Behavioral Health: Adolescents & Addiction – How Parents Can Help

February 20, 2018

Dealing with an addiction can leave sufferers feeling frightened, overwhelmed, and often hopeless. The only thing worse? Watching your child go through all those feelings, and not being able to help. That was the case for Amanda Smith*, after her son, Alex*, had an encounter with some bad drugs and wound up in the emergency room. Scared at the realization that her son could have died, and that he likely had a problem with drug usage, Amanda dug into researching treatment and rehabilitation options for Alex.

She swiftly encountered a problem. There were few programs out there for youth, particularly for someone like her son, an older adolescent, hovering on the edge of adulthood. “It was very frustrating,” Amanda says. “Everyone kept turning us away. We went to a few different places before finding one that would even assess him.

Her struggles, Amanda says, are indicative of a larger problem facing communities like ours. “There is an epidemic going around,” she says. “There are limited resources. And if you don’t have a lot of money, you’re pretty much out. They were turning us away left and right.”

Then, Amanda heard about the Adolescent Chemical Dependency and Chronic Pain Program at IU Health Methodist Hospital, headed up by program manager Katie Hansen, and everything changed. “We found Katie, and it was open arms. They allowed my son to have a voice; they allowed us to have a voice.”

The program began on May 15, 2017, as part of a greater focus on behavior health throughout the IU Health System. Katie, who is a trained art therapist, thought she might be able to use her methods of creative healing to help young people struggling with addiction express themselves and open up about their drug usage.

The participants use art to – sometimes literally – paint a picture of what addiction is like from the inside. It helps them communicate their fears, their conflict and their desire to overcome in a way traditional therapy doesn’t always allow. In addition, they also participate in group sessions, family nights and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings tailored specifically to adolescents.

For Amanda and Alex, it was the answer to both spoken and unspoken prayers. While Alex had a difficult time overcoming his initial reluctance, he soon found that Katie and other adults in the program spoke to him respectfully and honestly. They didn’t treat him like a child, and they didn’t force him to participate. Amanda says it made all the difference. He graduated the program just last month. So, how is he doing now?

“He’s doing great,” Amanda says, pride and relief evident in her voice. “He’s gotten a lot out of it, and he understands what he needs to do to stay on the up-and-up. He knows they’re there with open arms if he needs to go back and talk to them.”

Amanda says her relationship with Alex has gotten much stronger since participating in the program. She encourages other parents to get help for their children if they see signs of abuse or addiction, and cautions that it isn’t going to be easy, but you can get through it.

As for Katie, she’s working on raising awareness about the program. With the opioid crisis sweeping Indiana, it’s more necessary than ever, and Katie and her team will be there, ready to help.

*Amanda and her son’s name have been changed for privacy purposes.

To learn more about the Adolescent Substance Abuse and Chronic Pain Program, contact Katie Hansen at khansen4@iuhealth.org. And to stay up-to-date on what IU Health Foundation is doing to support programs like this one as part of the IU Health Behavioral Health Collaborative, visit iuhealth.org/foundation or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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