Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Should my Pastor Counsel my Drug-Using Teenager?

Some clergy are well-trained in counseling addicted people, and some are not. If your clergy person has training and experience in helping teenagers with drug or alcohol issues, he or she  should would be a great place to start! The advantages that clergy have is that they 1)share a set of faith-beliefs with the members of their Church/Synagogue/Mosque, and 2 have an initial trust relationship with those who come in to see them. (Therapists can't be expected to have either!)
So,if you are worried about your own behavior with drugs/alcohol, or the behavior of a loved one, your clergy person would be an ideal first consultation. If you need formal treatment, your clergy person will likely be able to find a treatment facility which has a philosophy consistent with your own beliefs and worldview.Of course, some clergy have received advanced training in counseling or psychology, and might be perfectly capable of treating an addicted person. As always, when you are looking for a clinician, you should ask about the person's experience and training in treating addiction, and make sure that you are comfortable with his or her treatment philosophy and demeanor.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How Much Marijuana is Too Much?

In an ideal world, the answer to that question would of course be none: teenagers should use no illicit drugs of any sort. But here on planet earth, 36% of 2012 High School Seniors had used marijuana over the past year, and 6.5% used the drug on a daily basis*. So, how should you distinguish between harmless marijuana use, worrisome marijuana use, and harmful marijuana use? First, any use of marijuana puts the teenager in some amount of legal jeopardy, and entails at least the risk of thinking problems like memory loss, poor motivation, and lethargy. And some teenagers have their lives destroyed by marijuana, although that is rare. To my mind, then, there is no use of marijuana by a teenager that is harmless. But many, if not most, teenagers marijuana users take the drug with little evidence of problems in school, relationships, or physical or mental health. I would characterize this use as "worrisome," in that it might lead to serious problems, even if it hasn't yet. Harmful, marijuana use, by contrast, has the obvious pattern of social isolation, paranoia, school absences, etc. Teenagers who have been addicted to marijuana or anything else, or have a mental illness, put themselves at grave risk if they use the drug.  I never give permission for teenagers to use marijuana, and neither should parents. But I don't call 911 either, because we all must distinguish between behaviors which are immediately life-threatening and those which are potentially harmful, and manage them accordingly. The good news here is that if you are addressing "How much marijuana is too much" with your teenager, you have a dialog going. Use it! Without lecturing, ask your teenager how marijuana affects her. Talk about your concerns. Ask her what, if anything, concerns her about marijuana. In the absence of any signs of harmful marijuana use, you are better off registering your concerns and keeping the subject open, rather than declaring an emergency where none exists.

*Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 19, 2012). "The rise in teen marijuana use stalls, synthetic marijuana use levels, and use of 'bath salts' is very low." University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved 01/21/2013 from