I often think of a touching patriotic story that took place by a flagpole in a city park. An older man proudly looked up at Old Glory as he quietly hummed the Star Spangled Banner. Tears flowed freely down the trembling face of this World War II veteran. A group of young people walking by noticed the old man and began to shake their heads and chuckle. They didn’t understand the price he and others had paid for that Flag. Similarly, only you know the price paid in love and sacrifice for your son or daughter. Today’s children are often strategic targets for spiritual battle and any child can fall prey. For adolescents and young adults, alcohol/drugs, pornography and other sexual sin, the drug culture, and the double life that goes with them are our most powerful cultural predators. Addiction is a life-long battle but it is never alone because it is a blaring alarm that warns of a bigger spiritual war. The hooks that are used to lure young people into this trap include; physical and sexual trauma, abandonment, the lack of attachment, neglect, peer rejection, low self-esteem, boredom, family hurts, emptiness, numbness, daily social combat, academic struggles, body image distortions, instant gratification emotions, entitlement mentality, and the illusion that the wild side of life can give them that feel good status that they can’t get anywhere else. Until an effective way of dealing with these real-life challenges and needs is developed, drug, alcohol, pornography, and sexual addiction behaviors are not going to stop.
Kids who struggle with chemically dependency, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual acting out, bad attitudes and behaviors, and the double life come from all kinds of family structures including married parents, divorced parents, remarried parents, and single parents. Some kids are birth children and some are adopted. Some families are strong, loving, and committed, and some aren’t. Some are rich, some are poor, and some are in the middle. Some kids are smart, athletic, good looking, and religious, and some aren’t. However, all of these kids and their families are the same as you and me, just real people created by God to love and be loved at a core to core level of intimacy and to fulfill God’s dreams for our purposes.
I’ve worked with more than three thousand adolescents struggling with alcohol, drugs, pornography, sexual compulsions, and the systemic problems that go with the territory. Every single one of these kids was gifted with the same awesome, God-given potential as any other kid. The solutions were never quick and easy, but they were always possible. In every situation I asked the question, “What makes this kid’s story make sense?” Not what makes it right or smart, but how did they get to this point? When an adolescent gets involved in these sins, all involved parents and counselors want to find the cause, and rightly so, because when you find the cause, you find the keys to solutions. But the cause of adolescent and young adult struggles like these has many pieces that work synergistically to create the big picture. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it takes many pieces to create the picture. Not all families are a part of the cause, but they are all indeed the primary resource for solutions. Discovering the jigsaw puzzle is the first step to a full recovery. Over a million American adolescents and young adults will need treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse this year. Many tens of thousands will go to inpatient treatment programs. The parents within those families all want sobriety and a successful life for their children. Sadly, the majority will fail. Only the minority will succeed. What determines the outcome? The successful families identify; (1) the extent of the problem, (2) discover the causes, (3) create a strategic game-plan, and (4) diligently take intentional daily action until the battle is won, which includes the parents doing “their own work” when needed.
In other words the families who succeed are the ones who accurately determine the severity of the situation and bring a big enough gun to the fight. Taking a BB gun to a grizzly bear hunt is not a good idea.
I often say “winning the battle” and I want to clarify what I mean. Winning, overcoming, defeating, and other words denoting the same concept are thought of in terms of an ending point. For example, “we won the game” means the game is over and we had more points than the other team. “We defeated the enemy” means the battle or war is over and we are the victors. Winning, in the case of addiction, is defined by learning to live a life that is healthy, balanced, fruitful, and fulfilling. Once developed, an addiction is an irreversible condition of the brain and is considered a disease by the counseling field. Overcoming in the context of addiction is learning to thrive in spite of it, but it does not mean ending the addiction because once an addiction is developed that condition of the brain will always exist. Because a person has an addiction does not mean they have to be actively using and abusing their chemical or process addiction activity. Please hear what I am saying and not what I am not saying. I am not saying that his life is destined to be a disaster centered on the idea that “I am a defective person because I have an addiction” on the contrary, life should be healthy, balanced, fruitful, and productive even with the addiction.
A non-addicted person can start using a chemical (or other addictive behaviors) on any particular occasion and then stop basically at any given point. The person with an addiction cannot stop once he/she starts, like an avalanche, once it starts it will not until when it finishes its course. Your son may not have developed an addiction yet, but instead may be abusing alcohol and drugs and/or porn and sex, thereby be on the path of addiction. In other words, the switch of addiction may not have flipped yet and his “not stopping” may be due to other factors with which he is struggling. Having an addiction has nothing to do with character, spirituality, intelligence, love of family, or self-discipline, thus the concept of disease. The person with an addiction has lost the ability to control their use but continues to do so in spite of the negative consequences they are experiencing.
There is a genetic component at two levels that affects the development of an addiction. First, the tolerance pace of the individual refers to how fast he needs to increase his intake of a substance or the graphicness of porn, or the risk of a sexual behavior in order to get the same mood change or feeling as he previously did with a lesser amount. Second, as this tolerance pace is continuing its course there is no way to determine at what point addiction will develop. However, it does seem that a faster tolerance pace often correlates with an addiction developing sooner and a slower tolerance pace with a later development. But when will an addiction kick in with any given individual? There’s just no way to predict it so from that perspective there is an aspect of its timing that is a combination between genetic and environmental factors. One person abuses drugs or processes for months before addiction kicks in and another person abuses for years before developing an addiction. Just like our skin responds differently to the sun’s rays, some people burn faster than others. The concept of genetic predisposition is a strong factor as far as the tolerance pace and the timing development of an addiction. However, anybody can develop an addiction and these genetic factors, along with several environmental factors, contribute to the speed at which it happens. The most important thing to remember is that no matter when it is developed, once you’ve got an addiction, you’ve got it for life. The goal then becomes learning how to live a life that is free of addiction symptoms as well as healthy, balanced, fruitful, and fulfilling.
Setbacks don’t turn into comebacks by getting lucky. Any comeback is built on a winning strategy. The strategy includes praying with humility, planning with wisdom, and acting with courage. The winning attitude is like the tortoise on a triathlon, not the rabbit on a hundred yard dash.
If you’ve ever had a child in life-and-death danger, either physically or spiritually, you know that nightmares can be true. You may never have said it, but did you ever feel like God had broken the rules? Did you make statements like, “How could God let this happen?” Any of us parents would feel this way. Our experience with our clients and their families is that God is using difficult situations to get a family the kind of help that lasts. Doubting the scripture, “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord” is a part of these dark days. That is where faith has a chance to show up….in doubt. Without doubt, there is no need for faith.
After years of working with young adults and adolescent males and their families in these battles, I asked myself, “If this were my son or daughter, what kind of program would I want for them?” My question was answered with the vision of a program that had all the things I had ever dreamed would help a kid and his family win this battle. God has blessed that vision into a reality: Capstone Treatment Center. Its name is no accident because it honors our Builder. That you are reading this letter is no accident either. I believe that someday, maybe even today, you’ll know someone who needs help because of the nightmare some family is facing. In your search for solutions, please don’t wish for luck. Pray for God’s guidance and see where He leads you.
Adrian Hickmon, Ph.D.
Capstone Treatment Center