The First Line of Abuse Defense is Crucial
Colorful nametags, adorned with personal mementos and stylized signatures, cover the walls of a Pathways classroom, proudly proclaiming the first names and number of sober days of their owners, adolescent guests of Pathways. The youthful presentations betray the age of their owners, and are a startling reminder that teenagers suffer from substance abuse in alarming numbers.
“Over 60 percent of 10th graders report drinking alcohol,” said Helen Reines, executive director of Pathways, Anne Arundel Medical Center’s alcohol and drug treatment center. “By 12th grade it’s nearly 70 percent. Parents have to be vigilant.”
Since 1992, Pathways Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center has cared for hundreds of individuals battling a variety of addictions. The 40-bed, freestanding inpatient facility on Riva Road is open 24 hours a day and treats both adolescents and adults.
The Pathways staff has a clear message: The first line of defense is parents.
“Indicators like falling grades in school don’t always signal a problem,” said Paul F. Giannandrea, M.D., a psychiatrist at Pathways. “Different friends, missing items around the house, or a child’s unwillingness to be forthcoming with plans, events, or his or her whereabouts are often subtle signs of substance abuse.”
“Parents need to maintain open dialogue with their children,” said Ms. Reines. “Keep lines of communication open about activities, parties, and where children go and which parent is in charge on a given evening. Don’t always let your child call from his or her cell phone to check in. Instead ask for the home phone number of where your child is supposed to be.”
John Sanchez, the adolescent supervisor at Pathways, adds: “Drug and alcohol dependency can happen to any teen regardless of their socioeconomic background. The odds increase if other members of the family or extended family have dependency problems.”
Consider J., a slightly nervous 17- year-old, whose identity has been protected for this article. J. began smoking marijuana at 12. “From marijuana, I moved onto prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycodone,” he said. “Access to drugs wasn’t as much of a problem as the cost. Cocaine and heroin are a lot cheaper, so most kids make the switch to those drugs.”
Dr. Giannandrea warns parents that drugs are available in schools across Maryland. “Parents need to realize that our children can gain access to drugs that are potent, highly addictive, and extremely dangerous. We’ve seen adolescent patients set back years, mentally, via the use of these drugs and their degenerative qualities.”
To gain access to drugs, J. lied, stole, borrowed money, and sold some of his parents’ possessions. A good student and highly creative, J. knew he needed help. “I came to Pathways on my own,” he said. “The past year, especially, had been terrible. When I leave, I’d like to travel, explore possibilities with my art and return to school.”
Hearing J. acknowledge his past issues and confront his future brought tears to Andi Grauer, J.’s teacher at Pathways. “The Pathways system works,” said Ms. Grauer. “To hear him speak like this and to see his progress makes me so proud of him.”If your child is at risk or involved with drugs and alcohol, contact Pathways at (410) 573-5400 or toll-free at (800) 322-5858. Visit www.pathwaysprogram.org.
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