Let’s Talk About It: Spiraling out of control?
(04/08/2020) No one has been spared from the COVID-19 pandemic. No one. Each one of us will forever remember the challenges, the sacrifices, and the fear that we faced while learning new phrases such as social distancing, COVID-19, and distance learning to name a few.
This pandemic has forced us to make decisions we may not have had to make prior, and this applies to our teens as well. The inability to be with friends, to go to school, or to attend those functions that are all part of the high school experience — it’s been forever altered and changed. This can have a huge impact on one’s mental health and for some — on their substance use.
One of the things I do as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), is to help teens look at their substance use and determine if it is more than just experimental in nature. COVID-19 has changed not only my ability to help teens navigate this in a traditional setting, but it has also changed the behavior of the teen when it comes to their substance use. For some teens, they are realizing their substance use is bigger than what they believed it was. This can leave a teen feeling vulnerable and uneasy. For others, their substance use may be increasing in order to deal with increased mental health challenges. While some parents or caregivers may think their teen will have to figure it out or feel it’s time for the student to just stop using, we need to remember — it’s not that simple. Acknowledging that you recognize this sort of forced-choice is difficult to deal with will allow your teen to take back a bit of control, which is needed during this time. Reframing your response in a way that shows support can be helpful and go a lot further than simply dismissing it.
As I mentioned, while some teens are recognizing that their relationship with substances is bigger than they thought, other teens’ use may be increasing. This could be due to many factors, mental health being one. Worry, fear, anxiety; these all play a role when one increases substance use and with this comes an increase in tolerance, which, in turn, requires one to use more to get the same effect. It is a vicious cycle and should not be ignored or taken lightly. Being aware of the signs, supporting by listening and having the conversation are all ways in which to help your teen manage appropriately and safely.
While the use of any mood-altering substance is not ideal for any teen, the most concerning right now is using any substance by means of vaping due to the COVID-19 virus and the effect it has on the lungs. This news report explains the risks and challenges associated with vaping and may be helpful to watch with your teen. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, wrote a blog post warning that the coronavirus “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.”
Share with your child the importance of refraining from vaping and show them the data. Truth Initiative has some great information on the connection between COVID-19 and vaping, as does Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Follow this up with encouragement and support. There are some great resources available for those who would like general information on smoking or vaping cessation or for those that are open to exploring ways to quit.
This is not a time to blame, shame or ignore. It is time to support and encourage. Recognizing that any unwanted or unwilling change is not easy, which is why having the conversation, acknowledging and supporting is key. I believe that when we lead with compassion, we more often than not get the results we were hoping for.
If you have concerns, need guidance, or need help finding support for your child, please connect with me. I am available to talk with students individually, as well as with parents. There is help and support, and I will help you find it. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me (leave a message) and I will return your call as soon as possible: 763-506-1145.
Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist