Substance Abuse: Learn Before You Need It

Substance Abuse: Learn Before You Need It

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

Richard Capriola’s Book

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Substance Abuse Transcript:

Substance Abuse with Richard Capriola

Kristina: Welcome impactful parents. Today we’re gonna talk about substance abuse in our young adult children, our teenagers, and our even our tweens. The impactful speaker we have today is Richard Capriola. Richard is a mental health and addictions counselor and has been for over two decades. He has treated both adults and adolescents. He is the author of The Addicted Child; it’s a parent’s guide to adolescent substance abuse. I’m so excited to have Richard on today. Thank you so much for being here.

Richard: Thank you, Kristina. It’s a pleasure to be here to talk a little bit about this very important issue that parents are sometimes confronted with.

Kristina: Yes, and here on The Impactful Parent, I’m always trying to give parents resources for helping their children. I’m really trying to get parents to catch things early.  April and March tend to be tough months for kiddos.  I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you, with my 20 years of experience in the classroom, something crazy happens in April and March to our adolescents.  Substance abuse rises within these months.  Richard, what substances are the most popular with our adolescents?

Richard:  They’re still using alcohol and marijuana. Those are the primary drugs that kids are attracted to. Some use other drugs like, over the counter medications and some prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin, but primarily alcohol and drugs. But the big change that we’ve seen in the last three years is a surge in vaping. These kids are now turning to vaping things like nicotine and marijuana. And that is increasing at dramatic rates, and parents need to be aware of that. For example, three years ago, only 9% of seniors were vaping marijuana. Today, it’s 22%, almost one in five. So, parents need to be aware that this vaping issue is really starting to surge among teenagers.

Kristina: Yes, I’ve seen that too for my experiences, and it’s really sad. Do you think that parents could tell what is inside a vape pen just by looking at it? For example, could they tell the difference between nicotine or marijuana?

Richard:  Not just by looking at it. It’s going to look like a pen, or even some of them are very similar to what a USB drive would look like on a computer. Many times, parents don’t even suspect what they’re looking at. It might be an instrument where a child uses it to inhale, say, marijuana or nicotine. It’s very difficult for the average parent to know just by sight what the substance is.

Kristina: Is there a smell difference between the two?

Richard: Well, the nicotine you can smell. You know nicotine has an odor to it. With these vape pens, it is unlike smoking cigarettes. Vape pens give pure nicotine.  Often at a much higher concentration. Marijuana is also put into vape pens but smell differently.

Kristina: Is there a difference between the odor of marijuana from a vape pen and an odor of marijuana when they’re smoking the flower? (the plant itself) I think, as a parent, when I envision the smell of marijuana, I envision the flower burning.  That smell is more potent and different than smoking marijuana from a vape pen.

Richard:  Well, most parents are not going to know the difference. What they’re going to catch on is, “something smells a little different.” They’re not going to be able to notice the difference between this variation and that variation. What they’re first going to pick up on is – they walk into their child’s room, and it just doesn’t smell right. There’s something out of the ordinary here. That’s what most parents are going to pick up on.

Kristina: I love that. Great tip.  Trust your gut instincts, parents. Sometimes we ignore that gut feeling when we walk into our child’s room because you don’t want to be the blamer, and you don’t want to accuse.  But trust that gut instinct in this case. Richard, is there a difference between adult addiction and adolescent addiction?

Richard: There are two differences. One is in brain development. The adolescent brain is just not fully developed and substance abuse can harm the brain. In contrast, the adult brain is developed, so using substances as an adolescent with a developing maturing brain carries much more risk. The risk of becoming dependent on the substance is much higher. So, the first difference is brain development. The second difference is in consequences. Many adults who are addicted to a substance have faced catastrophic consequences. They might have lost a job. They might have lost a marriage.  They might have been incarcerated.  Adolescents, on the other hand, haven’t faced anywhere near those types of catastrophic consequences. Their big consequences are parents coming down on them or maybe putting some restrictions on them.

Kristina: Is there a difference between how girls and boys have substance abuse?

Richard:  There are some differences. Boys tend to binge drink, for example. Not the girls won’t drink, but boys are more likely to binge drink. Boys are at higher risk of using over-the-counter drugs than girls. And boys are more likely to become dependent on multiple substances, where girls might tend to just stick to one or the other. The other difference is that we often find a conduct disorder for boys when we dig underneath the surface. There’s a behavioral disorder or maybe a learning disorder for boys. For girls, when we search below the surface many times, we will find depression and things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So there can be different things that propel a boy to use a drug versus a girl to use a drug.

Kristina: I find that really interesting.  Whether they’re adolescents or adults, it feels like people use substances for either one of two things. They’re either trying to run away from their life and hide and suppress something, or the person feels like they need more energy. “I have to do more,” mentality. Do you see the differences between boys and girls in those respects, or is it pretty much the same for both boys and girls?

Richard:  I think it’s pretty much the same across the board with substance abuse. I worked in a psychiatric hospital. Most kids that I saw had some rather severe underlying issues. And you know, not every child who gets involved in a substance has an underlying issue. Some of them just like getting high. Sometimes it is because their friends are doing it and they want to join in. But for a lot of kids, there’s an underlying issue that needs to be assessed.  For example, many of the kids I worked with were smoking marijuana multiple times a day. When I asked them to help me understand why they were smoking so much marijuana, the number one answer that came back was- it helps me with my anxiety. Suppose we just look at the alcohol use or just look at the drug use and don’t go beyond that. In that case, we might be missing some important underlying issues driving that child to medicate themselves with a substance.

Kristina: I feel like not everybody, but a grand majority of people with substance abuse issues, use the substance for a coping mechanism of some sort. This means there’s something else happening that really needs to be addressed to truly solve the problem.

Richard: Yes, absolutely, that’s very true.

Kristina:  Well, let’s get into some warning signs that parents should know about to catch these things early.

Richard:  And that’s important because, you know, many parents that I’ve worked with, they often ask, Well, how did I miss these warning signs? Am I a bad parent? What went wrong? Why didn’t I see the substance abuse signs? Well, they didn’t see them because they didn’t know about them. And in my book, I have many warning signs and listed for Alcohol, Marijuana, eating disorders, and self-harm. I put those warning signs in the book so that parents would be more knowledgeable about them. But as a general rule, what I suggest to parents is, pay attention to any changes you see in your child. These might be changes in behavior. There might be changes in academic performance. There might be changes in appearance or changes in sleeping habits. Pay attention to changes and don’t assume that these are average normal teenage developmental changes. They may very well be in many cases. Still, they also may be an indication that something’s going on underneath the surface. So pay attention to those changes and follow up on them.

Kristina:  If I were a parent and I am listening to this, and I feel like this sounds like my kid, what do I do?  What’s going to be my first steps?

Richard: Your first step is to have a discussion with your child and see how that goes. It might go well; it may blow up and not go so well but at least start that first discussion and see how it goes. And then, if you still have concerns, get an assessment done. There’s an entire chapter in my book about the kinds of assessments you should have done because you need more than just an addiction assessment. You need some other assessments done, too, because you want a complete picture of what’s going on with your child: psychologically, physically, emotionally, you want a full picture. You can rely on school counselors, family physicians, and teachers to bring you the referrals you need to get those assessments.

Kristina:  I want to speak a little bit more about that because I’m sure that parents didn’t even know that there are assessments that can be done! Tell me more.

Richard:  You need an addictions assessment first. You want to know what substances your child has been using, how often, and for how long.  If applicable, a substance use disorder might be diagnosed as either mild, moderate, or severe.

Kristina: Where am I going to go find that help?

Richard:  You’re probably gonna get that from an addictions counselor like me. Or you might get it from a psychologist that can also perform that type of assessment. Some social workers can do that also. But, I would start with an addictions counselor trained in the area and who does assessments.

Kristina:  Are those people something I can Google?

Richard: Yes, that is something you can Google. It is also something you can get referrals from your school counselor. They also can refer you to an addictions counselor that can go more into depth. Another good source would be your family physician. They can do a rapid screen. Doctors can give you resources for psychologists and addiction counselors in the community. So there are a lot of places you can go to get referrals for these assessments.

Kristina: What was the other assessment that you mentioned?

Richard: I think you need a good psychological assessment. That would be from a psychologist or a neuropsychologist. That’s where you’re looking at the underlying issues; if there are any, that might be there.  The doctors are going to look at various aspects of your child’s personality and different emotional problems. The third one would be a good comprehensive medical exam because you want to rule out any medical reasons that might contribute to anything that’s going on.

Kristina:  If I have a child that’s on, let’s say, Adderall or some kind of Ritalin substance, and I suspect that they’re giving it away to friends (which I know happens in our schools), or they’re abusing the substance themselves- what do I do?  Do you have any suggestions for something like that?

Richard: Kristina, that is such an important issue because you noted two very important issues. The child may be abusing the substance themselves, their own prescription, or they may be selling part of it, or you may have a child that’s buying it from friends. Prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall are being abused by high school students. My advice to parents is that you need to secure those in your home if you have any prescriptions. You also need to secure any liquor in your house because teenagers are very clever at flying under the radar. In many cases, if you’re not monitoring it almost daily, you may never know that some of those pills have been missing.

Kristina: And when you say secure, I want to clarify this to the audience. I know I have locked boxes in my own home that I use to secure other things. I could use my lockbox for knives to protect somebody who could be the potential to self-harm. I could put my alcohol in those lockboxes too. I could put in my prescription meds and put my regular over-the-counter NyQuil and things like that in those lockboxes.

Richard: A lockbox is a great idea. They come in different sizes and are easily bought on Amazon. Any type of cabinet that has a lock on it would work too.

Kristina: How can parents protect their children from abusing substances? Is there anything that we can do on the front end to prevent this from happening?

Richard: Well, no child is completely protected. All children are vulnerable to alcohol or drug abuse. However, there are protective environments and things that parents can do to reduce the risk.  One of the most useful things that parents can do is develop that foundation of good communication and trust. And, you know, we’re pretty good at listening to people’s words when they talk to us, even our kids. We hear their words, but we often don’t hear the feelings behind those words. As parents, we can develop skills that will help us practice good listening skills. I talked a little bit about this in my parent workbook, but you can learn skills when your child is talking to you. You hear their words, but more importantly, you hear the feelings behind those words. And when that child begins to believe that, you’re starting to understand how they feel that can be very powerful. If your child has questions about drugs, or they’re tempted, or they’re under some type of peer influence or pressure, you want them to feel comfortable coming to you.  They have learned you’re not going to judge them. You’re going to listen to them, and you’re going to become an advisor for them.

Kristina:  I love this suggestion, and it’s so important, parents!  Parenting is a long game. The trust that you need to build with your child is not going to happen overnight. It is something that takes weeks or even years. Part of gaining that trust is not overreacting. When your child does something wrong and or confides in you, try not to blame and leave judgment out.  These are times when your child is coming to you to tell you something in confidence. It is a time to celebrate, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. Don’t reprimand your child. Don’t say things like, “That’s so stupid. What a bad choice.” Your child is trying to tell you something very personal, and they’re reaching out for help. I’m sure you’re going to feel disappointed and angry and even scared, depending on the situation and what your child is saying. If your child comes to you and says, “Mom, I think I’m vaping too much, or I might be addicted to a substance,” you must step back and not overreact.  You can overreact in private, but not in front of your child.  You want to gain trust so that your child will continue to feel like they can speak with you.

Richard: And it’s never too late to begin that process of gaining trust. Your child might be a teen, but you can still begin the process of developing good communication and that trust. It will pay dividends, not only while your child is still in your household, it may pay dividends down the road as they go off to college and on with their own life too. So it really is an investment that’s worth the time and the practice.

Kristina: As we close, I’d like to know anything else you would like to add to the audience. Suggestions or tips for that parent who is scared?

Richard: I know it is scary.  I’ve met with many parents, and I’ve seen their reactions when they find out that their child has been using a substance. They’re scared, they’re angry, they’re nervous, and they’re frightened. That’s why I wrote this book, and I intentionally kept this book to around 100 pages with chapters that are very concise and very down to earth. It’s the kind of book that I wish I would have had when I was raising my child to have the information. It’s not loaded down with a lot of heavy reading. It’s not loaded down with a lot of jargon and scientific terms. It’s a book that you can pick up and probably read in an hour and hopefully walk away and say, “Okay, I’ve got this now. I’m better prepared. I hope I never need it, but I’m prepared, and I know what to look for.”

Kristina:  Parents out there who have younger children, educate yourself now before your kids hit these tween and teen years. There’s nothing wrong with that!  Do it now while you have some time and you’re not worried. Absorb all this information and knowledge. Then, you will set yourself up for being prepared if it ever comes to this, and hopefully, it never will. Where can we find your book?

Richard:  My book is available on Amazon. Also, the parent workbooks are available on Amazon. The easiest way to get to it is to go to the book’s website: On that site, you will be able to read some endorsements that have been made by psychologists and psychiatrists. You can read book reviews. You can read some blog articles. You can contact me through the website, and you can order both the book and the workbook on the website. They’re available in electronic form for people who prefer to read things electronically. They’re available in paperback form for those who would prefer to have a paperback copy.

Kristina: Please, parents, educate yourself early about substance abuse, but it’s never too late. Get the information that you need. We have a plethora of resources for you, and I will make sure that they are all down below in the show notes. Check those out! Thank you so much, Richard, for being here. Until next time, parents. You got this. We’re just here to help.


Posted on

March 11, 2021