By Jacqueline M. HamesMarch 25, 2010
MILITARY brats have it rough. They move every few years and take on adult responsibilities when a parent deploys. Added pressure at home can make doing schoolwork hard, which just adds more tension. Teens are especially susceptible to the extra stress, and can often seek unhealthy outlets, like alcohol or drugs.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America developed the "Time to Talk" program to encourage families to talk about the risk of drugs, and help those that suspect a teen is in danger of using drugs find a better solution.
"Time to Talk was really born out of parents saying 'You know, I'm kind of frustrated by this whole drug issue," Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, explained. "'You need to make it simple and accessible and easy for me, so when I need answers or when I have an issue I can get what I need right away.' It wasn't that parents weren't interested in doing this. They were more frustrated in not knowing how and where to start."
The success of Time to Talk led to a partnership with the National Military Family Association and the National Association of School Nurses, Pasierb said, and research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse led the collaborators to focus on military teens.
"When you look through all the data, one of the things you find is that military kids go through a lot of transitions. They get moved more than the average kid...," Pasierb explained. Because the frequency of transitions is higher, military teens are more vulnerable.
"We're not saying military kids use more drugs-there's no proof of that-but clearly, military kids are under much more pressure," he added.
Time to Talk has three tools aimed to get the conversation about drugs started between military parents and their children. The first tool, "10 Things Military Teens Want You to Know," is told from a teenager's perspective, to help break down barriers with mom and dad, Pasierb said.
The second tool is "10 Things School Nurses Want You to Know," and the third is "Transitions & Teens: A Guide for Military Parents." These tools are for parents and focus on prevention.
The NMFA brought the military family's perspective to Time to Talk, Joyce Raezer, executive director, said. They ensured the "military lingo" was correct, and helped market the program to servicemembers and their families.
"This partnership is just a really good fit, because it is giving those resources to the families who want them," Raezer said.
Brianna DeWulf is the daughter of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael DeWulf. She and her family have experienced the tragedy drug and alcohol addiction can bring. After moving from Monterey, Calif., to Virginia Beach, Va., Brianna's brother, Brandon, became involved with drugs.
"He was coming into high school when we moved over to Virginia Beach," DeWulf explained. "He was fine in Monterey, he was on the baseball team, had lots of friends, and when we moved to Virginia Beach it was very, very hard for him."
Sadly, Brandon died in June 2009 of a suspected drug overdose, DeWulf said. He was 24.
DeWulf thinks that the Time to Talk program is helpful, because it details the perils of drug and alcohol addiction, and describes prevention techniques.
"People need to be taught these things, it needs to stop getting ignored, because if you ignore the situation, it's just going to keep on getting worse and worse," DeWulf said.
Robyn Lutzkanin, daughter of Army Maj. Christopher Lutzkanin, believes the hardest part about being a child of a servicemember is the responsibility. "Sometimes your dad leaves and you have to take up for that role," the 16 year old explained.
"You have to be responsible for your little brothers and set a really good example. You have to be strong, and you have to be willing to talk about your problems because you move so much and there's so many new people and some of them just don't like you," she said.
Executive director for the National Association of School Nurses and a Marine spouse, Amy Garcia observes the effects military lifestyles have on teenagers first-hand. School nurses across the nation responded positively to the Time to Talk program, she said, because the program also reached out to military families not near a base, like reservists.
"As a military wife, I was particularly relieved that they wanted to (use) these materials that specifically focused on the challenges of military families," Garcia said. "Moving is a huge, huge thing. I think many military families are very resilient, but we have the same issues that families everywhere have but with one extra layer of challenges."
Garcia explained that it's hard to keep things balanced as a military family. The Time to Talk materials emphasized transitions that do not appear very big to adults, can be disruptive to children, particularly teens. It is important for parents to understand that some teens will adapt readily, while others struggle, she added.
"You don't have to be brave all the time," Garcia said. "You can express your feelings, and it's really important to talk about it."
Lutzkanin, her parents and two younger brothers have used Time to Talk to open up lines of communication and make family discussions more structured.
"We tell each other our emotions," she said. "And we talk about our problems and we're very motivated kids. We're good students in school, we make As and Bs, and we volunteer."
Lutzkanin recommended the Time to Talk program to friends who have a family member struggling with addiction. "(It) really helped them open up and understand what they were thinking and feeling," she explained.
"You don't need drugs to get over your problems," Lutzkanin added. "You need to talk about it, or else the problems are never going to get solved."
Using outside resources, like talking to a school nurse or other health professionals, can often help families resolve their problems, and communication within families throughout military moves is key to easing the process.
"Military teens are tough. They're resilient," Pasierb said, noting that transitions brought about by military life will become easier with each experience. "Understand that there's a lot of support for you, a lot of support for your family, and nothing in life is so bad or needs to be escaped so much that you need to turn to drugs and drink."
Time to Talk opens up the paths of communication to help solve the problems that can lead to teen drug or alcohol addiction. Program kits are available on the PFDA Web site at www.drugfree.org
WHAT IS DRUG ADDICTION'
DR. Harold Urschel, M.D., addiction psychiatrist and author of "Healing the Addicted Brain: The Revolutionary Science-Based Alcoholism and Addiction Recovery Program," wants to take the latest information on addiction in the brain and use it to help develop more effective and comprehensive treatment programs. His goal is to build treatment programs that integrate all the scientific findings and give people access to state-of-the-art science. His book was recently approved by the Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, for use by all therapists treating active-duty personnel with alcohol or drug addictions. Urschel recently spoke with Jacqueline Hames of Soldiers about teen addiction.
Q: Is treating addiction in teens different than treating addiction in adults'
A: It depends on the substance. Treating alcohol addiction in teens is different because it takes five to seven years of regular alcohol use to become an alcoholic, and most teens have not reached the point of addiction yet, though they may have abused it. Drugs are a different story. Drugs can get you addicted within a matter of months, sometimes weeks. If you have a teenager shooting heroine, you're going to treat him fairly similar to an adult heroine addict. Once you have the disease of addiction-which is a chronic disease in your brain-you have to treat it as such. Medications and therapy for drug addiction is very similar for teens and adults.
Q: Do you see any similarities in treating teens with parents in the military and treating active-duty personnel'
A: It may be harder to treat teens of military households than active-duty personnel, because they have not had specialized training to help them cope with adverse transitions. Moving around forcibly, like during a change of station, creates anger and depression in teens, and they use drugs and alcohol to release the emotions.
Q: What are some of the basic things a family needs to understand about what occurs in the mind of an addict'
A: Alcohol and drug addiction actually injures the brain, like diabetes injures your pancreas. The alcohol and drugs hurt the brain in the same place the "high" occurs, the euphoria. That area is very deep in the middle part of the brain, and it's called the limbic system; that is also where your reward centers are. While drugs are stimulating the receptors that give you a high, they are also injuring other receptors in the area. If you consider the limbic system as the motherboard of a computer, and the drugs like a screwdriver, the injury would be the same as driving a screwdriver perpendicularly through the motherboard of a computer. You can see smoke and the little crackles of electricity-the short circuits. The limbic system is not a logic-based system, which makes it hard to overcome addiction. Programs that focus on logic or reasoning, like a 12-step program, aren't particularly effective against the limbic system. You can no more will yourself sober than you can will yourself not to have cancer, or diabetes. A comprehensive approach is best because anti-addiction medications help to heal the injured limbic center, and therapy will improve health and family relations.
Q: What are the warning signs of addiction'
A: There are a million different warning signs, and the Partnership for a Drug Free America has a comprehensive list on the Web at www.timetoact.drugfree.org. The biggest signs to look for are changes in behavior that are consistent for a long period of time. If your child was gregarious and outgoing, and is now more reclusive, or sadder and irritable, that could be a sign of addiction. Isolation, changes in friends and not letting the parent meet friends are also warning signs. Slurred speech, pupil changes, changes in sleep patterns and academic performance could indicate addiction.
Q: Once a family has noted unusual behavior, how should they get help for their child'
A: First, it's important to get educated. You have to understand the addiction before you can help the addict. Families should take addicts to well-trained professionals for help, but sometimes it is hard to determine who is most qualified to help the addict. Getting educated will help a family choose which treatment options are best, because they will be better able to ask questions and interview the health professional. Everybody is different, and will need different treatment combinations.
Secondly, it is important to note that most treatment centers rely on just one type of treatment, like a 12-step program. Those programs are integral to addiction treatment, but there are greater success rates with comprehensive programs that involve the 12-step approach as well as dual diagnosis (treating addiction and psychiatric illness together), anti-addiction medication, and family and individual therapy. Drug and alcohol addiction treatment is similar to treating other chronic diseases...lifestyle changes, medicine and therapy combinations are the most effective.