You know us. We may greet each other at the grocery store. Our kids might have played on sports teams together. We may cross paths in our work, at church, the library, post office, Gordon’s concerts, ski hill or pool. It’s a small town. There’s likely not more than one degree of separation between any two people in Los Alamos.
Beyond sports teams, you or your kids may know our son from extracurricular activities at school. He is in AP classes, has a high GPA, plays varsity sports, and participates in a variety of community events. He is also a recreational drug user and binge drinker, but you’d never know it. He has been smoking pot since middle school. Almost all his friends have been, too. We had no idea. He covered it up well. The strong-scented body spray and eye drops should have been indicators, but we were in denial. We trusted him. We gave him the benefit of the doubt.
He started drinking in high school. When he and some of his friends were arrested for a minor in possession (MIP) of alcohol, we wondered how the judgment of all these smart and physically fit boys could be so poor. How could they let themselves be so compromised?
When arrested, the police called and we picked him up from the party. The Teen Court process began. This involved classes to help teens calibrate their judgment and focus on their potential for future success. The community service hours assigned are also intended to give teens a bigger perspective beyond their self-gratifying impulses.
Although the Teen Court process has been beneficial for many teens, it did not help our son make better choices. He was not ready to receive what teen court has to offer. It was during this time that his drug use actually increased in frequency and escalated in intensity. He was compliant and completed all the teen-court classes and community service he was required to do. However, it was only a check-the-box process for him, and he did not perceive these requirements as negative consequences of his drug and alcohol use.
He then started using cocaine. When we found the cocaine, we confronted him only to get denial and lies. We knew we had to get him help, but didn’t know how to do that.
Beyond the obvious health and legal concerns associated with my son’s behavior, we were also concerned how his use might affect our jobs at the Laboratory. We have security clearances and wondered if we needed to report our son’s arrest and drug use.
We read the LANL polices on Substance Abuse and Security Clearances. These policies address only the “worker” and mention nothing about related actions of immediate family members. We decided to call and ask if our son’s drug and alcohol use needed to be reported. The Special Security Officer confirmed that only actions of the worker need to be reported—not family members.
If we knew then what we know now, we could have intervened earlier and our son’s progression in drug and alcohol use might have been limited and consequences could have been managed at a lower level. Seeing few alternatives, we sent our son to a residential treatment facility to recover from his drug and alcohol use. The next column in this series will address the intervention and other consequences.
There were signs, but we didn’t recognize them. He became very moody and defiant. He was hanging out with new friends whose parents we didn’t know. There were strange smells in the car. Not our boy. He’s a good student and athlete ─ not what we thought was a typical user. Now, we don’t know what “typical” is. Our lesson in this is the old adage to “trust but verify” and don’t assume that good students and athletes aren’t also drinkers and drug users.
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. The 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, JJAB steps in as early as possible. They 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.