Dr. Laurence M. Westreich, a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in addiction and mental disorders, has invested a quarter-century of his professional life studying addiction psychiatry. His second work on the subject, A Parent’s Guide to Teen Addiction: Professional Advice on Signs, Symptoms, What to Say, and How to Help (2017, Skyhorse Publishing, NY), is comprehensive and clinical, yet practical and user-friendly enough for all kinds of parents, from those who suspect their teen may be already be addicted to those who know so and need to find help, fast.
Westreich’s Guide begins with facts about teen substance use and and how to recognize a problem, then works its way through several chapters of “specific substances and problems,” a gamut ranging from the relatively benign (alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana) to the more lethal (opiods and PEDs). Westreich includes chapters on addictions to sex, food, and gambling (“due to their similarities to substance addiction,” he writes) and dual diagnoses (“in which mental illness and addiction intersect”). For parents who already have a teen or teens in crisis and “urgently need to know what to do,” Westreich adds a guide to treatment paths (outpatient and inpatient) and aftercare. And, for those who think their kids have started speaking a whole new language, there’s a handy, 31-page glossary of drug terminology/teenspeak so we can keep our ears peeled for slang like “Cousin Tina” (i.e., crystal meth) or “reindeer dust” (i.e., heroin). Next time your kid asks for “macaroni and cheese,” for example, double-check to make sure she doesn’t want a “$5.00 bag of marijuana plus a $10 bag of cocaine.”
As is often the case with books of this nature, I stumbled upon quite a few things I wasn’t aware I should be worried over–household items like dusting spray and whipped cream, for example– which apparently teens can snort or “huff,” all “in an effort to change consciousness.” Seems like the whipped cream would be a dead giveaway, but Westreich’s point is well-taken: “both usage patterns and attitudes toward drugs and alcohol are evolving,” he writes (as is, apparently, the laundry list of things that get teens high). Also evolving is the way teens are getting their hands on the stuff. Westreich very practically admonishes parents to “watch [their] credit card bills and incoming mail” since illicit, online pharmacies are selling opiods and stimulants to anyone with a Visa card. Westreich—himself the father of two teenagers—contends, however, that most teens acquire drugs from a much more “prosaic” source: each other.
Parents who are already hyper-anxious about their teens (myself included) will probably grow even more paranoid, at least initially, after reading Westreich’s Guide. I have twin teenage daughters, both of whom suffer from things like agitation, lethargy, irritability, anxiety, increased appetite, and–on occasion–impaired judgement. I thought all of these things were normal teenager afflictions, but apparently these same comorbidities also present themselves as common health effects in marijuana users.
Before I hit the panic button, I need to remember that these are just common, early signs and may indicate nothing more than, well, normal teenager afflictions. This is one of many things I appreciate about Westreich’s Guide: his frequent encouragement to parents to “take a deep breath and count to ten.” Remember that the addiction should be the target of our warfare, not our teen, and that we should “initiate conversations from a neutral perspective.” And in case we don’t know how to do such a thing (because how can we be neutral with our kids?), Westreich offers a number of “Tough Talk dialogues” sprinkled throughout each chapter–“concrete, effective tools to get your message across to your teenager”–each of which he deconstructs in the text that follows: “Albert and Andrea acknowledge that they are in fact angry about Chris’s drug use, but they focus on their more pressing concern, his well-being.”
Granted, it might be difficult for some parents to be so practical when it comes to their own teen’s addiction, but that’s precisely what Westreich encourages us to do: act like therapists and ask questions “designed to be as neutral as possible.” Thankfully, he gives us plenty of examples of such neutrality in a book replete with sensible advice, valuable direction, useful resources, and best of all, hope, for any parent who finds themselves in such a devastating situation.
Dr. Westreich is also the author of Helping the Addict You Love: The New Effective Program for Getting the Addict into Treatment (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
Chuck Radke is the Dissertation and Thesis Consultant at Fresno State, along with coordinating the services of the Fresno State Graduate Writing Studio. Chuck has a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA, a Master of Arts in English from Fresno State, and a Master of Fine Arts from Florida International University.