerful leadership opportunities. JJAB is here to facilitate meaningful support for youth and their parents. More information about JJAB and its work can be found at www.losalamosjjab.com.