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The Effect of Divorce on Teen Drug Abuse

Parents cope with the stinging pain of divorce in different ways. As adults, we know how life is filled with constant ups and downs and can easily trick ourselves into thinking “it’s not so bad.” When we can no longer ignore the pain, heartache, anger, and frustration, we seek out other ways to steel ourselves so we can carry on through another day.

Our children, who bear witness to it all especially in the wake of divorce are confused and bewildered, lonely and ashamed. They see their parents having trouble getting along and try to figure out what it was they did to make things turn ugly. Mom and Dad are busy going through their own emotional turmoil and aren’t as available to lend an ear as they once were. Some, in an effort to numb the pain or escape the fighting, may turn to drug abuse and addiction.

Grief and Loss Contributes to Drug Addiction

Loss is something we all experience throughout the course of life. A lost dog, a favorite toy, a best friend who moves away, grandparents passing on; it’s part of the give and take that makes life meaningful. For every loss, including divorce, we are subjected to the accompanying wave of grief, sometimes more powerful and incapacitating than other times. A child may not express her loss to you in words, but it is there nonetheless, as powerful and consuming as the grief that consumes you over the loss of your former life. Divorce can leave your teen agitated with unanswered questions. Rather than bother you with their questions or concerns they may begin to experiment with crystal meth, alcohol, marijuana, prescription painkillers… whatever drugs are available to them.

Struggling and Coping with Teen Drug Addiction

The National Longitudinal Sample of Adolescent Health sponsored by the Mapping America project, reveals that teenagers whose parents have divorced are four times more likely to use drugs than teens whose parental relationships are intact – even after they reach adulthood.

Trying drugs leads to using drugs, which quickly escalates into dependency and abuse, and finally, addiction. It’s not a pretty picture, but for anyone weighed down with the emotional baggage of divorce, little else can appear to be able to solve the problem.

A Positive Step Toward Fighting Teen Drug Abuse

When we aren’t feeling well physically, we go see a doctor. But when we feel emotionally unwell, most of us just try to suffer through it hoping it will clear up on its own. Would you try that tactic if you thought you had the flu? Probably not, because the consequences of missed days at work and a potential for developing bronchitis or pneumonia are just too great. Your friends and family would do everything they could to persuade you to see a doctor because you could die if you don’t get help.

Emotional and mental illnesses are no different. Most mild cases can be treated with outpatient talk therapy an hour a week at a counselor’s office. Your child’s school most likely has a school counselor on staff that can offer advice or referrals to get the right help for your situation. In more serious circumstances, inpatient or outpatient drug addiction treatment centers may be necessary. Emotional pain doesn’t just vanish. We must identify and accept that it is a valid response to a crisis and open ourselves to the possibility of healing through patience and understanding.

By Wendy Lee Nentwig