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January 28, 2006

Finding Treatment For Your Adolescent

When we finally realized that our son’s addiction was beyond his control, and more importantly beyond our control as parents, we were extremely fortunate to discover that one of the best facilities for adolescent substance abuse treatment in our state was ten minutes from our home.  The full appreciation of our good fortune did not become apparent until we had attended several sessions of family education programs at the center and realized that other families in the room were traveling two and three hours three times a week to bring their son or daughter there.

Finding a treatment center for your son or daughter when your mind is clouded with denial, anger and fear is at best an extremely difficult task.  Here are a few suggestions to help you better navigate in this uncharted territory which may not only be foreign to you but contains a language you may not be familiar with:

  • Get a substance abuse assessment for you child or loved one so that you have a better sense of the scope of the problem and what treatment program is most appropriate.  Most treatment facilities offer this as part of their services.
  • Look for a facility that offers a full range of treatment options for your adolescent, from inpatient treatment through partial hospitalization to intensive outpatient services. 
  • Be sure the program you choose has a family education component for parents and siblings.  Remember addiction is a family disease…so while your adolescent is learning the tools to deal with his or her recovery it is equally important for the rest of the family to acquire the skills and tools to help you deal with having a family member in recovery.
  • Keep in mind that finding a treatment facility is just like selecting other healthcare services.  Treatment centers offer a wide range of programs and therapy approaches; do your homework, ask others what they know about the programs offered, learn all you can about a facility .
  • Use the electronic resources of the Web initially to help narrow your search and enhance your knowledge about facilities that are in your area.  Most established treatment facilities will have a website that details their services and treatment philosophies. 

Above all don't wait thinking you can handle this on your own.  Our naivete in this regard only allowed our son's disease to grow stronger until, in the end, he and we ran out of time.

January 28, 2006 at 04:41 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2006

A Million Little Pieces...A Million Little Denials

The recent controversy over the veracity of James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces” came home to me in a curious way last week.  A friend of mine referred one of his neighbors to me whose daughter, he said, had a serious problem with crack cocaine.  I talked with the neighbor and agreed to meet with his 23 year old daughter just to talk to her, in my words, as merely one addict to another.

When Mom, Dad and daughter arrived it was clear that the trip to meet me had been very unpleasant.  Mom was crying, Dad’s visage was etched in stone and the daughter was in a rage.  She agreed to talk with me privately only on the condition that her parents NOT be present.  Her parents agreed and we retreated to a room and closed the door.

If I had not been told that she might have a substance abuse problem I would have taken her for a cancer patient in the throes of chemotherapy.  Her hair was thin and unkempt, her skin red and blotchy, her eyes blood shot and sunken, her clothes hanging on her thin body as if they were three sizes too big for her.  She slumped into the chair across the table from me, dropped her purse to the floor and tossed a well worn copy of Frey’s book down between us as if it were a gauntlet. 

“I love this book you know,” she said, “it gives me strength in knowing I can control my addiction on my own without a treatment program.”  “How’s that working for you,” I said.  “Oh great,” was the reply, “I only need crack about every three days…all I really need is to get my parents off my back and get them out of my life.”  “Where are you living.” I said.  “With my parents mostly but I spent the last couple of nights sleeping in my car cause they were bugging me too much.”  “Do you have a job?” I asked.  “I waitress at a strip club but I don’t sell myself for drugs…I’m too smart for that I use my mind to get my crack not my body.” “So you think Frey’s book is helping?”  “Yeah of course” she said, “he says if I just hang in there I can control my using on my own.”

I want to make it clear that I have not read A Million Little Pieces and have no opinion of whether or not it portrays addiction and treatment accurately. As an addict myself I certainly cannot begin to point fingers at any other addict for playing fast and loose with the truth: it is what we do in active addiction and is an integral part of our disease. 

Where I do become concerned is when any book, movie, or popular song contributes to one’s denial of the disease, delays seeking help or treatment and stays mired in the downward spiral that leads inevitably to jails institutions and death.

Oh, and the young lady I met with…she agreed to an assessment after we chatted and entered a day program at a local treatment center the following week.  I wished her and her parents the very best as they walked out the door that day and began to pick up the million little pieces that make up their lives.

January 23, 2006 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 21, 2006


Once I was able to see beyond our son’s struggle with substance abuse and the grief caused by his tragic death from addiction, a new form of relativity seemed to settle around me.  I began to view the world through a different lens than I had before.

Had the landscape changed or was it me that was forever altered?  Events that before would have seemed calamitous to me in the extreme, seemed less so…tempered by the loss of our beautiful Dave.

An early example of this new world view came one night when we met for the first time the parents with whom we were to begin a Parent Support Group at the treatment center.  As we were walking out of the room that first night I asked one father how his son was doing…”oh he’s in prison right now”, was his reply,  “he’s 18 and has just been sentenced to 30 years, I don’t know how it could be much worse”. 

I looked at him calmly and said…”You know, I would trade places with you in a heartbeat if it would mean I could have my boy back”.

I still would.

January 21, 2006 at 04:23 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2006

How Do I Know If My Child Is Using Drugs

Parents often ask us how to know when their kids are using drugs or when drug use has become a problem.   I didn't’t always think this way but I now believe that ANY drug use is a problem for a teenager and that the severity only dictates the urgency and level of response.  There are a number of excellent on-line resources available to parents and care- givers on how to spot drug use like the one found on the Partnership for Drug Free America’s Parent website: http://www.drugfree.org/Parent/SpotDrugUse/ .

There are of course the obvious artifacts of drug use such as empty liquor bottles, pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia, there are the more understated indicators such as aerosol cans, over the counter medicines and prescription drugs, and there are the personality changes sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle that occur when drugs are present. 

Yet with regard to personality changes the challenge is often how to tell which mood swings is the result of substance abuse or the normal machinations of the often unfathomable and unpredictable teenage mind.

Recently I asked a several adolescents who have been in recovery for more than six months what they would identify as the most significant personality shift that they saw in themselves when they were in active addiction.  All responded that their reacting with uncontrolled rage when arguing with parents or authority figures was the dead give away.  “I would go off on my Mom at the slightest thing”, one young man told me, “and it would be downhill from there.  I would be so angry that I could not see straight or control what I was saying.”

January 15, 2006 at 02:36 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006


If you have looked closely at the picture of me on this page you can see that I am follicle challenged and have been so for most of my adult life.  I started losing my hair when I was in college and like many men in my situation I have a closet full of hats of various shapes and sizes…from baseball to stocking caps.

It was dark this morning as I prepared to leave the house…the weather was cold, the skies dreary and a damp chilling rain spat angrily from the low hanging clouds.  A hat morning if ever there was one.

I opened the double doors of the hall closet, surveyed the top shelf above the coats and at first was overwhelmed with number of hats I had to choose from.

And then it started…first a twinge in my heart as I uncovered the little baseball cap he wore more than a decade ago…the cap from a Florida amusement park where we spent what seemed like endless hours on rides and in the haunted house he loved so much.  The twinge turned to an ache as a hat emerged from the pile that was from a resort where we played golf together many times laughing and teasing each other about our lousy tee shots, the FOO FIGHTERS knit cap he wore so proudly as he hummed their music to himself…and finally the black skull like cap from Old Navy I gave him the winter before he died…

I closed the closet doors and left them alone…no hat for me today…perhaps tomorrow.

January 11, 2006 at 04:35 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

Why Cry For A Soul Set Free

As our son struggled with his addiction and my wife and I struggled with our fears for him and his future; we were in anguish day after day as events unfolded around us, out of our control and beyond our ability to understand. 

Events occurred that we never dreamed we would experience…

-        trips to the Juvenile Detention Center

-        an early morning phone call from Jail when we thought he was down the hall from our room in his bed

-        consultations with lawyers on criminal matters

-        school suspension

-        a trip to Jail to pick him up after booking

-        retrieving my wife’s car from an police impound lot

Drugs and alcohol had turned all our worlds upside down and yet little did we know how our worlds would change forever a few short months later and the river of tears that would sweep us along.

In the days and weeks after his death a torrent of expressions of sympathy flowed around us from friends and strangers alike.  One of the cards, which could be purchased at any drug store, arrived in a white envelop with a short verse of condolences.   

Signed at the bottom, just above a name we did not know, were the simple words….

Why Cry For A Soul Set Free

We agreed.


(click to enlarge)

January 7, 2006 at 11:25 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 02, 2006

Partnership Gala Remarks December 8th, 2005

Partnership For A Drug Free America

Annual Gala Celebration Waldorf Astoria Ballroom


Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Kim and I are honored to be with you.  We are here tonight to tell you a story.  It’s a story about a family…in many ways just your typical family.  A nice home in the suburbs, two parents with successful careers, two brothers who loved each other and got along at least reasonably well—Josh, the oldest and David, three years younger.  Growing up David was warmly affectionate, respectful but mischievous, fun seeking, daring, always willing to take a risk.  He made friends easily, joined the Cub Scouts, was a conscientious student.  Athletically talented, David enjoyed all manner of sports.  He particularly excelled in baseball, played on a Little League champion team that went undefeated when he was 9 years old, and carried his love of and talent for the game on through to high school.  A popular young man, David displayed a humility and compassion for others that attracted friends from all circles.

As parents, Kim and I prided ourselves in our involvement in our sons’ lives.  We knew our sons’ friends, we held the boys accountable for their actions, we worked at instilling values of kindness, respect, honesty, and integrity.  When we discovered that David had been involved in a couple of incidents of drinking alcohol and smoking pot when he was 13 and 14, we reiterated our rules that alcohol and drug use was unacceptable, and imposed what we felt were appropriate consequences.  As parents who spent our teen and young adult years in the late 60’s and 70’s, we believed that we would know the signs of serious drug use, and thought David’s actions were just the experimentation that lots of kids go through.

But we were wrong.  With the urging of our older son Josh, we finally came to the realization that David’s drug and alcohol use had escalated and we were at a loss at how to deal with it ourselves.  In January of 2001 we sought professional treatment for David, by then 16, at a local drug and alcohol treatment facility.  While tentative at first, Dave did well in the program.  He attended therapy faithfully, participated fully in discussions, publicly acknowledged that he was struggling with addiction, and began participating in Twelve-Step meetings.

By the time school ended in early June David was looking forward to the summer, finding a job, earning money to buy a car and trying to win back some of our trust.  But his continued desire to get high was very powerful, more powerful than we knew and more importantly than he knew himself.  And so on a beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday the second week in June, he got up early, mowed the lawn and asked if he could go out with friends. He ended up at the home of a friend, swimming in their backyard pool.  At lunch time the girls went into the house to eat but David and another boy said they wanted to go to a nearby fast food place.  However they went instead to a drug store and bought a can of computer duster.  Months earlier, David had discovered he could get high by inhaling the propellant from computer duster and the chemical would not show up on drug screens routinely administered by the treatment facility.

The boys returned, got back into the pool and began inhaling the propellant from the computer duster while standing in the pool’s shallow end.  In order to intensify the high, David began diving underwater while inhaling the propellant.  However, after the third or fourth time he didn’t come back up.  At first the kids thought he was just fooling around, but after a minute his friend pulled David out of the water while the girls ran for help.  Paramedics arrived within minutes.  While they struggled to revive David, I got the call at home from the girl’s mother.  Kim was out of town on family business so Josh and I rushed over to the girl’s house.  We were greeted by a site that is a mother’s worst nightmare:  my beautiful boy stretched out on a gurney, paramedics frantically conducting CPR.  The first thing I noticed was that David’s feet were blue, and I knew as soon as I saw him that he was gone.


In the years since David’s death we have embarked on a journey that no parent ever seeks.  We have learned much about the perils of drug use and the power of addiction. We believe that our family did everything we could with what we knew at the time, to combat David’s disease.  Today we know that substance abuse is no respecter of gender, race or social status and that parental denial enables drug use. Parents who arm themselves with the kind of information the Partnership provides can use that knowledge to recognize the symptoms sooner and perhaps prevent the kind of loss we have experienced.  We know that the work of the Partnership is saving lives and the continuation and expansion of those efforts is critical to the health of our children and their future.

On Sunday, we’ll be celebrating David’s 21st birthday.  It won’t be the kind of celebration that normally marks this milestone.  But thanks to the Partnership and the opportunities they have given us to share our story in the hope that others can learn from our family’s experience, we will celebrate the gift of David’s life and the hope that we’ve touched even one other family. Our relationship with PDFA began with a memorial to our son that I submitted to the Partnership website three years ago.  This past summer they asked me to begin writing a web-log, or Blog, a form of online journal.  I suspected when I began  that it might have some cathartic effect for me but the reality has far exceeded those expectations.  Working at a university I have always had an appreciation for the power of the written word, but I have learned that when tragedy, loss, survival and spiritual awakening collide, the power of simple text is magnified exponentially.  I’ve come to believe that this Blog is an incredible gift, one that allows me to give voice to thoughts and memories in a way that gives them wings, and more importantly, may bring other families above the clouds of despair and sorrow to where there is light and hope.

Two weeks before David died, we had a suspicion that he was inhaling computer duster.  When my wife confronted him about it, he denied it vehemently, declared that he knew how dangerous it was, and vowed that he would never do something so stupid.  Exasperated, she asked “David, where are you going with all this, what are you doing with your life!”  With all the earnestness of his 16 years, he replied “I want to do something with my life Mom.  I want to make a difference.”  Tonight each of you is making a difference by your support of the vital work of the Partnership. Thank you for your generosity.  And most of all…thank you for helping David to make a difference, too.

January 2, 2006 at 09:05 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack