Posted on January 20th, 2016

The New Age Addict

When we think of the stereotypical addict, we think of an old homeless person, begging for money, who has not showered in weeks. In today’s day and age, this is not always the case.  Today, the stereotypical addict looks like this: graduated high school with a good GPA, has parents who adore them and would give them the world 10 times over, feel tremendous pressures to achieve and please, and whose purpose has been defined by the schools system.  

Of course, we still treat people at Beit T’Shuvah who at one point in their lives filled the stereotypical addict mold, but more often than not, we are seeing young adults who look nothing like the stereotypical addict. In the past ten years, there has been a major shift in addiction because of the strict rules and expectations that parents impose on their children. When we applied to college we needed good grades, a few hours of community services, a couple extracurricular activities and a sufficient SAT score. Now, however, the expectations have risen to a level that is unachievable for most teenagers. In 2015, parents, teachers and college counselors suggest that students enroll in multiple sports and extracurricular activities, accumulate hundreds of hours of community services, take all AP classes, graduate with a 5.0 GPA and achieve a perfect SAT score.  Teenagers are assigned hours of homework and are over scheduled each night of the week. How does society expect these teenagers to stay afloat with all of the pressures that they must endure? When are teenagers supposed to be teenagers and enjoy their high school years? We don’t have the answers to these questions. What we do know is that the new face of addiction is this type of teenager – the over protected, overscheduled and stressed out teenager.

Some teenagers are able to balance the pressure, work through the stress and avoid using drugs as an escape from reality. However, many students are unable to cope with the expectations they are subjected to and are never given the proper skills to get through trying times. We regularly see these stressed out students turn to drugs and alcohol as temporary escape from their realities.

In California, marijuana is not seen as a “heavy” drug and there is not as much of a stigma associated with using it. However, what teenagers often do not know is that smoking marijuana takes a serious toll on the developing brain and the marijuana that is available now is highly addictive. It is not the same marijuana that “hippies” were smoking in the 1960’s. Many teenagers also drink and use prescribed amphetamines to keep them awake during their long days at school and long nights of studying. Again, many do not fully appreciate the harm in taking an extra Adderall because it is prescribed by a doctor. It is hard for teenagers to foresee that their marijuana smoking and Adderall popping may become a problem down the road. Unfortunately a lot of the time it leads a teenager to becoming addicted at a young age and, as a result, in treatment at a young age.

We can clearly see that the drug epidemic in affluent communities is often directly attributed to stress and over stimulation. Parents love their children unconditionally and would do anything for them, which is wonderful.  Unfortunately, such love actually can backfire and, ultimately, destroy their “perfect” child through both pressuring them to fit a certain social model of perfection or through overprotection. Sadly, in 2015, finding a happy medium of working hard and acting like a teenager is very difficult. Parents are rarely educated on how they should curb their own stress about their child succeeding and living up to their expectations. If teenagers did not have to live up to what their parents want them to be and instead could choose their own path, we may not see the “new face” addict so frequently. Severing the umbilical cord between the child and parents is essential, especially when the child enters treatment. Affluent youth must also learn how to care for themselves, which is something many have likely never had to do. They must learn that money, material goods, grades and scores do not matter in the long run! What does matter is being a kind person, helping others, feeling purposeful, finding a passion and enjoying life! These are skills that“new face” addicts need to learn.  

beit-tshuvahA “new face” addict lacks purpose and passion because the purpose of many affluent teenagers’ lives is to merely do well in school and later in life make a lot of money. How is a teenager able to find out what he or she likes if there is no time in the day for self-discovery? We have found in the Partners in Prevention program that educating teens and their parents is the most effective solution to combating the “new face” of addiction. The pressures are becoming more severe each year. We must find an effective solution soon, so we do not have more teenagers entering treatment straight out of high school!

Partners in Prevention uses Jewish wisdom and values to strengthen positive development for youth and lower the risk that they will engage in unhealthy and even dangerous coping mechanisms. Drawing upon Beit T’Shuvah’s wisdom and approach to helping individuals live well by utilizing the spiritual principles of Judaism, authenticity, and honesty, Partners in Prevention works to accomplish the following goals:

  • Through relatable and down to earth relationships with our staff, we help youth and their families identify and gain acceptance of what they are experiencing and feeling during challenging life situations
  • Through educational activities and the art of storytelling, we provide insight, confidence, and resources that enable youth and their families to grow in resilience and to act with integrity.
  • We raise awareness among parents about the genuine experience of their children and offer practical guidance and resources for addressing family challenges.
  • We help youth to utilize what they learn in order to work through life challenges without turning to drugs, alcohol, or other destructive addictive behaviors.

In sum, Partners in Prevention empowers our youth to make healthy choices through research-based educational programming, integrating both personal stories and Jewish spiritual principles. It has been shown to produce measurable growth in key areas associated with Positive Youth Development, including the ability to talk with trusted adults, improved peer relations and strengthened ability to avoid peer pressure, and growth in self-understanding and a sense of meaning and purpose.

It is critical that we remember that we must engage today’s teenagers in meaningful ways and focus on who they are and what matters to them. Grades, test scores and GPA’s do not define them nor do they measure their character. Rather, character and spirit is measured by how they live out their values. We must constantly remind ourselves and them about the importance of this, so that we do not lose sight of what matters most! If we want our kids to succeed and live good lives we must take this call to action seriously and start taking it now.

Beit T’Shuvah is both a Jewish residential treatment center and a full-service congregation offering religious services, holiday celebrations and study. Doug Rosen is the director and Jessica Fishel is the educational coordinator of the Partners in Prevention Program – Beit T’Shuvah’s response to the sobering issue of addiction amongst today’s youth – a generation in which all are “at risk.” Throughout Los Angeles, “Doug Rosen” has become synonymous with substance abuse education, teaching positive decision making, and in many cases, pre-empting families and their at-risk youth from a path of destruction. Learn more at http://www.beittshuvah.org/youth-services/.