Article: Addictions

(Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs)

TYPICAL FEELINGS OF A CHILD: inclusion, belonging, specialness, worthiness, loved, obedient, being grown-up, superior to peers.

TYPICAL BELIEFS OF A CHILD: “I need to (smoke, drink, use drugs) to be a part of my family.”  “I’m more grown up than my peers.”  “I need to keep family secrets or I’ll be rejected by my family.”  “It’s cool to use.”  “I will have more friends if I use.”

TYPICAL ACTIONS OF A CHILD: secrecy, pseudo-sophisticated, flirtatious or charming, disrespect for authority figures, demanding, immature emotionally

TYPICAL FEELINGS OF AN ADOLESCENT: angry, worthless, unloved, abandoned, abused, neglected, forgotten, confused, lonely, shameful.

TYPICAL BELIEFS OF AN ADOLESCENT: “I’m not special enough to be loved.”  “I’m hopeless.”  “It’s hopeless.”  “No one really cares or understands.”  “I’m a Loser.”

TYPICAL ACTIONS OF AN ADOLESCENT: tough acting, flirtatious or charming, studied indifference, wanting to enter power struggle with authority figures, lack of motivation to be successful.

A Brief Summary:

[Note:  I am aware that my views about alcohol, drug and tobacco addictions are less than popular.  I formulated my viewpoint after working with some children and many adolescents who have struggled with addictions.  In researching addictions, there is just not the substantial evidence that meets the current popular views to support the medical disease model as an appropriate intervention.]

There has been a lot of mythology surrounding addiction and addiction behaviors.  Here is a little of what we know, from current research, about children and adolescents and addictions:  that tobacco is one of the most highly addictive chemicals available to humans.  When the user begins using tobacco, they are under the impression that they won’t get “hooked.”  That they can stop at any time.  That, for a child or adolescent, using tobacco products is “cool.”  That the laws governing the use of tobacco are randomly enforced.  That adults continue to purchase tobacco and sell tobacco to minors.
We know that the use of tobacco places the user at a much higher risk to use drugs and alcohol.  The chain of usage for users of tobacco often proceeds to the use of alcohol, which leads to use the drugs.  Almost all cocaine users state that their first “drug of choice” was tobacco.  Almost all alcoholics state that their first “drug of choice” was tobacco.
What we know from working with kids is that the majority of users of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs were initially given their first “taste” of these substances in the family home.  We also are aware that family expectation and acceptance is a huge factor in a child’s or adolescent’s use and growing dependence upon all three substances.
Research also tells us that bio-chemically, the longest half-life of any drug in the body is about thirty days.  This means that after a thirty-day grace period of non-usage, the body does not respond chemically to the drug, but rather psychologically.
Addiction must be recognized as either a physiological addiction or a psychological addiction.  While under the physiological addiction, the person is at high risk for using, due to the body’s instance of needing more drug to be held in a state of balance.  Without the use of the drug, the body begins to detoxify and causes the person to experience unpleasant to painful body reactions.  Since human beings resist body pain, they will often ignore what they need to do to get “clean,” by providing immediate relaxation from the detoxifying experience.
The mythology in this country is that the addiction is a long-lasting physiological process, rather than understanding and pursuing a treatment course that likens addiction to a bad habit.  This mythology has its origination from two arenas: a) Alcoholics Anonymous; and b) insurance companies.
Alcoholics Anonymous first step is “we admit that we are powerless over our alcohol addiction–that our lives have become unmanageable.”  This statement placed with the insurance industry dictum that they would not pay for any intervention if it were not medically related made it almost an instant myth that alcohol is a “disease.”  If alcoholism, drug addiction and tobacco addiction are diseases, then they are either genetic or biological afflictions that need the attention of the medical community.  No research to date has been able to substantiate that a substance-related addiction is biochemical or genetic in nature.  [Please refer to Stanton Peele, PhD, and Archie Brodsky’s The Truth About Addiction and Recovery. Also, please see current data generated by the Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.]
Psychological “addiction” is primarily an individual’s belief system about his or her ability to cope with whatever problem he or she identifies as causing them emotional discomfort or pain.
Children who begin to use substances at an early age are almost always mimicking their parents.  They are essentially demonstrating what they believe to be a family behavior that has the ability to make them more acceptable to the love and acceptance that the family has to offer.
Children, who are not mimicking their perceived family values, are mimicking the society in which they live.  The United States, believing the mythology of the need to be free of personal emotional pain, has turned to using both legal and illegal drugs as a coping tool.  In a society that prizes fast food and instant relief, using prescription medications and illegal drugs is the accepted manner in which to alleviate emotional discomfort and pain.
Once the drug or prescribed medication is no longer a physiological factor, the usage of that substance becomes a psychological factor.  An addiction is a habit that causes the user to suffer negative consequences within relationships: school, work, family, friends, and self.  Maintaining the habit requires a continual impact on the ability to make appropriate, healthy choices.  While decreasing or abstention from the habit requires the user to cope with the realities of past and current choices.


Youth who are struggling with any form of addiction are also struggling with family dynamics, unless they have a psychiatric diagnosis related to a thought disorder.

As addiction is a “family issue,” it is extremely beneficial for the addicted child or adolescent to have the availability to family who are willing to participate in the process.  It takes courage and determination for a family to enter and follow through with professional interventions.  It is not easy.  It is painful.  Saving emotional lives can be extremely taxing on individuals and families.  It can also hold an ultimate reward for individuals and families.

(Note: I do not believe that adolescents should be placed in an AA group.  Children and adolescents would do better to practice sobriety in age appropriate groups and activities. )

Along with Cognitive-Behavioral (talk) therapy, such programs as Outward Bound and Adventure Based Counseling can be extremely helpful in learning about old and new family dynamics.  Pre-determined support structure and ongoing “check-in” processes can assist the family, including the addicted participant, to be successful.


© 2011:  BEA Goldfeder

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