Mid-August was quickly approaching. My 11-year-old daughter was about to start middle school. I was not exactly looking forward to it, as I knew middle school can be a challenging transition and many pre-teens are just beginning to find themselves. I also knew that my sixth-grade daughter would also be exposed to older students; therefore, I assumed she’d be exposed to behaviors that I would not necessarily approve of.
Working in the mental health and substance use field for over 10 years, I have always educated my daughter on the negative eﬀects of drugs and alcohol. I can’t even begin to tell you how many in-depth conversations we’ve had regarding substances being “poison for your body.” I was always pretty confident in that regard.
As middle school loomed, my daughter’s father was very sick and had been for a while. He has struggled with addiction since before my daughter was born. It’s all she has ever known. Being as educated as I am, I also knew that alcoholism has a very strong genetic predisposition. I always believed that when my daughter would ask me questions about her father, the right thing to do was to be honest. That doesn’t mean I went into every single detail with her. It means that when she asked me a question, I would answer it. I have always informed my daughter that addiction is a disease, and it does not mean that her father is a bad person; it just means that he is sick.
Did you know that if a child has a biological parent who struggles with addiction, they are more likely to develop addictive disorders themselves? That is the genetic predisposition. As a parent, because of this, I tried to implement moderation in my daughter’s everyday life with video games, sweets, etc. I knew that “more, more, more and more is never enough” behaviors needed to be addressed and managed right away.
It was like a light switch — my beautiful, kind and sweet daughter was spending all her spare time isolating herself in her bedroom. She’d have random outbursts and treated me very poorly. I kept asking myself, “Where did my daughter go?” It started to get really bad — worse than you could possibly imagine.
One afternoon, I received a call from the principal of my daughter’s school, who informed me that my daughter was being suspended for possession of marijuana. I was shocked and devastated. As I raced to the school to pick her up, I had so many thoughts going through my mind — one being: Where did she get this marijuana? When I arrived at the school she was sitting in the principal’s oﬃce, crying. I immediately asked her who gave her the marijuana. My daughter told me that her friend and her friend’s mother smoke weed together everyday, and her friend’s mom said she could have it. As you can imagine, I was irate! After we got home, I immediately called the police to report it.
The next evening at about 9 PM, two very kind police oﬃcers knocked on my front door. When I answered, the police oﬃcer stated that they received a “Safe2Tell” call regarding my daughter. They told me that she had been self-harming by cutting herself. I called my daughter to come downstairs and, with the police oﬃcers present, I asked to see her arms. She had many cuts covering her arms. My heart broke. I knew she was hurting inside.
She was transported to the emergency room and placed on an M1 hold (mental health hold) to be evaluated. After she was evaluated, the medical and psychiatric team told me that my daughter’s test results came back alarmingly high for anxiety and depression, and that she had tested positive for marijuana. My daughter was then transported via ambulance to an adolescent behavioral health inpatient program. She was there for almost two weeks, participating in group therapy and individual therapy sessions and meeting with the doctor daily. She was also educated on healthy coping skills, and she did very well in the program. I strongly believe that the inpatient program helped save my daughter’s life.
Once discharged from the inpatient level of care, she immediately started an intensive outpatient program, or an IOP. This consists of her attending the program three afternoons per week for about three hours each day. She meets with her therapist and mentor each time, with a doctor approximately every two weeks. My daughter really enjoys attending the program, and not once has she complained about going.
With tears in my eyes as I write this, I am beyond thrilled that my daughter is coming back! She has been so pleasant to be around. She has been so respectful and is starting to thrive the way she used to in school again.
I think the worst thing a parent can say is, “This wouldn’t happen to my kid.” Always respond as soon as you can to any warning signs:
- Change in sleep patterns
- Random outbursts
- Self-harm behaviors
- Red glossy and dilated eyes (for marijuana)
- Decreased engagement in school
- Change of behaviors
Here are some tips I have on checking in on your child:
- Get to know their friends
- Lock up all medications at home
- If prescribed medication by a physician, administer for them as prescribed
- Never try to be the “cool parent”
- Stay involved in their lives
- Go with your gut — it’s important to try to determine what’s going on if you get “that feeling”
- Talk to your kids about substances — you’d rather them learn from you then from other kids on the playground