Spring Break and Substance Abuse

Major Nancy Powers is the Program Development Officer at The Freedom Center, which houses the Harbor Light Center, the Pathway Forward program and a corps community center. She has been with The Salvation Army for nearly 20 years, and has several decades treating substance abuse.

Spring Break is here – a time when teens and young adults go on trips to warm places. Its also a time when they attend parties and often drink to excess. While this behavior doesn’t indicate an alcohol problem, it can be the start of alcohol or substance abuse.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking conversations I have are with parents or family members who fear that their loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs. They truly want to solve the problem or cure the person before the situation escalates. Sadly, addiction is a condition that only the person experiencing it can resolve. So what are loved ones to do?

Identify the problem

Do you believe that a loved one, or perhaps even you, may have an alcohol or substance abuse problem? Listed below are some of the signs to look for when identifying a problem.:

  • Marked changes in attitude
  • Spending lots of time alone in a room
  • Lying
  • Boisterous or belligerent behavior
  • Being secretive about movements and friends
  • Strange or secretive phone calls
  • Stealing
  • Not caring for others – family members, friends, etc.
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Emotional outbursts, mood swings
  • Changes in group of friends, loss of interest in old friends
  • Skipping school, sudden drop in grades
  • Skipping work or school on Mondays
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irregular sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Constant sniffing, runny eyes and nose, difficulty fighting infection

Drug paraphernalia to look for includes: rolling papers, pipes, bong, small spoons, razor blades, mirror, little bottles of white powder, plastic/glass/metal straws, syringes, bent spoons, bottle caps, eye droppers, rubber tubing, cotton and needles.

Signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • Drinking excessive amounts (in excess of guidelines for safe drinking)
  • Drinking one type or brand of alcoholic beverage (eg. Beer, wine, etc.)
  • Drink-seeking behavior (hanging out with others who drink, only going to events that include drinking, etc.)
  • Increased tolerance (drinking increasing amounts to gain same effect)
  • Decreased tolerance (drinking decreasing amounts brings the same effect)
  • Withdrawal symptoms (getting physical symptoms after going a short time without drinking)
  • Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms (such as drinking to ‘cure’ a hangover, or to stop the shakes)
  • Some awareness of craving for alcohol or inability to control drinking habits (whether or not you admit it to others)
  • A return to drinking after a period of abstinence (deciding to quit and not being able to follow through)

Consult a professional for information and guidance

There are many people who have the ability to guide you, when you suspect someone has a substance abuse addiction. An addiction treatment facility such as The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, has licensed, trained counselors who can meet with you and discuss your situation. Many pastors have training in addiction. There are self-help groups like Al-anon for families of addicts.

Identify your concerns

Lovingly let your family member or friend know that you are concerned. Identify the behavior that you have seen and why it is problematic using specifics examples. This step should be done in a safe situation where you are supported and able to easily get assistance if the person becomes angry. Some families meet with the person as a family, not alone. Asking your pastor, family friend, or counselor to be part of this meeting is often helpful.

In this meeting, have some options for the person to get help. What are local programs in your area?  Who would be able to provide an assessment and offer guidance for treatment? The Salvation Army stands ready to help you find needed services as will most community social service agencies.

Be supportive, but don’t enable

A person needs to know they are loved and that you care, but they do not need anyone making it possible for them to stay in their addiction. These are extremely difficult words to follow because an addict is always very good at manipulating supporters.

“I just need $10 to get something to eat, I haven’t eaten in two days.” It pulls at your heart because it is obvious the person is not eating. Yet, your $10 won’t be used to buy food; you’ve just bought their next substance.

Decide your limits. What are you willing to provide? Can this person live with you if they are actively using drugs? Can they come by your house for a meal? Can they call you for money?

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