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‘Impulse control’ issues begin in the teenage years

Before we get into this article on chemical dependency with adolescents between 13 to 19, I would like to give a “warm fuzzy” to a special friend. Every once in awhile, God sends out certain angels to help us in our mission as we go through our trials and tribulations. These people are “givers,” not ‘takers.” They have genuine care and concern for those the are helping. They are fun to be around and value the time they spend with those struggling to get better.

A guy named John Crawford is one of these angels. I want to publicly thank you for all the trips back and forth to Buffalo General, our talks and you taking the time during your struggles to help me. You, John, have always honored the REBT statement of “treat others the way you want to be treated.”

OK, now adolescents and chemical dependency. First, for all the parents reading this. Kids are going to experiment. Some will try alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs and really not like any of them and then go on their way. Other kids will try “vaping” and start doing it and then a small percentage of them will become addicted. From doing assessments on hundreds of kids, both male and female, I came to the conclusion that boys and girls between the ages of 13 to 19 who develop alcoholism and other drug addiction displayed problems of “impulse control” and problems of not conforming to authority.

Almost every school has a handful of kids that are labeled “different.” School performance, sociability, conforming to the rules, family background are important in assessments.

These children also exhibit affective states of “discomfort anxiety” or “discomfort disturbance.” This emotion is what one feels when anticipating pain, discomfort or unpleasantness. It is brought about by the irrational belief that pain, discomfort or unpleasantness is unbearable and cannot and must not be tolerated.

The thinking that permeates these thinking states leads to what we call “low frustration tolerance.” This is the belief based on discomfort anxiety that bad times, addiction and trouble cannot be dealt with, leading to statements like “I cannot stand avoiding a drink or a drug,” or “I am not strong enough to resist alcohol or other drugs,” or “life is too hard and I must have a drink or a drug.”

I feel this is the reason addictions are too easy to create and maintain, especially in adolescents, is that no cognitive or behavioral strategy can eliminate the discomfort anxiety as quickly and as effortlessly as chemicals.

Thus we can see, kids looking for something to take the edge off will often times find chemicals to help them.

Once these kids develop their habit, they will also develop a series of defenses to protect their use. As a parent or teacher, when those alcohol or other drug use issues are confronted, kids will resist, look blank or shrug their shoulders. They don’t know it, but the addiction has kicked in for protection of use.

Another piece that appears for adolescents is the demand for excitement. “High” seeking sensation coupled with psychopathic holding of the irrational belief that they cannot stand boredom or monotony, then trouble will result. The thinking patterns appear to be: “I must keep going, can’t slow down or someone or something will get me.” Parties, get-togethers, fake IDs, all add to their thinking about why the are in school. Adolescent issues are different from adults: self-image, boyfriend, girlfriend (relationships), clothes, cliques and some resistance to authority, friendships, all contribute to mixed up thinking patterns.

For parents, determine if your child has a problem. If he or she isolates constantly, is not being part of the family, grades begin to drop and they are minimized. Paraphernalia such as pipes, matches found in rooms or on them. Not keeping curfews. Hanging around people that parents have never seen before. Finally, trouble with the legal system — stealing, driving too fast and repeated offenses. Thus, as one can see by what we’ve stated, that once addiction occurs, it won’t go away without help.

If parents feel that chemicals are responsible for these behaviors, contact the rehabs in your area to see if they work with adolescents.

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for more than 30 years. Call 983-1592 for more information.

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