The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse - Richard Capriola EP18

This is a MUST WATCH for all parents with pre-teens. 
Joining us today is Richard Capriola. Richard has been a mental health and addiction counsellor for over two decades. He recently retired from Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas where for over a decade he treated both teens and adults diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders. He is also the author of The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse which is available on Amazon.
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Connect with the host, Jamie Buttigieg 
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Automated Transcription of the Podcast: 

Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast, many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behaviour, education, and nutrition to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age. Here is your host, Jamie Buttigieg.

Speaker 2: Hello, parents, and welcome to another episode of the Parenting in the Digital Age Podcast. Today we're talking about drugs and substance abuse, a topic that concerns and impacts many parents and families. Now, joining me today is Richard Capriola. Now, Richard has been a mental health and addictions counselor for over two decades. He recently retired from the manager clinic in Houston, [00:01:00] Texas, where for over a decade, he treated both teens and adults diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders. Richard is also the author of The Addicted Child, A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse, which is also available on Amazon, which I hope to talk, uh, about a little bit later on. Uh, Richard, first of all, thank you for joining us. Before we dive in, uh, please just share with our listeners a bit of background in your own words, what do you do and, and, and what you're really passionate about.
Speaker 3: Thank [00:01:30] you, Jamie. I really appreciate you taking the time to invite me to the program and to, uh, uh, talk about this important issue as you, as you point out rightly is, is of concern to a lot of parents. Um, um, you know, I started out in education, uh, worked, uh, for three decades in the field of education as an administrator. And then as I transitioned away from that career, I began another, uh, episode of working in mental health and substance abuse and, and, [00:02:00] uh, worked with both teenagers and adults, uh, who were, uh, struggling with, uh, a mental health disorder, uh, as well as a substance abuse disorder. Uh, and then as you noted, I I, I was at Vineer Clinic in Houston, Texas for over a decade, which is a large psychiatric hospital where I treated teenagers and adults. And, and so many times, Jamie, I would sit across from a family and I would go through their child's history of using a substance, you know, what they'd been using when they [00:02:30] began, how often, and give them a diagnosis of a substance use disorder.
Speaker 3: And they would look across at me and they would say, I had no idea this was going on. Or if they did suspect their child was using a substance, they might say, I sort of thought something was going on, but I didn't know it was this bad. And, and these are good parents. These are very good parents doing the best job they can. They missed the warning signs because nobody told them what to look for. [00:03:00] So, after I retired from Menninger, I wanted to write my book, uh, uh, to give, to give parents a, a background to give them information, know what the warning signs are, know what to do, and just be better informed about this topic.
Speaker 2: Yeah, that's, uh, uh, quite powerful. And, and I hope to dig into some of those warning signs and maybe a few strategies that, uh, parents can use a little bit later on. But, uh, I wanna start by, uh, talking about, uh, alcohol and marijuana. Uh, I know certainly in Australia, um, you know, uh, [00:03:30] big, big topics, uh, there's prevalent use among, uh, early teens and late teens here, as I'm sure the US is the same. But why is it that some teens are turning to using substances like alcohol and marijuana in particular?
Speaker 3: Well, for every, every child, it's different. Uh, there is no one thing that we can say that motivates, uh, teenagers to turn to a substance like alcohol or marijuana, or even vaping, uh, substances like nicotine and, [00:04:00] and marijuana. So e every child's a little different. Uh, some of them, uh, get exposed, uh, outta curiosity. They've heard about this thing called marijuana. They just, they just want to try it and see what it feels like. Um, others, uh, submit to peer pressure, the friends that they're hanging around with or using the substance. So they want to join in, they want to be part of the crowd. They want to be accepted by their peers. And if their peers are using a substance, that might lead them also. Uh, [00:04:30] but for some kids, not all, but for some kids, there's also an underlying psychological reason why that child is using a substance and they're using it to medicate an underlying emotional issue.
Speaker 3: It might be anxiety or depression, or some type of trauma, perhaps being bullied at school that the parents were unaware of. Um, so it might be any of these emotional issues. When, when I was working at Menninger Clinic, I worked [00:05:00] with a number of teenagers that were smoking lots of marijuana. They would smoke multiple times a day. And 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. So for some kids, not all, but for some kids, there might be an underlying reason, an emotional reason why that child is using a substance or alcohol to medicate that, that underlying issue, which oftentimes goes undiagnosed and and untreated.
Speaker 2: [00:05:30] Yeah. Yeah. It's, uh, so very true. I've got a few stats here that I just wanna share, uh, to give some context to parents who may be listening today. This one relates to the, to Australia in particular, about cannabis usage. And it says, cannabis was the most commonly used a listed substance with 16% of students age, between 12 and 17 years ever using cannabis, and 8% using it the month before the survey. So 8% of of students had used cannabis in the month leading up to this particular [00:06:00] survey in the us. Uh, the most recent stat I could find said 12.78% of all, uh, all 12 to 17 year olds had reported using marijuana in last year with almost 7% of 12th graders using it daily. And, uh, so they're pretty, you know, frightening statistics. Uh, when you, when you look at that and, uh, like outta curiosity, are these numbers increasing or are they declining in your experience?
Speaker 3: Well, that's an interesting [00:06:30] question, uh, because what, what we found out from the national data is that, um, the pandemic had an effect of reducing teen substance abuse during that pandemic year of 2021. We saw across the board in 2021, a significant decline in teenagers using marijuana and alcohol in, in other drugs. Um, and I think a lot of that is attributable to the fact [00:07:00] that so many of them were confined at home. Many of them were doing, uh, online, uh, learning. Uh, they were, uh, removed from their social peers and their extracurricular activities. So we saw a significant decline in 2021 of teenagers using substances. Now, the, the national data will come out again early next year, about 2022, um, to see if, uh, if, if teenage, uh, substance [00:07:30] use rebounded in 2022, we know it went down in 2021, did it stay down or did it increase? And we'll have that data here pretty shortly to be able to tell us, uh, what happened, uh, the year after the pandemic.
Speaker 2: Yeah, that, that'll be interesting to see. I'm gonna, uh, pitch for a high incline. Uh, that's where my bet is landing.
Speaker 3: I, I would, I would agree with you.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so you've talked a bit, a bit about, uh, well, you started to touch on the pandemic, which is a lovely segue to [00:08:00] the next question. And, and, uh, I'm curious as to what drugs teens are using today, um, and, uh, how the pandemic changed teens substance use and mental health.
Speaker 3: Yeah, I, you know, for a long time, you know, teens have gravitated towards marijuana and alcohol. Those are the two substances that, that, that attract teenagers. And that's been true for a long, long time. That's not new. But what we did notice was that for three years prior to the pandemic for, for, for [00:08:30] three years before the pandemic, there was a tremendous increase in what is known as vaping, where teenagers will use a substance, uh, like marijuana or nicotine, they'll put it in to an instrument that turns it into a vapor, and then they'll, they'll inhale it. Well, you know, the number of teenagers that were vaping, nicotine and vaping marijuana was just skyrocketing. It was increasing significantly for three years prior to the, the pandemic. Uh, we'll see what happened next. You know, with, with the new data when it comes on, [00:09:00] comes, comes out.
Speaker 3: Um, while, while the pandemic reduced substance use, it had a negative, it had a, it had an opposite reaction on teenage mental health. Substance abuse went down, mental health issues went up. Um, and, and we have been facing a mental health crisis for over 10 years. Prior to the pandemic. We knew that teenagers were, were going through a mental health crisis for a long time. The [00:09:30] pandemic seemed to worsen it. So we saw higher, higher levels of depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Emergency room visits, uh, for suspected suicide, uh, increased substantially. Children, teenagers were reporting, feeling anxious and angry and annoyed. Many of them felt lonely and were experiencing sleep problems. So the pandemic, unfortunately, sadly, increased what was already, [00:10:00] um, a serious situation in teenage mental health.
Speaker 2: Yeah, that's, uh, that's significant. And, um, did this, this rise in mental health challenges among our teens, um, in your experience, is, is this something that we can attribute that to over the last 10 years?
Speaker 3: I, I don't think there's one thing that we can point to. I think it's probably a combination of things. Uh, some of it dealing with changes that we see in society, [00:10:30] uh, social media, impact on kids, um, expectations, uh, that we're placing on kids in terms of their performance. Um, and then I think just lack of a good, uh, mental health support system. Uh, I just don't think that, that, that it's adequate to address the needs of, of these teenagers. So, uh, there's, there's a lot of work left to be done in the mental health area for, uh, uh, for adults as well as teenagers.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. [00:11:00] One, one of the things I was talking about with a parent recently was about, uh, an anxious child, uh, and, uh, and bullying. And, uh, you know, one of the differences we spoke about, uh, you know, when I was at school, or when you were at school, when we were, when we encountered the school bully, we passed them in the hallway maybe once or twice a day. And, uh, we could generally avoid that bully. Most of the time when we went home, we weren't exposed to that bully or that, that, uh, you know, increasing sense of anxiety or pressure, um, or, you know, or [00:11:30] threatened violence. And, uh, you know, these days, you know, with, of course, with the advent of social media and technology, the bullies them around constantly, and, and they're always present. And, and I think that has, um, certainly is one of the factors that are contributing to this increase in anxiety and stress levels in, in, uh, teens. Um, let, let's talk a little bit about some of the warning, warning signs or some of the practical aspects for parents. Uh, if they, you know, for those who just wanna be prepared or those that may be concerned, or, or, [00:12:00] or, you know, that something might be going on with their child currently, you know, what are the signs that parents should look for? What, what, what, what should they, what should parents know?
Speaker 3: Well, in my book, this is such an important issue that in my book, I list warning signs for a child that might be using alcohol, I have warning signs for a child that might be smoking marijuana. And, and I also put in warning signs for a child that might be developing an eating disorder or self injuring, because those can sometimes accompany a child using [00:12:30] a substance like alcohol or marijuana. Uh, and those are all in my book. But, but as a general rule, what I, what I say to parents is, pay attention to the changes that you see in your child. You know, your child better than anyone, so pay attention to the changes that you see. Don't assume that they're just normal adolescent acting out behaviors. They may very well be that, but they might also be an indication that there's something else going on underneath the surface that you need [00:13:00] to, uh, be aware of.
Speaker 3: Um, so some examples would be a child whose grades are starting to decline. Uh, a child who, um, used to enjoy participating in sports and extracurricular activities no longer shows a desire or an interest to, to participate in those activities. Um, a child who used to openly, um, you know, tell you who their friends were, you knew who their friends were, you might have even known who some of their parents were [00:13:30] now becomes very secretive of who their friends are, and very secretive about, you know, where they've been and what they've been doing. A child that, uh, just shuts down on you, uh, you know, maybe was very talkative before now becomes very quiet and isolating and, and staying a, a away from you and the family. Those are all warning signs that I think as parents, um, if they come and go fairly quickly, they're probably not too concerning. But if they tend to [00:14:00] linger on, and then you begin to see more and more of these warning signs, then I think it might be time for you to get some professional advice, get some assessments done, um, and, and rule in or rule out, uh, if there are any, add any issues that might, uh, that might need to be treated.
Speaker 2: Yeah, some, uh, some really practical, uh, advice there, Richard. Uh, and, and that there's possibly a step there between, you know, identifying those warning signs and then getting an assessment and or treatment. And as a parent, [00:14:30] you know, having those conversations with your child can be tricky. They can be quite difficult. Uh, most, there's no rule book, there's no, uh, manual for me as a parent to, you know, what, what conversation should I have at this time? So, you know, if a parent suspects their child is using drugs, you know, is there a right way to approach a child, or, uh, perhaps you can share one or two ways a parent could approach their child successfully.
Speaker 3: Yeah. I, I think the first thing you wanna do is, if you're concerned, is have a discussion with your child. [00:15:00] And, and by that, I mean, don't lecture, don't threaten, don't, don't, don't punish, don't assume things. You want to come at the discussion with an inquiring point of view. In other words, express your concern. I'm seeing these things. I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm seeing these behaviors. Can you help me understand why I'm seeing them? Can you help me as a parent understand what I'm observing? Uh, can you share with me [00:15:30] how you're feeling about such and such? So you invite the child to participate in a discussion about how you are feeling, not how they're feeling, but how you are feeling. And you can develop a skill that focuses on hearing not just the words, but hearing the feelings. We're pretty good at hearing each other's words.
Speaker 3: We're not so good. Sometimes adhering the feelings underneath those words. And that's a skill that every parent can practice and [00:16:00] every parent can learn, so that when we're talking to our children, we're not just hearing their words, we're hearing their feelings, and we're reflecting those feelings back to the child to confirm or deny that what we're assuming is true. So that's a kind of a discussion that I think can be very powerful. But, but it begins with, uh, with focus on you as the parent. I'm thinking this, I'm observing this, I'm concerned about that. Can you help [00:16:30] me understand why I'm seeing these things or feeling that way? So you invite the child into a discussion about how you feel, what your fears are, what you're observing, what you're thinking, and giving them a chance to reflect on, on whether what you're feeling and seeing is accurate or not.
Speaker 2: Yeah. That there's some, um, really actionable tips in there that I'm sure many parents will be writing down, um, should they be concerned. Um, and, and a real practical approach. I like that, uh, that, [00:17:00] that inquiring pathway or that inquiring line of questioning, uh, you're far more like, I mean, as a parent, our instinct, our instinct, or our natural tendency is to, you know, criticize or, you know, to, to lecture or to, um, yeah. You know, just demand answers, you know, and then we've gotta really take a step back and, and ask the right questions as you say.
Speaker 3: Yeah. And, and don't be too critical if it doesn't go right the first time. This is really a skill that takes time to develop. But, but like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you become [00:17:30] with it.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. You're absolutely right. So, uh, let's say during that conversation, then, you know, we, we, we get somewhere, and then they may admit to something that they've perhaps taken, uh, even if they don't give us the true extent, even if they don't share the entire story with us in the first, or, you know, subsequent instance, how can, as a parent, how, how would I approach getting support or, you know, you mentioned assessments or, you know, what, what sort of organization should I turn to? What's, what's the next step, I guess, as a parent that I should be looking [00:18:00] at?
Speaker 3: Well, I think in that conversation with the child, you want to try as best you can to see if the child will share with you what are the reasons that they're smoking marijuana, what are the reasons that they're, that they're drinking alcohol? And I think the best way to approach that is simply ask the child, how does this help you? You know, how, how are you, how is it helping you? You know, kids, kids are like adults, you know, they're, they're, they're not doing it because they're stupid. They're doing it because they're getting something out of it. Uh, and they may or may not be [00:18:30] willing to share that with you, but I would at least try to try to get from the child a better understanding. And how does this, how does this substance help you? You know, what are you getting out of it in terms of assessments?
Speaker 3: I, I, you know, I recommend a number of assessments in my book, including an addictions assessment, a neuropsychological assessment, uh, to rule in or rule out any underlying issues the child might be confronting. Um, I places that you can start, I [00:19:00] would, I would certainly have a discussion with the school counselor or the school social worker, um, to see, uh, what they recommend. Sometimes the school social worker or the school psychologist, uh, or the school counselor is able to do some of these preliminary tests for you. If not, they can recommend resources in the community that can do them for you. Um, so I would probably begin with having a, a discussion with a school counselor or social worker, or school psychologist. Um, [00:19:30] uh, other resources include community based organizations, mental health, substance abuse organizations. They often can provide resources. And I would also say that as a parent, make sure that you have a good support system because you go, you're going through this too. Your child is going through this struggle, but you as a parent are going through this struggle. It's a, it's a crisis for you as a parent. So it's very important that you take care of yourself and build a, [00:20:00] build a support system around yourself. Because if your child is engaged in a substance and, and, and, and is battling some, some substance issue or emotional issue, this is going to be a journey. And, and as a parent, you're going to need a good support system around you to help you get through this journey as well.
Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Wise advice. And, and sometimes as parents, we forget about our own support network. Yeah. In an effort to support our kids. So. Well said. Um, well [00:20:30] said, Richard. Um, a curious question from my point of view. You mentioned earlier, um, you know, some of the reasons kids may, uh, head towards some of these drugs. It may be a, a mental health challenge or, uh, anxiety, um, it could be a peer pressure thing, you know, is there a difference in the way that, like, let's, you know, let's say one's, you know, through that underlying anxiety, one's through peer pressure, is there a difference in the way they're treated?
Speaker 3: No, they'd be treated the same. I mean, the issue is, [00:21:00] uh, to, to, to treat, um, the substance use and the underlying reason why the child is using a substance, which will be different for every child. Uh, and that's why getting a comprehensive assessment and a diagnosis and a treatment plan is so important because every treatment plan's different because every child in every situation is different. Um, but in terms of the actual treatment itself, um, no, there's not going to be a big difference in that. There might be a difference in how the child is treated. [00:21:30] Some kids will do very well in outpatient treatment. Some will do very well in intensive outpatient treatment. And some who are really battling, you know, ex extensive substance use or extensive emotional issues, they may do very well in a residential program where they will be having treatment over a longer period of time.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Yep. Thank you. Um, are there any other questions that, you know, as a parent I should be asking [00:22:00] you that perhaps I, I haven't asked already?
Speaker 3: I think you've covered the major ones. Um, I, I think, um, you know, sometimes I get a question, well, my child is a preteen, you know, they're 10 or 11 years old. Is, is this too early? And, and I say, no, it's never too early to be informed. Uh, education, uh, is, is a powerful tool. Knowledge is a power powerful tool. Um, you want to, you want to be informed about substance abuse. You [00:22:30] want to be informed about the warning signs as, as soon as possible. So regardless of the age of your child, whether they're 8, 9, 10 years old, or they're, you know, in their teen years, um, you, you want to be, um, as best equipped and as knowledgeable as possible, knowledge is power. The more you know, the less fearful you are about this topic, and the more confident you are that if you have to deal with it, you know what to do. You have a [00:23:00] plan. If, if you have to deal with it, you now, uh, feel better equipped and prepared to deal with it.
Speaker 2: Yeah. That, uh, wise words, Richard, wise words, and here's an interesting stat. You talked a little bit about preteens and, and those younger children right now in Australia specifically, and I'm sure the US is quite similar, approximately 4% of 12 year olds have consumed alcohol in the last week. So if you, you know, um, if you got a 12 year old daughter or son, you know, that's, that's a big number, like 4% of 12 year olds, you know, having alcohol with just [00:23:30] in the last seven days. Uh, you know, should again, to your point, prompt us to be prepared and not wait until these things start to arise. And your book is a great place to start. I just wanna mention your book, um, uh, briefly, but for parents, you know, if you're concerned about your child or just wanna be prepared, uh, Richard's book is called The Addicted Child.
Speaker 2: Uh, it helps parents understand how alcohol and drugs will influence or can influence their child's behavior. Uh, it offers resources to help parents find effective treatment options [00:24:00] and explains which assessments are important for diagnosis. Uh, and I believe it's written in plain English, which is, uh, proven to be a valuable resource for parents. Um, and that can be found on Amazon. Uh, if, if any parents are listening are interested in that. Uh, a quick question, uh, maybe a more lighthearted question just to round off our, uh, podcast today. Uh, Richard, if you could go back, uh, and give your 10 year old self one piece of advice, what would that be for you?
Speaker 3: <laugh>, I guess my [00:24:30] advice would be slow down, <laugh>, slow down. Don't be in such a hurry to, to get through life, because it's gonna go fast enough as it is. So enjoy being a 10 year old. Enjoy the teen years, uh, because you only get to live them once in a lifetime. So don't be in such a rush to, uh, you know, to, to get through things. Uh, uh, sit back, relax, and enjoy, enjoy yourself
Speaker 2: Great words. And, uh, for our listeners who wanna get in touch or reach out or connect with you somehow, how can they do that?
Speaker 3: I would recommend [00:25:00] you go to the Books website, which is www help, help the addicted Help the addicted Uh, when you get to the site, there's some interesting blog articles on how the pandemic changed drug abuse. There's interesting tips on, on how to, uh, work with your child's mental health. Some questions you can use to check in with your child's mental health. Uh, there's a link to take you to Amazon where you can order the book. Uh, it's, it's available as a Kindle or as a paperback. [00:25:30] It's only about a hundred pages, and I kept it, uh, short because parents don't have time to read volumes of information on this. I wanted it to be a handy resource that a parent could quickly read, get the basic information, and keep as a handy resource. So there's a link that will take them to Amazon, where they can get the book as either a Kindle or a a paper back. And there's also a link that if they wanna send me a note, uh, they can, uh, they can click on that link and, uh, [00:26:00] it'll come directly to me.
Speaker 2: Richard, thank you for your generosity today. Uh, you've got a, a wildly important message that I know many parents listening today and into the future in this podcast will benefit from. Uh, I appreciate the work you're doing, uh, both in your community and now through your book, uh, throughout the world. Um, so again, thank you for your time and generosity today.
Speaker 3: Thank you, Jamie. I really appreciate you taking the time to, uh, discuss this important topic with me and, and, and reach out to parents about it as well. So thank you very much.
Speaker 2: [00:26:30] You're welcome, and bye for now.
Speaker 3: Bye bye.

If you enjoyed the show, please connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Instagram. You'll find links in the podcast. Description parenting in the digital age is sponsored by Skill Samurai, coding and stem academy for kids. Skill Samurai offers after-school coding classes and holiday programs to help kids thrive academically and socially while preparing them for the careers of the future. Visit