Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the troubling reality of teenage drug rehab centers

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Teenager smoking marijuana
Teen smoking pot
That joint is not his biggest problem
[source: ABC News]

I make no secret of my distrust towards most “treatment/rehab centers” (typically those named along the formula of “[Problem] Anonymous”). More often then not, they’re simply a convenient place for society’s unlikeables to be dumped to remove their burden from their family and friends, who then get to feel happy with themselves for “helping” the troubled individuals as they purportedly get counselling and whatever else it is that society decides they need. And, even more commonly than otherwise, such centers are generally built along entirely fallacious premises with methods that could just as easily be accomplished through self-help rather than listen to some preachy counsellor drone out truckloads of platitudes upon their hapless patients. Add to that the fact that many of these residents are only there because of infractions that wouldn’t even rate as “trivial” on any rational person’s moral scale, and there really aren’t a whole lot of reasons left to respect these establishments.

But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Paul Elam, a veteran counsellor for youths with substance addiction and abuse problems, has to say about the unsettling and carefully hidden truth behind rehab centers for teenagers. It’s nothing terribly new, but it is satisfying to have actual experts confirm the fact that many things we take to be beneficial and benign so often … aren’t.

O.K., so you found some weed in your teen-agers room.

Depending on the kind of parent you are, your reaction to that can range from mild amusement to thermonuclear. But assuming you are not going to smoke the stuff yourself, you are confronted with making some decisions on what to do about it. Perhaps you think it is time to call a counselor, or maybe even the thought of a treatment center for young people with drug problems crosses your mind.

As someone who worked in the chemical dependency treatment field for two decades, and who wrote and directed several treatment programs, let me make a suggestion about that.


Don’t even think about it.

To clarify, let me tell you some things you won’t hear from the staff at treatment programs, or anyone else interested in making a buck off your child’s “problem.”

First, there‘s this funny thing about teenage drug addicts. There aren’t any. Or at least they are so far and few between that I can count the ones I have seen on two fingers. So for your benefit, an understanding of addiction is in order.


First, for physical addiction to be established there has to be the presence of physical withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is stopped. My money is on the fact that if you take your kids pot away they won’t even get so much as the sniffles. This probably has something to do with the fact that marijuana isn’t addictive.

The other diagnostic criteria, and the one the treatment centers rely heavily on as their cash cow, is the continued use of a particular drug or drugs despite the onset of severe life damaging consequences. In this we are talking about things like multiple arrests, lost jobs, physical ailments and failed marriages, all related to the use/abuse of drugs. Again, the odds are good that Johnny didn’t lose his paper route or burger flipping position from smoking some weed, or suffer any of these other complications.

And as much as Johnny, or even you, may protest, getting caught by your parents isn’t severe and life damaging- unless there is something really wrong with the parents.

And then, we get the classic example of how locking kids up in a penitentiary environment not only probably won’t help them much, but actually serves to worsen their cases many times over:

It reminds me of a joke. Mom and Dad find Johnny’s stash of pot and take him to the treatment center. Dad is concerned, mom is crying and Johnny looks scared out of his mind.

The counselor asks, “Johnny, do you know why you are here?”

“Yes,” Johnny says, voice trembling, “I was smoking pot.”

Just then another couple walks in with their son, also named Johnny. Dad is angry and reeks of gin, Mom is crying so hard she can hardly open her bottle of Xanax.

The dad says, “We were just on our way out of town when we had to come here. Can you fix the little bastard? We’ll pick him up when we get back. A month O.K.?”

The counselor turns to the other Johnny and asks again, “Johnny, do you know why you are here?”

“F*ck you, bitch,” says the boy.

“Isn’t this great!” says the counselor. “Johnny, meet Johnny. You can both share the experience of treatment together. Perhaps we’ll make you room mates!”

And yes, that is the punch line.

Anyone with an iota of common sense can see where this is going.

The whole basic premise of such prison environments (which rehab centers more than qualify as) is transparently faulty, so much so that it’s an amazement that so many people still think of them as places where actual help is obtained. It flies in the face of the most basic of common sense. You just can’t lock helpless, vulnerable and malleable kids in with actual hardened criminals and recidivists and not have the latter’s negative influence rub off on them over time. It’s just human nature.

Personally, I strongly believe that penitentiary-style treatment centers need to disappear if we ever truly intend to actually help addicts, especially wayward youths. And that’s just for those who actually need help. A teenager who takes a few tokes every now and then doesn’t qualify as a troubled person, no matter what typical reactionary adults may think.

(via The Agitator)