Parenting ADHD Teens and Marijuana Abuse

reedymemeIf your child has ADHD or another Executive Function challenge, you have probably heard that your child is at much higher risk to abuse alcohol or other drugs. With Alaska’s recent initiative, recreational marijuana is now legal in 3 states and medical marijuana available in 20 more. This shift in public attitude has many parents feeling a heightened sense of worry that their child will use marijuana and experience negative life consequences for it.

What do parents need to know about ADHD and marijuana?

Understanding why your child is at higher risk for marijuana abuse or dependency is a good place to start.

  • Youth with ADHD are more likely to use marijuana because they are more impulsive than the average teen. Thinking though the consequences of your actions is more difficult when you are more impulsive.
  • ADHD teens are typically slower to mature than a typical teen so they have weaker decision making skills than their peers.
  • ADHD youth frequently have low self-esteem because of struggling in school. This leaves them vulnerable to temptation and looking for a feeling of acceptance found in the stoner crowd.
  • Using marijuana can also be a form of self-medicating symptoms like anxiety, which is a frequent condition associated with ADHD.

What is your stance towards your child’s sobriety?

Zero tolerance towards drug use is often a go-to position parents take when talking to their children about marijuana. Unfortunately the “Just Say No” campaign of the last century wasn’t proven to be an effective deterrent to drug use. Instead, this approach sets up a power struggle between adolescents and their parents, and creates a situation where children are motivated to lie to avoid consequences.

Dr. Brad Reedy, Owner, Clinical Director of Evoke Therapy Programs, a treatment program for troubled youth, says a better position to take with your child is “I can’t live with someone who is using.”

This approach allows parents to build authentic relationships with their children. It invites a dialog with the parent instead of shutting the child down.

“Parents need to understand that they can’t control their child’s drug use,” says Reedy. “Instead, focus on building a healthy, connected relationship with her. You begin this process by reflecting on what you contribute to the problem and demonstrating to your child that you are open to understanding her experience and working on better understanding yourself. Children don’t need you to be perfect. They need you to be humble and focused on your journey.”

Children learn from us about coping and how to be healthy in the world. Research shows that children with a strong connection to their parents have stronger self-esteems and are less likely to use drugs.

“Self-esteem doesn’t come from being talented,” says Reedy, “Self-esteem comes from being seen by your parent and is one of the best mitigating factor to stress and trauma.”

Reedy encourages parents to keep focused on what is within your control and to remember that ultimately you cannot control your child. You can only control yourself.

It can be difficult for parents to shift their focus to looking within so Reedy encourages all parents whose children are struggling toseek support and learn new skills by finding a therapist for themselves,or attending a Codependence Anonymous or Al Anon group.Even if your child is not an alcoholic, Reedy explains that parents who attend 12 step groups such as Al Anon will benefit from the fellowship of others who are practicing boundary setting and healthy detachment. In his experience, family members are as apt to find excuses for seeking help as their addicts are, so try attending a 12 step group at least 6 times is before making up your mind. (For more discussion of this issue, see Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception, byAbraham J Twerski M.D.)

“Unfortunately you can’t control your child through your behavior and you can’t guarantee the outcome,” cautions Reedy. “What you can do to improve the odds that your children will also find a path to a healthy and successful life is to focus on your own journey.”

Here at Edge, we are open to hearing from young people, parents and “experts” on what experiences they have had in dealing with this issue, and any suggestions you might have. Please sound off in the comment section below.

Brad M. Reedy, PhD is the cofounder and clinical director of Evoke Therapy Programs, bringing his wilderness therapy experience to create new programming, including Parent, Family and Couples Intensives. He is an experienced psychotherapist, public speaker, and he leads seminars on parenting, addiction, and mental health for professionals and clients. He is also the cofounder and former director of Second Nature Therapeutic Wilderness Programs, which he helped to become one of the leaders in wilderness therapy for adolescents and their families. He has served on the boards of the Utah Department of Child and Family Services and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. Reedy has a new book coming out on April 21, 2015, The Journey of the Heroic Parent.


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