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Ask an Expert: How Can We Confront Our Pot-Smoking Son?

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Today's question is on what to do when you know your teenager is smoking marijuana. Send your questions to editor@thefix.com with the subject "Ask an Expert."

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By The Fix staff

06/23/14

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Send your anonymous questions to the expert panel at editor@thefix.com with the subject "Ask an Expert."  Click here for full bios of our Experts. And click here for earlier Q&A.

Question of the Day (Scroll down for previous Q & A).  

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Ask An Expert" is guidance for the general public. Responses from our experts are not to be construed as doctor/patient relationships, which require private and extensive consultation.


A month ago my wife and I found marijuana in our 16 year old son's room. He said it was a one time thing and we chose to believe him. But recently I know he has been smoking pot again. I can smell it on him and he is acting very secretive. We are not sure how to confront him. When I was a kid I smoked pot and lied about so maybe it is just part of being a teen? It worries me, though, especially because drugs today seem so much more potent than in the old days. My wife wants to drug test him, but I don't want to be that kind of parent. We have always been close and it disturbs me that he is lying. Do you have any advice? -John

Jessica Bullock: Hi John,

I’m sorry you and your wife are going through this. Many parents across the country are dealing with this same problem. You are not alone. In a nutshell, there are positive ways to handle this.

1. Be honest and straightforward in your discussion with your son. You are still the parent and the number one priority is his safety. I’ve noticed that you said you have ‘always been close.' So getting right to the point and discussing the issue will be more beneficial than drug testing him off guard and accusing him of using marijuana. This may make him defensive.

2. Be supportive and provide a ‘safe zone’ for him to speak candidly with you. Remain calm and firm. Yelling does not yield the best results. So maybe you and your wife can think about your reaction to his answers before you actually meet, so that you don't respond emotionally.

3. You are right! Marijuana is more potent than it was 20 years ago. Maybe speaking to him about your concerns regarding marijuana and why you would prefer for him to abstain would be helpful. Give him information to think about it. Read as much as you can on websites such as NIDA and SAMHSA. Learn as much as you can about marijuana to share with your son.

4. Last but not least, you may want to see if your son would be interested in going to see a therapist together. The counselor may be able to assist the family in dealing with the repercussions of the abuse.

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Jessica Bullock is a clinical supervisor at a New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Brunswick, NJ and CEO and founder of Life Options Counseling Services.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in social science and Master’s Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and Professional Counseling.   Full Bio.

 


I am really obsessed with food. I am constantly thinking about what to eat and I do a lot of research on diets. I am not obese, but I want to lose about 20 lbs. I try to cut out the really fattening foods but I splurge sometimes and lately I have been making myself throw up after eating those big meals. It's only like once a week. I get a sore throat and it feels gross, but I am willing to do it because it seems like an easy way to keep from gaining the weight from those meals. I know it's not healthy but is it an eating disorder? I don't really want to stop. Thanks - Cathy

Stacey Rosenfeld: To answer simply, yes, this is disordered. Whether or not you would meet criteria for bulimia nervosa versus what we now call other specified feeding and eating disorder (such as bulimia nervosa of limited duration or purging disorder) depends on the quality of the eating prior to your throwing up (i.e., Does it constitute a binge?), as well as how long this has been going on and how much your body image impacts your self-esteem. Either way, I'd be concerned.

Self-induced vomiting, or purging, comes with a number of dangerous medical consequences, and can even be life-threatening. For many, the behavior can become addictive and out-of-control. It might seem like an easy way to compensate for your splurge meals, but the reality is, the body still absorbs a significant amount of calories, despite a purge, and the behavior is definitely not worth the cost.

Now on to your splurge meals. . . It sounds like you're caught up in some variation of the diet-binge cycle, whereby you restrict your food, which leads to periodic overeating. The solution to this? Be less restrictive with your intake. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet is fine, but if you're cutting out so much that you feel deprived and then end up overdoing it, then you're overdoing the restriction. So, I would add back in some substance and some more satisfying foods to your intake. The likelihood is that you'll find yourself splurging less frequently (which should help with the purging) and reducing your obsession with food.

To get help with all of this, I'd recommend seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Evidenced-based approaches, such as CBT, are best. You can find a therapist through the Academy for Eating Disorders or the National Eating Disorder Association.

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Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who treats patients with eating disorders, anxiety/depression, substance use issues, and relationship difficulties. A certified group psychotherapist, she has worked at Columbia University Medical Center in NYC and at UCLA in Los Angeles and is a member of three eating disorder associations. The author of the highly- praised Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, she is often interviewed by media outlets as an expert in the field. www.staceyrosenfeld.com    Full Bio.

 

I am kicking meth, mostly on my own, and need a substance abuse counselor. I met a couple who were to me creepy. One was very pushy, the other was a woman who I thought was spacy. Separate from that, what are the right questions to ask to tell the good ones from the shitty ones? I don't have a lot of people to ask for recommendations so I am asking you to help me figure this out. I can collect names but I want to be able to know how to evaluate these people. Thanks. - Carlton

Tessie Castillo: Dear Carlton, I’m sorry you have had such a negative experience looking for substance use counselors. There are questions you can ask to evaluate the counselors you meet, but that doesn’t mean that during the search you won’t come across some people who might not be a good fit. It is all part of the process of searching for someone who can work well for you.

Here are some questions I would recommend:

1.    First off, ask for the credentials and licenses of the counselor. Then at least you know you are dealing with a professional. They should be certified with an accredited institution such as the National Board for Certified Counselors, The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, and/or The National Association for Addiction Professionals. 

2.   Figure out what your goals are and what you think you can realistically achieve. Then ask the counselor how he or she plans to help you meet those goals. A good counselor will know that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan and should be flexible enough to work with your unique circumstances.

3.    Different counselors have been trained in different treatment theories or types of therapy (see a list here). Ask what their specific training is, how long they have worked in the addiction treatment field, and how often they receive continued training and education.

4.    Ask about the counselor’s goals with the therapy and how they measure the success of the treatment.

5.    If you think you may have other issues such as anxiety or depression, ask if the counselor has any background working with co-occurring disorders (treating substance use and mental health at the same time).

The most important thing to finding a good substance abuse counselor is to look for someone with whom you feel comfortable and can build trust and rapport. That process can take time, but if you persevere and find someone who is a good fit, it could be a major help to your recovery. Good luck!

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Tessie Castillo is the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a leading public health and drug policy reform organization in the Southern United States. She is an expert on harm reduction, overdose prevention and response, naloxone, the drug war, and policy reform.   Full Bio.

 

My mother was a meth addict when she was young. Then she did a lot of ecstasy and, for a while, heroin. Now she smokes pot every day. My issue is she is extremely abusive and controlling even if also loving. I know it makes no sense. I have been on my own for years now -  I am 24 and doing well on my job and did very well in college  -  and I find myself having to avoid her because she won't stop the abusiveness and still tries to control me. I am not sure how to handle this as I want a good relationship with her. She did one round of recovery and won't do another, by the way. What do you think I should do?  -  Glenna

Rita Milios: Glenna: I know it seems like a no-win situation, when you have your mother behaving the way she is and you still desire to have a positive relationship with her. However, there is an aspect of this situation that you have perhaps not considered. A relationship is a two-way street; you cannot create a positive relationship with anyone (relative or otherwise) if they do not do their part. So, as it stands, you have pretty much zero chance of making the mother-daughter relationship you desire happen. And this is not your fault. So please do not become overly sensitive about your mom’s current choices regarding her interactions with you. She is making choices based on her agenda, not yours, and these choices have little to do with your worthiness as a daughter. Perhaps she feels that you are judging her and she is reacting to this. But whatever her reason, it is not about you…it is about her.

The best thing you can do, actually, is what you are doing–avoid her until or unless she behaves more appropriately toward you. If someone does not treat your gift of friendship/companionship with respect and appreciation, you do not have to continue to give that gift. If you do, you are actually contributing to the problem in several ways:

First of all, you teach people how to treat you. In allowing and accepting her abuse, you are teaching your mom that her abuse is something that you are willing to tolerate, and she therefore has no incentive to stop offering it up. 

Secondly, your acceptance further serves your mom’s purpose because it validates this kind of behavior in her eyes (If you accept it, you must agree that you deserve it, so therefore it is okay that she abuses you). 

Finally, because you are, in effect, validating her abusive behavior, you are contributing to your mom’s development of bad character. You are teaching her that being an abuser works for her and serves her agenda (to not accept responsibility for her bad behavior, but to blame it on you). Neither of these attitudes is helpful to your mom. 

So, in the end, only by taking a stand for your own right to be treated well, can you ever hope to achieve your goal of having a positive relationship with your mom. At this time, she likely does not have a positive relationship with herself, so it is highly unlikely that she can maintain one with you. If, however, you teach her that her bad behavior has consequences, and that you will not tolerate abuse, you can possibly help her learn a better way to deal with you and other people in her life. It is not a guarantee, but it is the only thing you can do to help. The rest is up to her; so do not take ownership of it. Even though it is painful, it is often better to remove yourself from a toxic relationship, rather than allow it to poison your life as well as the one who is generating the toxins.

I hope this helps, and that in time, your mom will become whole and healed.

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Rita Milios, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice, author of more than 30 books, and frequent professional lecturer and on-camera expert. She also facilitates workshops and training for clinicians, therapists, writers, holistic practitioners, businesses and associations. She is known as "The Mind Mentor" because of her unique approach to “mind tools training.”  RitaMilios.linktoexpert.com    Full Bio.

 

Click to read our Previously Asked Questions. Your anonymous questions can be submitted to editor@thefix.com

 


Our panel of experts. Click for full bios. 

Jessica Bullock, MA, LAC, LCADC, CCS, is a clinical supervisor at a New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Brunswick, NJ and CEO and founder of Life Options Counseling Services.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in social science and Master’s Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and Professional Counseling.
Patrick J. Carnes, PhD, CAS, is the best-known sexual addiction expert in the country. An expert in all addictions, he is the founder of the therapist-training International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) in Arizona, of Gentle Path Press and of the 12-step based Twelve Principles Online Recovery program. He also created the Gentle Path Program, a residential treatment program for sexual addiction. 
Tessie Castillo is the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a leading public health and drug policy reform organization in the Southern United States. She is an expert on harm reduction, overdose prevention and response, naloxone, the drug war, and policy reform.  
Lance Dodes, MD, has been Director of the substance abuse treatment unit of Harvard’s McLean Hospital, Director of the alcoholism treatment unit at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Director of the Boston Center for Problem Gambling. His books, The Heart of AddictionBreaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction and The Sober Truth, have been described as revolutionary advances in understanding how addictions work.
Brian Donohue has an MA degree from Long Island University in clinical psychology, and has worked in private practice as a therapist with a loosely Jungian perspective and as a meditation teacher. He has worked with depressed people, anxious people, and people undergoing major life changes, challenges, and crises. See briandonohue.org.
Janice Dorn, MD, PhD, specializes in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. She holds a PhD in Anatomy and has done extensive research and teaching in brain anatomy and physiology. She is also an expert on addiction to stock trading and on stock trading itself. Her second book, Mind, Money and Markets, with co-author Dave Harder, is scheduled for publication in the fall. 
Doreen Maller, MFT, PhD, began her practice in community mental health with a specialty in high-risk children and their families, including numerous families coping with addiction issues. Dr. Maller is the series editor of the three-volume Praeger Handbook of Community Mental Health Practice. See  www.doreenmaller.com
Rita Milios, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice, author of more than 30 books, and frequent professional lecturer and on-camera expert. She also facilitates workshops and training for clinicians, therapists, writers, holistic practitioners, businesses and associations. She is known as "The Mind Mentor" because of her unique approach to “mind tools training.”  RitaMilios.linktoexpert.com
Larissa Mooney, MD, is the Director of the Addiction Medicine Clinic at University of California, Los Angeles, and is a board certified addiction psychiatrist with expertise in the treatment of substance use disorders and psychiatric co-occurring disorders. She is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. www.LarissaMooneyMD.com 
John C. Norcross, PhD, is the author of the critically acclaimed book Changeology  as well as co-writer or editor of 19 other books. He is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University. His ideas have been incorporated into addiction treatment by many therapists. 
Harold Owens is Senior Director of the MusiCares/MAP FUND, the charity arm of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (the GRAMMY organization). He is responsible for the implementation of all aspects of the MusiCares addiction recovery program for artists. Earlier, for three years, he was Program Director of The Exodus Recovery Center. He can be reached at harold@grammy.com.

Stanton Peele, PhD and attorney, is an innovator in the field of addiction, beginning with his breakthrough 1975 book, Love and Addiction (written with Archie Brodsky) and followed by 11 others, most recently Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. He has created his own rehab program (The Life Process Program) for individual substance abusers. See www.peele.net and his Facebook and Twitter.

Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who treats patients with eating disorders, anxiety/depression, substance use issues, and relationship difficulties. A certified group psychotherapist, she has worked at Columbia University Medical Center in NYC and at UCLA in Los Angeles and is a member of three eating disorder associations. The author of the highly- praised Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, she is often interviewed by media outlets as an expert in the field. www.staceyrosenfeld.com

G Jay Westbrook, M.S-Gerontology., R.N, is a multiple award-winning clinician (Nurse of the Year), Visiting Faculty Scholar at Harvard Medical School, speaker and author who specializes in both substance abuse recovery and End-of-Life care and is an expert in Grief Recovery©. He has both consulted to and served as a clinician in multiple treatment centers and hospitals, guiding clients through their grief, and working with them and their families on healing broken relationships. His lectures to physicians and nurses include trainings in When Your Patient is a Substance Abuser: Currently or Historically. He can be reached at CompassionateJourney@hotmail.com.

Roland Williams, MA, is an internationally recognized addiction interventionist, author, educator, trainer, counselor and consultant. He heads www.rolandwilliamsconsulting.com and is Director of Clinical Operations at DARA Thailand (www.dararehab.com) and Clinical Director at Lionrock Recovery’s (www.lionrockrecovery.com) Online Intensive Outpatient program. He has provided treatment and program development consultation to major institutions around the world. A popular keynote speaker, he authored Relapse Prevention Counseling for African Americans, Relapse Warning Signs for African Americans (with Terence T. Gorski), and the Relapse Prevention Workbook for African Americans. 

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