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Family Almanac

It Takes A Family To Solve a Son's Drug Problem

By Marguerite Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page C08

Q. I am frustrated and angry and don't know what to do about our 17-year-old son, an only child.

He was an exemplary student before he went to high school. At that time, I asked my husband to help me set boundaries, because our boy is very sociable and likes to visit his friends on weekend evenings and go cruising with no particular event in mind. Although my husband was a baseball coach and Scout leader for several years, he didn't want to discipline our son, perhaps because he is an older father who had a carefree youth in a small town or because he thinks that all teenagers -- especially boys -- do the things our son does. But I don't agree.

Our boy has had "brushes" with the law since he started high school.

First he was found with a very small amount of marijuana, and the next time the school police found an empty vial in his car, which had been planted in the glove compartment by an older boy to whom my son had reluctantly given a ride. The police said the vial smelled like marijuana, so the school expelled him -- in his senior year.

He is now in a private school, which is very expensive and is anathema to me, due to my deep commitment to public schools. First I made our son see a therapist for anger management and drug counseling, but he clammed up and wouldn't go back.

We have now set a curfew for him, but sometimes he comes home 30 to 60 minutes late. I am afraid that he will get into trouble again, and if that happens, he will be imprisoned. This is shocking to me. No one has ever misbehaved in my close-knit, sheltered family.

My husband says he is tired of my complaints, and he wouldn't even intervene when our son cursed me horribly (for the thousandth time). Instead he yelled at me and left the house.

How long must this go on? We only have a few months left to make a positive impact on my son.

A. It's time to face reality. Your son has a drug problem, and you can't blame it on your husband or anyone else. Instead you and your husband must help him get rid of it.

Begin with family therapy, because children reflect the misery -- or the happiness -- that surrounds them. A good therapist will explore the underlying reasons for your son's drug problem and for your marital problems, and will also help the three of you delve into the causes of your anger and resentment, but she won't allow any cussing or heckling and she won't let you slip into the same old arguments that go nowhere.

Maybe you'll find that your husband wouldn't set rules with you because he felt that you were nagging him, or that your son's behavior is reflecting the misery of your marriage, or that he fell in with the wrong crowd, which led him into drugs. A youngster seldom tries pot for the first time unless he has been repeatedly urged to do so by his best friend. For this reason, parents must be very careful about the friends their teenagers make and which ones they let them keep. It's better for your son to stay home on weekends than to court trouble.

Your son also needs an evaluation by an addiction medicine specialist to see if he is dependent on marijuana or is just an occasional user, and also to see if he is using another drug, such as an inhalant, which is both common and dangerous.

In addition, he needs to see a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist to rule out a mental illness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that 50 to 75 percent of people who undergo drug treatment also suffer from a mental illness and that 20 to 50 percent of those receiving mental health treatment also abuse drugs. Moreover, both problems get worse if only one of them is treated.

If your son is dependent on pot -- and it sounds like he might be -- he will need to see a counselor regularly for behavior modification and for oversight, to make sure that he's clean -- a job much better done by a professional than a parent.

Your husband may tell you that pot is just a rite of passage -- and it often is -- but marijuana can affect a student's ability to learn and retain information.

Don't be ashamed if your son goes into treatment, even if your family hasn't had such problems before. The admission rates for treatment of marijuana went up 162 percent between 1992 and 2002.

To find treatment programs in your state, go to www.samhsa.gov or call 800-662-HELP, and to find an addiction medicine specialist, check the American Society of Addiction Medicine at www.asam.org.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.comor to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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