Steering Our Teens Away from Drugs

Featured Guest: Andrea Baskin MS, LMHC

Parenting a teenager is challenging enough without the additional factor of a developing substance abuse disorder. While we often associate the teen years with experimentation and rebellion, but at what point does normal teen curiosity enter dangerous territory? What should parents know about how to navigate the difficult journey of teen addiction recovery? Our host Noelle speaks with teen addiction treatment specialist Andrea Baskin on the subject of how to recognize signs of teen substance abuse, the dos and don’ts of your response, and how to find resources for help.

Steering Our Teens Away from Drugs Podcast, Video and Transcript

CARMEN: 00:00Hi, everyone, and welcome to our mental health and substance use series called Recovery Out Loud. I’m Noelle Carmen and today we are talking about what we can do as parents and loved ones of teens to steer them away from drugs and possible addiction. With us today, we have Andrea Baskin. She is the clinical director for Safe Landing. It is a treatment center for teens struggling with addiction. Andrea, thank you so much, and welcome to the show.
BASKIN: 00:33Thank you for having me.
CARMEN: 00:35So tell us a little bit first about Safe Landing, where it is, and what kind of help you guys offer teens.
BASKIN: 00:45So we are a substance abuse facility. We are located in Miami, Florida. We offer dual diagnosis. So we treat primarily substance abuse. But we know that most teens that come into the facility will have other underlying issues, so, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, a history of trauma, anything like that we can treat. So if they have been struggling with any type of substance use, we can definitely treat them, bring them on, and then treat those underlying issues that are contributing possibly to the substance use.
CARMEN: 01:18So let me ask you, because you’re on the front line of teens and what the landscape looks like now for substance abuse with regards to teens, so can you kind of paint a picture as to what that looks like for parents, for people like me? I have five kids. I have no idea what that looks like.
BASKIN: 01:40So right now, we’re seeing a lot of– and even if we talk about the pandemic, we’re seeing increased substance use as a result of many different reasons, one of them being isolation. So now kids don’t have the ability to do go out and do things and experience joy overall as they were before. They find themselves isolating at home where they can’t really talk to others, and just over virtual platforms, which is not the same. So they find themselves using a lot more– could be from marijuana, to [inaudible], to pills, could be whatever drugs [inaudible] using. [inaudible] have increased exponentially due to what’s been going on in the past, I would say, eight months now.
CARMEN: 02:25So are you seeing this–? During the pandemic. Are you seeing families much more stressed now with regards to just their own relationships, let alone the drug usage?
BASKIN: 02:41Yes. And one of the things that I’ve found is that since parents started working from home, they started noticing more of the drug use. So before, adolescents and kids were going to school, they were seeing their friends. They were out of the house by doing their extracurricular activities. And parents were not really as aware that this was going on. Now that they spent a lot of time at home and realized, okay, something’s off, something’s going on, they’re irritable, they’re upset all the time. They’re sleeping a lot. They don’t want to be part of the family activities, now parents have been able to be more present and know that there’s a possible issue going on that has to be addressed. So I would say that’s been the biggest change with parents. And parents have been stressed because of everything that’s been going on. And this is definitely added to that.
CARMEN: 03:28So tell us about what parents can do. So now all of a sudden, the pandemic, in a way, is a good thing because it’s forced us to kind of reconnect with our families in maybe a way that we’ve been disconnected, and we as parents stop and look around and go, “Oh, my gosh, what has been happening right under my nose that I was not aware of?” What do you say initially because I can imagine initially that’s panic, right? Everything is out of control role. Can you kind of talk us through that as parents, as loved ones, guardians of teens?
BASKIN: 04:07And just to rephrase what you’re saying, is that what they can do once they find out their kids are using?
CARMEN: 04:15Yes. There’s now this reconnection and realizing, as you mentioned, that there is trouble where they didn’t see it before, that initial panic of wanting to gain control, but realizing things are out of control, maybe.
BASKIN: 04:31So the first thing that I suggest is reach out to a professional. Reach out to a counselor in your area. Right now, one of the good things about the pandemic has been the ability to get resources in an easier way, being able to hop on and find a therapist, find a clinician, just find a psychiatrist that can see and have appointments available way sooner than they would in the past. So that’s the first thing I would recommend is reach out to someone that’s professional in the field and who is able to guide you through what to do, because, yes, the first reaction is panic. “What am I going to do? This is happening. I need to fix it now.” And that’s okay because that’s natural.
BASKIN: 05:11But it has to be definitely a proactive rather than a reactive kind of thing where we’re able to see what are the steps that need to be taken? Because it’s going to be a process. It’s not going to be something that’s going to be right away, we’re going to put a Band-Aid on it, and we’re going to fix it. It’s going to be, “Now, what do we have to do as a family, as a whole system to be able to help?” Because there’s obviously something going on with this adolescent. But there’s also something going on probably within the family system. So it’s reaching out to someone who’s able to guide the family through what are the next steps that need to be taken to be able to assess and see how bad this is.
CARMEN: 05:48So taking it from a parental point of view and being now confronted with this, what are the things not to do? For example, probably running it and confronting your teen in maybe more aggressive ways probably not the thing to do. Can you talk us through things we might be inclined to do in a reactionary way that probably we should step back and say, “Okay, this might make things worse”?
BASKIN: 06:20Yes, definitely yelling. And that might be a lot of parent’s reaction like, ‘”What are you doing? What do you mean you’re into this? What’s going on?” out of desperation and worry. So there could be that component, that bias against screaming, maybe even confronting them at the beginning. I would advise them to really seek help before even confronting them. If we know that they’re using to a life and death component, then I would find it and I could talk a little bit about that like what to do if you find that they are in immediate danger at that moment. If they are not in immediate danger, it’s about being able to kind of take the steps. So stepping away from screaming, confronting, blaming each other. Parents might find themselves blaming their partner. “It’s because you did this. They’re doing this because of you because you yelled at them.”
BASKIN: 07:07So avoiding that because this moment is about staying together and being able to find a solution and the right process to be able to help this teen. And none of that will help. We know that screaming, cursing, hitting, none of those things will be helpful to the teen. It’s only going to make them feel more defensive, yell back, get into a moment where they could go and put themselves in danger because they could say, “You know what? I’m just going to go. I’m going to go over my friend’s house.” And then out of feeling desperate and feeling upset end up using more and putting themselves in a really dangerous situation. So I would say take a deep breath, take a step back, and really think this with your irrational head, not with the emotional component, just with the rational, which is hard because it’s a very emotional– it’s a very emotional situation, very stressful, very fear-invoking. So there’s a lot of that. But I would suggest that main thing just to take a deep breath and step back.
CARMEN: 08:03I want to talk about something you just mentioned which is blame, which happens automatically. As soon as stress presents itself, here we go blaming ourselves as parents for the circumstance. And I’m sure that not only plays an initial part of the reaction but also is something on a longer-term that needs to be addressed. So can you speak about that and, really, how parents can step back in a healthy way from blame to create a more healthy environment for their family, for the recovery of their teens?
BASKIN: 08:42Right. So I would suggest, this situation, blaming anyone is not going to help anything. So it’s staying away from saying, “It’s your fault” or “it’s your friends” or “it’s what we did” or “it’s what someone did.” Taking that component out because, obviously, when parents go through this, they want to find something– they want to find a reason why. “Why are they? Is it because they are hanging out with this girlfriend or this boyfriend, their friends? What’s going on? What do I need to take away so that it doesn’t affect my child anymore?” And the truth is we got to start with that. All those things might be contributing, and the peer pressure might have something to do with it and all of that, but it has to be with them. We’re not going to– if we take away everything from an environment, it’s not going to necessarily change their behavior. So it’s about being able to, as parents, be a united front and be able to confront this together as a family.
BASKIN: 09:36And then taking away the excuses and the blame to other things that seem like, “We have a problem. He’s using because of a reason. What’s going on? Could it be recurring disorders? Could it be just exploration? Could it be because they thought it was just fun and it’s getting out of hand?” It could be a lot of reasons, but it’s kind of getting to that without pointing the finger. Because also, if we point the finger, we might be missing out on what’s really happening. If I say, “They’re using because of their girlfriend or their boyfriend. And if I take the boyfriend away, then everything’s going to be okay.” That might not be the reality. The reality is we might take away the boyfriend and they might continue to still use. So it’s really being able to get that and kind of be able to see it from their perspective, so.
CARMEN: 10:24You also mentioned addiction versus, say, exploration. A parent might jump to the conclusion that, “Oh my gosh, my kid is now an addict.” How do parents sort through that to know, “Okay. This might be something just in terms of exploration” or “oh my gosh, we have a real– we have a real substance use issue on our hands”?
BASKIN: 10:53Yeah. I think that the biggest thing is once you find out that they’re using, now, you’re going to have to be monitoring all the time. Now, this is telling you that they’re using. Could they be using once a month for exploration, or it’s their first time they tried something? Maybe. Could it be now that they are starting to use it more and more? So it’s really about being able to be really get involved and be able to assess. I would take it– I always tell parents, “Take it very seriously. The moment that you see and you know that they have used something, even if they don’t know that you’re taking it seriously, be very on top of it. Start monitoring behaviors. Before drug testing, you can start monitoring their surroundings. Everything you can monitor just to make sure [inaudible] are a very good way to find out are they using, are they not using.” Obviously, this would come probably after a conversation. Let’s talk about what they’re thinking about, what’s going on, and worries. And hopefully, if things are escalating, bring in another professional on board that can assist with this. But definitely, being able to be on top of it is the biggest thing.
CARMEN: 11:58Let me ask you about escape and avoidant behavior. Do you find in your experience that mainly teens are using because they don’t know how to cope with emotions, they don’t know how to cope with their life, and this is just the easy way? And then how does that play into actual addiction?
BASKIN: 12:22Yes. So that’s a great question because we do find that. We find that teens who have gone through traumatic experiences– I always tell the teens when I meet with them, I say, “You could not pay me enough to go back to be your age. It’s a very difficult time where you have your hormones, you have physical changes, emotional changes, the environment. There’s a lot of peer pressure, what you’re supposed to look like, what you’re supposed to be, that you have a sense of wanting to belong as well.” So it’s really a tough, difficult– and they don’t have the cognitive ability to really think about consequences and think about, “I’m really doing this. How is this going to affect me in the future?” At the moment, they do it because it feels good. It’s good right now. It’s making me feel good right now. So I’m going to continue doing it.
BASKIN: 13:08So I do see that when there is– and I would say it’s the same for adults. If you find yourself there, sad, depressed, anxious, and you find something and you had a drink and all of a sudden you feel better, that reinforces that behavior. It reinforces the fact that you want to drink more because it has helped to cope with that anxiety and that depression or those feelings that are feelings from past trauma, whatever it is that makes you feel uncomfortable. So it applies to the teens as well. They know they don’t feel great. They might not know why. But then [inaudible] into the system, smoke this. It’ll make you feel better. And at that point, you say, “You know what? It did. So why not smoke it again?” And that’s how it continues to– and all of a sudden, since they don’t have the cognitive ability to think about the consequences, now they’re addicted. Now, they created a dependency where they need to use it all the time because if not, they’re going to feel anxious. Now, they’re going to have withdrawal symptoms. Now, they don’t want to feel that anxiety. So they don’t want to feel any of those negative feelings because why would they if they found something that’s making them feel good?
CARMEN: 14:12What if you’re a parent who suspects? You don’t know, but you suspect something’s going on. What should be looked for in terms of clues and signs that there is something happening?
BASKIN: 14:25Absolutely. That’s a great question. I always say any changes in behavior that you were seeing. So changes in behavior could be now they’re sleeping more. They’re sleeping less. Now, they are not wanting to be as involved with the family as they were before. Extracurricular activities. Now, they no longer want to participate when they were very into their sports. School. Grades are dropping. We see that’s a big indicator. You start seeing they were always great students and now the grades are– now they have really bad grades. What’s going on? Nothing has really changed. So those are all signs. Changes in appetite. Irritability is a big one. Now, suddenly they’re always yelling or they’re irritable or everything is annoying. Everything is upsetting. And not that they are a direct indicator that they might be using, but they’re a big indicator. If they are not using and you’re still seeing these behavior changes and you’re still seeing all these things, then there might be something else to look at because they could be experiencing depression, anxiety, mental health issues that have not been addressed and that they might not even know what they are.
CARMEN: 15:28Let’s talk immediate danger. Now, we’re in crisis mode. Talk us through that.
BASKIN: 15:36Okay. So crisis mode. There’s a teen that’s telling their parents, “I’m going to hurt myself. I’m going to hurt myself, I’m going to hurt you.” So anything of that nature. I always tell parents the first thing you do is you call the police. The police will come out, and the police will be able to assess. At that point, what is most likely to happen if they continue to verbalize that is they will get taken to a psychiatric unit.
BASKIN: 16:01There are several around their area. There are several psychiatric facilities that will take them for a hold of about 72 hours. It could be less, it could be a little more depending on the symptoms. After that, the hospital will assess and see why did this happen? Is this something that’s been occurring where this adolescent has been struggling with suicidal ideation? Because they might have been struggling with suicidal ideation for a while. This might be the first time they’ve verbalized it. So I always say take it seriously. Don’t think– I hear from parents sometimes tell me “They’re just saying that to get attention.” We don’t know. It could be the other way around where now they’re saying it because they actually meant it and they could end up hurting themselves. So I always say you take it for the seriousness of what they’re telling you, that they could be about to hurt themselves or hurt someone else. So definitely calling the police. It’s not a crime. I tell them we’re not calling the police because you’re in trouble. We’re calling the police because they are the ones who are coming to support us. They are the ones that can help us. After that, the hospital will set up an aftercare plan where they will continue to see a therapist or they might be– if they’re using, they might go into treatment. And if they’re not using and they’re severe psychiatric, they might have to look into a psychiatric facility that will be able to handle the psychiatric needs at that point. So that’s what I suggest. Immediate need is definitely always calling the police and being able to put a sense of urgency to the situation.
CARMEN: 17:27I would like to address and perhaps debunk the idea. There’s this notion in society of if you’ve got a problem, just stop. So how many parents have you encountered that go to their teens and say to a teen really struggling with substance use, “You need to make really good decisions? You need to stop this. You need to just quit, get back on track.” And how defeating and demoralizing that can be, truly, for a teen struggling with addiction.
BASKIN: 18:02Yes. And that’s something I see. And we make fun sometimes with the kids to the parents. And I see them rolling their eyes because I’m like, “Lecture time.” It’s what we call it because– and it comes from a place of love. It comes from a place of caring. It comes from a place of wanting for them to make good choices. But the truth is when you’re doing that, you’re missing really what’s going on with the teen. You’re missing the ability to give them space for them to really be able to verbalize what’s happening. Could they just stop? Maybe, maybe not. But what’s underneath that? Why can’t they stop? Why are they choosing not to stop? What are they getting from using that’s so beneficial to them in their mind that they don’t want to stop or even they can’t. So this is when they come into treatment and an inpatient facility. I always tell them “This is why you’re here because you’re going to take a break. You’re going to take a break from everything and kind of reassess things from a different perspective.” It’s very hard to reassess when they’re out there using. You need to take a break and be able to say, and how many times do I hear “I really needed this because I needed to think with a clear head.” That I haven’t had the chance to do that in the past– whatever long they’ve been using. So it’s really about getting to know the teen and getting to know what’s inside that head? What’s inside of them? What are they all about? Because they have so much in them, so much to say, so much to share. Sometimes they don’t, because they haven’t felt the space to be able to do it.
CARMEN: 19:29And that segues right beautifully into my next question is tell us about treatment. So I’m a mom. I’m watching this. But it’s a vulnerable thing to hand your kid over to a bunch of strangers, right? And so can you kind of talk us through what treatment looks like and how am I supposed to feel good about that as a parent?
BASKIN: 19:53Absolutely. I’m a parent, too. So I would be– I always tell the parents “I’m a parent, too, and I would never have a facility that I wouldn’t send my kids to. And that’s my biggest goal, as a mom and a clinician, and a clinical director, I want to make sure that we have a place that’s safe. First of all, safety is my priority. I want to make sure that everyone is safe because that’s why kids are coming in, to be in a safe environment away from all the stressors that they have internally in their home, outside of their home, with their friends. So making sure that that’s the biggest goal. After that, being able to really– one of our biggest things is having for the therapies to have locations because that gives us the ability for the therapies to really be involved with these parents and be really able to have the time to dedicate to questions, concerns, worries. Anything that comes up, crises, interventions, anything that needs to be– So that’s one of the biggest things that we do, is making sure that the parents have a lot of communication with the team. They talk to our case manager, they talk to myself, they talk to the therapist, they talk to all the staff, basically, and they’re able to really know what’s going on on a daily basis. Getting daily updates, hearing from them on a daily basis to know that, “I’m okay. My day? My day was my day.” Or, “It was good,” or, “It wasn’t that good.” But being able to know that they’re okay. So those are all ways that we’re able to provide the parents with some peace of mind to know that they’re choosing a place where their children are safe.
CARMEN: 21:19On the flip side of that, addressing parents who say, “Oh, my gosh, take this problem off of my hands. Can you please fix this kid and get back to us when the problem is solved?” Also, not seeing that the family system is actually– I don’t know, would you say part of the problem or at least it participates in the addiction?
BASKIN: 21:44Absolutely. That’s the biggest thing. And one of the things that I tell the parents is you’re going to have to be as involved as they are. You’re going to have to be part of the this process [inaudible] at least a family session a week. They’re going to have to show up. They’re going to have to participate. And that’s a big part. With the teens, and this is where the biggest difference between the teens and the adults coming in because if an adult goes to treatment, they can start over their life. They don’t have to have necessarily involvement from their parents or anyone in their life. They might but not– it might not be [inaudible] because the teens will go back to their parents, will go back to the same environment. And if the home environment doesn’t change, it’s very unlikely that things will be done differently. So it really has to be a change from the parents. One of the things that I encourage parents to do is to get their own therapy. The reason for that is for them to be able to deal with their own past, their own present, the anxieties, and also knowing how to handle the situation. I always say it’s a source of support where they’ll be able to tell you, “Now, they’re coming home. Now, this is happening. What do I do?” So we prepare them for [inaudible]. We have coaching sessions. We talk to the parents. We do family sessions involving them But also having someone, an outside person that they can go to, that’s kind of their own therapist is also very helpful.
CARMEN: 23:06What would you say to a parent who is stuck? Because I can imagine myself as a parent knowing there’s a problem. How do you encourage families to have the courage to take that step to move towards treatment when it is basically jumping into the abyss, jumping into this process? You really, really don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Do you have a word of encouragement there for parents?
BASKIN: 23:36I tell them that this is preventative as well. I have parents that tell me that you’re only smoking [inaudible]– they’re going to really learn and they’re going to be able to really assess and see things from a different perspective under here and be able to also know the consequences. They start seeing other people who come into treatment and have severe issues and they tell me, I never want to do that. I’ll never want to be in their position. So it’s really an eye-opening experience for them to realize this could get bad because they can hear it from their parents, they could hear it from family members. But hearing it from someone who’s exactly their age is very different. So I would encourage parents to really get educated on it, get their education from professionals. Trying to get as much information as they can to make sure that they’re doing the right decisions for their family, for themselves, to be able to know kind of maybe if they’re not ready yet to kind of set a timeline when this happens, we’re definitely going to do this. So be able to really continue to be on top of that, because if you already know that they’re using, it’s only a matter of time before it could get worse. So it’s really about being able to have a plan of action and know, “Okay, we know that if things get a little bit worse than they are now, we have a place to go. We have a plan in place. This is happening.” So that’s the biggest thing that I recommend. If you’re not ready right now, have a plan for when you are. And really make sure that you stay very present in your teen’s life, be able to really know what they’re up to, what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, and if they’re using, or not using [inaudible] really will be on the lookout for any mental health issues as well. That could be part of their life at this point.
CARMEN: 25:18Andrea Baskin, thank you so much for taking time to chat. I really appreciate your time. I want to thank our audience for tuning in. If you [inaudible] someone you know is struggling with addiction, do not hesitate to call and reach out and have a great day. Thank you.
BASKIN: 25:34You too. Bye. [music]