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Is your teen addicted to drugs? Family support group tells parents to ‘trust your gut’



Debbie Bridge had always been close with her daughter.

The two talked about a lot of things and Bridge homeschooled her until high school.

That’s when things started to change.

At first, Bridge chalked it up to a “teenager thing,” but soon her daughter’s behaviour went beyond regular teenage angst. She got suspended and was hanging around a different group of friends.

She had started using drugs.

Bridge said the family didn’t ignore that red flag and had talked to school staff and tried to get counselling, but her daughter didn’t want to open up.

Bridge learned her daughter had been trying to deal with depression and anxiety and was found cutting herself in the school hallway.

“When I tried to talk to her about that,” said Bridge, “she didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Bridge said her daughter started isolating away from the family and spent more time in her room on her phone.

One weekend she left and didn’t come back. She was 17 at the time.

“This was the shocking thing for me,” said Bridge. “The day before we were cuddling and talking. We sang in the car. We did all the things I thought a close mother-daughter relationship did.”

Her daughter is now 21, but Bridge said over the years, contact has been limited. Her daughter never finished high school and cut off ties with other family members and friends.

“I went into despair for a while because it just felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me.

“I thought I’d worked really hard at being a certain kind of mother and I’d blindly thought that being a ‘good mom’ would kind of guarantee some kind of outcome and it just doesn’t.”

Bridge is now a facilitator with Parents Empowering Parents (PEP), a support group for families dealing with substance use and addiction.

“PEP is a great place to go if you want to just find out, if you want to just ask questions, if you want to talk to other parents,” added Bridge.

“We talk ourselves out of it, saying that ‘we’re overreacting.’”

Lerena Greig, executive director of PEP, said stories like Bridge’s are common.

At first, said Greig, parents may think their child’s alcohol or drug use is part of experimentation or teenage rebellion. It can quickly spiral out of control.

Greig said mood swings and changed behaviour may be even more difficult to detect during the pandemic, but she urged parents to keep a watch for some signs:

“Anger, unforeseen anger just out of anywhere or an increase in anxiety. Pay attention to that,” said Greig.

PEP support groups are meeting virtually and free educational webinars are being offered online. They include Signs and Symptoms of Addiction and another called, Tough to Love — why it’s important to separate the addiction from the person you love.

“You always love, always. But you have to separate the behaviour and learn how to battle that behaviour,” said Greig.

Despite years of helping parents and caregivers, Greig said there is still stigma for families trying to cope with a teen’s addiction and too often they get stuck in the “shame and blame scenario.”

“What we recognize with successful stories is that the family’s health is very important when their loved one decides to seek help.”

“Have that opportunity to have some real honest conversation. I think sometimes our first response is disciplinary action, and there may be some times that could be applicable, but in some circumstances those knee-jerk reactions will actually be harmful to the communication with your child.

Bridge said over the past few years she has worked on “detaching with love” and stopping self-blame.

She said she can’t clinically diagnose her daughter as addicted, but her heavy use of marijuana has made her personality very different.

“She has a very different life than what she had even a few years ago.

“Where is all of this going to lead for her?”

Even though her daughter is now an adult, Bridge still has hopes and dreams for her.

“There’s a hole in our family without her and nothing can replace that.”

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