Jessica Lahey has lived it. And then some.
Now she wants parents and others to know how to avoid it. Or, at the very least recognize the telltale signs to by-pass it.
“When I finally got sober in 2013, I knew that the one thing I couldn’t do was have shame and guilt and secrecy about this,” says Lahey, a married mother of two boys and recovering alcoholic. “It was going to be really important for me to talk about it.”
And she is doing just that through her second book, “The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence,” released in April 2021.
Lahey understands the subject matter and audience from multiple perspectives.
A teacher by profession, she has taught every grade between middle school and high school (grades 6 to 11), over two decades.
As an educator, she taught English to teens and youth in a rehab centre.
As a journalist, she is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, The Atlantic and the Washington Post, among other publications, on related subjects.
Most compelling, however, is her lived experience.
“I was raised by an alcoholic,” Lahey shares candidly. “One of my parents was raised by an alcoholic, and so on, and so on, and so on. And on my husband’s side of the family, there’s a whole lot of it as well in his ancestry.”
Lahey has been sober since 2013 she says. A six-year-long journey that began with an intervention.
She is married to an infectious diseases physician. Together they have sons, now 22 and 17 years old.
“My kids are at higher risk just because of their genetics. And I can’t do anything about that,” she says.
Her journey of addiction preceded parenthood. It continued while she was a young mother, ending in 2013, with Lahey in her 40’s, and her sons fully aware of the journey. “For me, this is a prevention issue.”
Prior putting fingers to keyboard Lahey immersed herself in over a year of research for the proposal phase for the book. A large part of that rigorous examination centred on understanding the latest science on the adolescent brain, alcohol and drug addiction in youth and how to prevent it.
“The thing that I would like people to know is that we have proven evidence-based substance use prevention programs,” says Lahey. “And those programs are very much based on social-emotional learning programs, and social emotional-learning has only recently come into vogue as something that we even talk about.”
Lahey also tackles the impact of the pandemic on reported elevated levels of substance abuse and addictive behaviours in both adults and children.
“Those sort of messages that we send about the fact that we drink in order to medicate our feelings to oblivion or obliterate our feelings or to avoid our feelings — what we’re teaching kids is that when feelings are challenging, you can self-medicate in order to not feel them or you can numb them out so you don’t have to feel them. And that’s that messaging is what I really, really worry about,” she says.
During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Jessica Lahey also addresses:
- Trends in addition among adolescents
- How parents may be contributing to addictions in their kids
- Detecting the signs and symptoms of addiction in children
- Proactive prevention tactics
- Tips to build addiction-resistant kids
- Her journey as a recovering alcoholic
- Adolescent brain development
- Cultural views about alcohol exposure
Watch the full interview with Jessica Lahey and Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk:
Click for video transcription
Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a mom of two, a middle and high school teacher, a journalist and New York Times bestselling author of the gift of failure, how the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed.
Jessica Lahey’s newest book is called the Addiction Inoculation, Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence. Released in April 2021, it combines evidence-based research with her professional experience working with teens in rehab, as well as Lahey’s personal journey as a recovering alcoholic. Jessica Lahey joins us from her home in Vermont. Thank you so much for making time for us today.
Oh, my goodness, thank you so much for having me.
I wanted to start, Jessica, by asking you why did you want to write a book that includes you know, such intensely personal and an a raw account of your own battle with addiction.
My very favorite genre of my, the stuff I read the most of is the intersection of memoir and research based on fiction. I just I love that category, that intersection and I, you know, I had revealed some things you know about my family and gift to failure. And in my first book, and I’ve revealed some stuff in I had a column for three years of the New York Times, little bits and pieces come out. But I think the difference here is that I was raised in a home where I was not we were not allowed to talk about this, as Susan Cheever puts it in her books, the elephant just in the Alka alcoholism as this huge elephant in our home. And we had to like maneuver around it, while it was like stomping on stuff and messing up our lives and pretend like it wasn’t there. And that was really quite traumatic.
And, you know, I don’t think I think it was just because my parents were scared, and my parents were ashamed. And my parents, you know, just didn’t want to deal with it. And so when I finally got sober in 2013, I knew that the one thing I couldn’t do was have shame and guilt and secrecy about this, it was going to be really important for me to talk about it. And because I tore so much talking about gift to failure, and I’m in front of 1000s and 1000s of people a year. And I always mentioned that I’m in recovery, just as a part of my introduction.
And every single time I mentioned that I’m in recovery, at least five people email me afterwards, you know, contact me through my website to talk about, you know, they’re afraid, they think someone they know may have a problem, they’re worried about their own drinking, and it’s been an amazing place to be in to help other people feel a little better, a little less shame, a little less guilt about talking about it.
It’s interesting, and I’m curious to know, what was your thought process prior to you sitting down and writing this as to what the impact on your family would be specifically, your two boys, one of whom is 17. The other one wanting to? What kind of process of thinking did you go through about that impact that it could have potentially have on them.
So my boys are used to being a part of my writing, my younger son has been in a bunch of the New York Times columns. You know, there’s we have agreements about what I’m allowed to talk about what I’m not allowed to talk about, there’s even stuff from there, when they were really young, that they’re still not quite sure they went out in the public domain. So we have really, we have some good conversations about, about this stuff, especially since chapter nine, chapter seven of the book, eight, seven or eight, sorry, is about peers and my friend, my son, Ben’s friend, Brian, and by the way, Brian is his real name and the other young adult that’s in there prominently as Georgia. And that’s her real name to both Georgia and Brian, and my son’s talked about the fact that this, you know, this is stuff that people really need help talking about, and Georgia and Brian in particular said, you know, the hell we’ve been through is only going to be worth it if someone else it helps someone else. So, you know, this was a, I’m very protective of my boys, I’m very protective of what I share. So all of that is they’ve got to read those sections ahead of time I talked to them I we had a conversation in the car just the other day. And it led to a really interesting conversation. And I said, I’m doing a presentation Can I can I talk about the fact that we went on this drive and we got lost, and we have these great, this great conversation and how helpful it can be to sit side by side instead of looking at at each other. And my, my kid was like, yeah, sure, that would be great. So it’s a process of respecting their privacy and respecting you know, making sure they get first right of, you know, to go through and weed anything out. They don’t want to be there.
So what was the reaction when you told them your intention to write this book?
They, they, you know, they just think I’m a big geek, you know, they’re not particularly impressed by what I do. They’re not my younger son has got it gets to travel and and go to my speaking, engage and stuff. And, frankly, they find it all pretty boring. I mean, the most exciting. And the big thing that involves them this time around that was actually actually was the most talked about thing was there was a three page feature in People Magazine a couple weeks ago. And so they had that they and people wanted pictures of my family and my kids don’t like hanging out and being in pictures. So that was like the most contested thing that we had to deal with was, Oh, my gosh, a family picture. But it was also really good, because I realized we had like, no family pictures. And so the fact that people asked for one was a great excuse to have a photoshoot and get a family picture, something we needed anyway.
That’s wonderful. You know, the timing of this book, obviously, the relevance of the subject matter. Yeah, I find it quite intriguing for the times that we’re living in. What do you see as the key contributors to the culture of dependence, in particular that we’re living in? As it relates to youth?
Yeah, as well. And I think that’s really I’m glad you said that, because I think people need to understand that this book, the addiction, inoculation is not about adults and use I mean, yes, my stories in there, this is about adolescents and their, you know, substances that can be low to moderate harm to your brain or to your body in adulthood, have a major impact on the adolescent brain, both in the short term and in the long term. So I am not saying you know, no, you adults can’t drink in front of your kids. This is about kids. This is about kids brains, that are much more vulnerable to the impact of substances. So thank you for mentioning what as it as it relates to kids. So it’s been really interesting. The, the things that I would like people to know is that we have, we have proven evidence based substance use prevention programs. And those programs are very much based on social emotional learning programs, and social emotional learning has only recently come into vogue is something that we even talk about. Now, you know, a lot of schools have SEO programs. And so I think it points at the fact that what those programs are trying to help kids with is their feelings of how they, how they react to other people, how they respond to other people, how they have conversations, how they understand their own brain and their development, and how they build refusal skills. And the problem is, is that I think, at the heart of substance abuse, at least for a lot of kids that I talked to is the feeling of, I’m not enough, I need something to help me feel to either numb out my emotions, because of this trauma that I’ve had in my life. And trauma is a big risk factor. adverse childhood experiences are a big risk factor. But there’s things like untreated learning issues and you know, things that kids feel the need to either numb out or they’re quote, you know, self-medicating, which is a terrible term, but self-medicating their anxiety, their depression, their ADHD. And the problem is that a lot of these substances can work really well in the short term to quiet those demons, but they don’t they, they exacerbate the problem over the long run. So I think we have a bit of a not dealing with our emotions, and also not feeling like we deserve to take up space in the world, or we have imposter syndrome, or we need the liquid courage to feel like we get over social anxiety and all of those very deep seated needs to feel like we’re enough fuel, this need to make ourselves selves feel like we’re more better, whatever that thing is. And for me, honestly, it makes sense in the sense that I treated my I was treating, I was drinking to cover up my anxiety. And the drink that I met I miss the most now honestly, is the one I used to get to have right before I went to a dinner party or some sort of outing, so that I could overcome that hole. Who am I to go be with these really fascinating people who’ve probably done really cool things, and what are we going to talk about, and I don’t know these people. So I was a little bit of social liquid courage for me as well. So I completely understand that impulse to, to use in order to feel to fill that hole or to feel like we’re enough.
On that note, you know, as a product of a family with a history of alcoholism, what did you personally do to try to protect yourself and prevent going down the same course.
So I didn’t I mean, I tried I, I try I was scared of so I was raised by an alcoholic, one of my parents was raised by an alcoholic, and so on, and so on and so on. And on my husband’s side of the family, there’s a whole lot of it as well in his in his ancestry. So I tried really hard by sort of running to the sober end of the spectrum, and I was like a peer alcohol and drug counselor and stuff like that. And despite all of those best efforts, I wasn’t dealing with what was at the root cause of the whole thing, which was my anxiety. disorder and a whole lot of shame about what happened to me as a kid, my parent who drank and so it snuck up on me and my 40. So I didn’t escape it. But as soon as I got sober in 2013, immediately, my thought is, okay, well, if this if I’m the product of many generations of this, how do we make that stop here? And so, knowing that the experts say, you know, the common refrain is substance abuse is preventable, well, what does that mean? What is preventable mean? What am I What can I control? What can I not control? What’s myth? What’s reality? And so this book was, you know, I did I researched for over a year before even writing the proposal for this book. I wanted to I wanted to be able to answer all those questions, I have a very cool job, and that I get curious about something and then I get to go research it for a couple of years and write about it. And so that’s, that’s what this is about. And what I ended up with was, you know, what looks like the scales of justice with risk risk factors on one side, and prevention on the other. And those risk factors, you know, if they’re heavy enough, if that sides heavy enough, you’re going to need a lot of protection in order to balance that risk out. So that’s really where the book comes from, and helping kids with, you know, all of those social emotional learning things that they need, and how do we communicate with kids about drugs and alcohol? How do we boost kids self efficacy, all of that sort of stuff is is a part of this book.
As part of the research that you mentioned, what would you say that in general, struck you about the trends around the incidence of addiction and young adults that, you know, in the course of your research really took you back?
There were a lot of surprising moments, actually, in researching this book, I think, for example, so my 22-year-old had been raised in a home where, you know, when we raised him, we were not permissive with alcohol in the sense that he could have a drink whenever he wanted. But we give him sips here and there. And I had bought into this sort of European moderation myth of, you know, if I let my kid have his own little glass of wine, or his own a sip of my wine, it’ll be no big deal when he gets to be of age, which here in the US is 21, it’ll be no big deal. And he’ll be able to drink like a moderate drinker. And what I found out is that actually doing that giving my kids sips letting them or in the US there another common thing, and I’m assuming it happens, where you are, as well as that, some parents say, Well, you know, they’re going to drink anyway. So I’ll just have everyone in the house, and I’ll take everyone’s keys away, and I’ll provide the alcohol. And, you know, the problem with all of that is, it’s just magical thinking it’s not it doesn’t work. It’s a myth. When parents are permissive about kids drug and alcohol use during adolescence, their kids are way more likely to have substance use disorder during their lifetime. Whereas if parents give a consistent and clear message of No, not until it is legal, and legality isn’t really what I’m concerned about, what I’m concerned about is cognitive development. The longer kids can be in this period of from puberty, till the early 20s, the further along kids get in that period of massive cognitive development and restructuring and myelination and synaptogenesis, the longer they can be in that period, without any substances getting in the way of all the chemicals that are in the brain, the neurotransmitters and hormones, the safer their brains are, the less damage is done, obviously. And the further we The closer we get them to 18 or 21, the lower their lifelong risk of having substance use disorder becomes so a kid who starts at 1314 has like a 50% chance risk risk of having substance use disorder during their lifetime. Whereas if we get them to 18, or 21, it’s around 10%, which is what it is in the general population. So get them to 18 or 21, at the very, at the very least, and then we’ve not only protected their brains, we’ve lowered their risk of having substance use disorder and that later on,
So let me ask you, what would you say to parents who are watching or listening to this? who say, Oh, no, I’ve done exactly what she said, don’t do. Is there a way of undoing that?
So as I mentioned, my kids are being raised differently. So I have an also a 17 year old and for the 17 year old, we sat everybody down at one point, probably during the pandemic, when we were all looking for things talk about anyway, and said, you know, look, no, I thought I was doing the best I could we thought we were doing the best we could. And yet I’ve learned something and in the process of learning that something well I’m we need to change what we’re doing around here. Because, you know, that’s what I want to see from you, which is that you do the best you can do given the information that you have. And then if you learn something new, you change what you’re doing to be better. So what we’re doing to be better is are we have now a consistent and clear message of No Not until you’re of age. And what’s interesting is because teenagers are teenagers, just two weeks ago, my husband ordered some takeout and restaurants have been allowed to do takeout cocktails because of COVID. And my husband said something like, Oh, this is delicious. And my 17 year old said, Can I taste it? And my husband and I looked at each other, and he looked at us. And we said, No, because it has alcohol in it. And he was so funny. It was a test, because he just rolled his eyes and laughed, and he was just checking, just checking to see. But again, if I knowing that he knows what I know, he’s read most of the book, we’ve talked about it, if I did anything other than a clear and consistent message of No, not until you’re 21, what I’m saying to him is, I know there’s evidence that says I could do more to protect you. And yet, I’m not going to do it, because it’s just easier not to.
So that and plus my kids came out of me with a, you know, a hugely increased risk of substance use disorder, genetics is about 50 to 60% of the risk picture. So knowing that I don’t have time to mess around with being, you know, going against the evidence and not talking about it, it’s really important to have very little time to read these kids. So yeah, it’s never too late, though, you really can. And especially if you change your mind based on the fact that there’s better evidence, and you go to your kid and you say, you know, medical by, you know, I want to do better, it’s it’s modeling the exact behavior you want to see in your kids. So definitely, it can be a good thing to have a conversation about something like that.
As you know, we live in a world where exposure to and access to all kinds of different substances, you know, alcohol, drugs, vaping, etc, has probably never been easier. So what would you say to parents about what they can do to protect against their children’s, you know, temptation and the allure of being drawn to these addictions potentially?
Well, first and foremost, I mean, the way we protect kids from being tempted by the allure the escape, you know, in the Georgia chapter, which is chapter nine in the book, which is about what schools can do, the she makes it really clear that she was seeking an escape from her anxiety, it was just unbearable to her. And when she heard that alcohol can do that, that’s what she went for. So, you know, the very first thing we have to be thinking about is making sure that our kids are getting, their anxiety is getting addressed, their depression is getting addressed, their learning differences are being addressed, because many of the risk factors include things like anxiety, depression, undiagnosed learning differences, social ostracism, academic failure, adverse childhood experiences, obviously, abuse, neglect, divorce is on that list, divorce and separation is on that list. So as you know, adoption is on a sort of expanded list. There’s a lot of risk factors that I don’t want anyone to feel guilty or shamed about what I want people to do is to look at that list and say, Hmm, interesting, okay, well, that means my kid, you know, maybe his risk levels right about here. So here are the protections I can put in place. So knowing ahead of time that early intervention for risk factors is really, really important. Next, understanding the reason that the word inoculation is in the title is not because you know, we’re in a period where it’s just sort of in vogue to be talking about inoculation since that’s what we’re so focused on right now. But because there’s this thing called inoculation theory, that’s really, really interesting. inoculation research on inoculation theory shows that when we give our kids useful responses to, for example, an offer they might have from a friend to have a drink or to vape, or to get in the car with someone who has been drinking or to have sex before they’re ready any risk factor we’re trying to protect kids from, if we give them information and data and actual responses, and this is why there are like scripts in the book of actual responses kids can give, we not only increase the risk that they will increase or increase the chances that they will use those responses in the real world when they see the real thing or encounter the real thing. We increase the chances that they’ll talk to us about it because we’re working on communication. And here’s the coolest part. These inoculation theory is generalizable. So if I’m working with my kids on on refusing, you know, drugs and alcohol, it also protects them against the risk of getting in the car with someone who’s been drinking or having sex before they’re ready. These protecting against risky behaviors, it really does generalize in a really amazing way and so inoculation In theory, and forming our refusal skills, helping our kids learn refusal skills that are based on inoculation theory is really, really important. And there are ways to help kids, you know, say no without well saving face and while not looking like a total dork, and if that’s what they’re worried about, then I, you know, there’s a couple of pages of them actually, of these ways that you can help kids give them refusal skills that that will work for them.
That’s so interesting. Let me ask you, do you feel with all the different perspectives that you bring to this subject matter that you have adequately inoculated your two sons against this?
It is such a good question. You know, there are never any guarantees. I mean, like I said, my kids are at higher risk just because of their genetics. And I can’t do anything about that. So assuming here’s, I think of so when I talk to people about helping someone who might be struggling with actual substance use disorder, I say Think of it as like a 100 piece puzzle. When my dad sat down on the guestroom bed in his room, the night after I blackout drank at my mother’s birthday party, and he said, I know what an alcoholic looks like, you are an alcoholic, you need to get help. He was the 100th piece in my puzzle. But there had been 99 other pieces, people had said things to me, I knew I had gotten hints, I had, you know, all kinds of little injuries, there were lots of little, lots of pieces. So I have been someone’s 100th piece, but it’s really, really rare. More often, I’m like someone’s third piece or someone’s 52nd piece or whatever. So there’s a thing and recovery that I’m using is never quite as fun once you have some of that recovery language and information in your head. So you know, there’s that little sneaking thing in the back of your head, that kind of harsh is your buzzer a little bit. So what all I can do is hope that maybe I have reduced my kids risk enough so that they won’t fall victim to substance use disorder. But if they’re part of that 10% of the population that can’t control their use, maybe they’re going to start with like, piece 48 in place, or piece 27 in place. So even if I can’t stop that from happening, I’ve given them a lot of the information and the language and the understanding of the harm that is done to harsh their buzz enough so that maybe they’ll be starting halfway through the puzzle or a quarter of the way through the puzzle. And it will take them less time to have that 100th piece fall into place and say I need help. So for me, this is a prevention issue. This is also a How do I put this like a pre-intervention, this is like me laying the groundwork for all of that stuff that if my kid has a problem later on, and I need to intervene and say, sweetie, I know what an alcoholic looks like. And I think you might be an alcoholic, then they will see they’ll be closer. They’ll be ready sooner than I was. Hopefully they don’t have to go as far along as I did.
On that note, what was the tipping point for you?
Yeah, it was my dad, I so I, for me, I knew for a while that it was getting out of I was losing control of it. It hadn’t. I was very lucky. I have what some people in recovery called a high bottom I you know, I just I could see that it all these terrible things were just about to happen. They were right around the corner. I wasn’t drinking at work. I was I hadn’t been drinking and driving. But that was all just about to happen and so on. On June 7 2013 was my mom’s birthday party. And it was very, there were a lot of people there that I loved and had known me my entire life. And I got so drunk. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember what happened. So the next morning was when my dad, you know, first thing in the morning while my husband was out running, my dad came in and did a little mini intervention on me. And it was incredibly meaningful also because my dad grew up with a parent who, who was an alcoholic and that and lived in a home where they weren’t allowed to talk about it either. So and my dad my dad is so he loves me so much. And he’s so conflict avoidant. He doesn’t like upsetting me, he doesn’t like making me mad. So the fact that he had the courage to intervene on me when I know it scared him to death that I was going to get angry or whatever. The fact that it was my dad, I think was was a big chunk of why it was so affecting to me and why at that point, I had no excuses. I knew I had a problem and it was time. So I got up out of bed and I threw up and we packed up and left and I went to a meeting that night so and I’ve been sober since that night so well. At the time. Were you a mother and what Was that impact like? Yeah, so I don’t my kids, I, they say that they don’t remember seeing me drunk or having an issue. I hit it. So I mean, I was, I hit it so well, my husband, even my husband was on the lookout for it. And as a physician, he didn’t know. He knew that it was getting to be maybe a problem. But he I don’t think he had any inkling, I know, he didn’t have any inkling of how bad it was. So we started talking about it fairly early on, as I said, we didn’t have I didn’t have time to waste because they’re because of their risk levels. So we start talking about it very early on, I came out to them very early on, explained why wasn’t drinking explained that their risk was higher. They also knew that one of their grandparents, and that one of their great grandparents was an alcoholic. So it was something that I knew we needed, needed to be easy for us to talk about. And here’s the thing about talking about the scary things like substance abuse or sex, I mean, the sex conversation isn’t just one conversation, either. It’s lots of conversations as kids that are developmentally appropriate. So the more conversations we have, the easier it gets, in fact, my 17 year old, was in biology class, while a while back, and his teacher pulled the students in the class and said, how many of your parents talk to you about drugs and alcohol, and my kid just laughed, he said, When don’t my parents talk to drugs and alcohol, we just don’t have a choice.
It can’t be a secret, it can’t, I can’t feel shame or guilt. It we just have to move forward from where we are. So I think it’s been it’s been great. We talk about it a lot. We talk a lot about their friends. As you can see, in the chapter about Brian and the book, we had to talk about it a lot, because my son had a friend who, who had to go to rehab a couple of times. So it we had to talk about it. And there was just was no way around it.
Speaking of rehab, you mentioned earlier that you weren’t an English teacher, in a rehab center for teens and youth. I’m wondering what how that experience informed you at that time, given your background? And then ultimately, how did it inform this book.
It was, I mean, I’ve I’ve been a teacher for I was teacher for a long time, I’m not teaching right now, I would still be teaching at the rehab, actually, if they had kept the adolescent unit but they didn’t they were making room for more adults, they got rid of the adolescent unit. So now if you live in the state of Vermont, there is no inpatient rehab for kids, which is terrible. But it was it. It was such an amazing, positive, wonderful teaching experience. And a lot of you know, when I was spending all this time thinking about what I could do to prevent substance use disorder in my own kids, I was also spent a lot of time looking at my students and saying, Oh, my gosh, what could have prevented your landing here? What is it that, you know, and all of that experience is anecdotal? You know, it’s not, it’s not like it’s a representative sample of kids across the country, it was one small rehab in a small state. But I learned a lot about what kids go through when they go through rehab and recovery and rehab in recovery looks different for kids than it does for adults. It just, it’s different. And a lot of adults are able to move away from the forces that you know, the friends who they drank with, or the friends that they used with, or the toxic household that they were in. But for a lot of kids, you know, they’re living in a situation where a parent is abusing drugs and alcohol as well. And then we send them off to rehab the kid off to rehab and we patch them up, and then we send them right back to the same environment that they were in before. And they don’t have a lot of control to change that. So and their brains are not done yet, then you know, their brains are not finished developing until their early 20s. And a lot of what gives us impulse control the ability to plan the ability to set goals. And not only just big goals, but short term, achievable goals to reach those goals. Those are all executive function issues. And those are all in the frontal lobe. And that’s all stuff that doesn’t fully Connect until, you know, late adolescence. So the things that allow me to have as an adult, to control myself and not have that first drink, to not be tempted by that first drink are not fully in place for kids yet. So trying to treat kids in rehab and in sobriety and in recovery. The same way that we treat adults is a losing proposition. It just doesn’t work. And I think it’s really important to understand that.
What would you offer as a potential strategy to a parent who doesn’t have the knowledge experience, you know, all of the things that you’ve just described, is actually just trying to protect against, you know, a disaster within their family within their their child, what would you suggest to them as a fitting first step in order to see the signs of potential abuse in their child.
So that one is fairly easy, it’s change. When kids, you know, adolescent people talk a lot about the fact that, you know, adolescence is a time of great change. But if you see your adolescent changing very suddenly, if you’re if they’re suddenly getting less sleep, if they’re eating less, if they’re suddenly very depressed, if they’re suddenly very withdrawn, that’s the easy part. But here’s the other part, we also have to keep in mind, that sudden changes for the better or something you need to pay attention to, too. So if you have a kid who’s been really, really depressed and is suddenly just elated and walking on clouds, as much as I would love to look, that gift horse in the eye, I don’t want to look that gift horse in the mouth, I want to say, Oh, yay, look at what a great parent I am I change the turn things around. We also need to think about why that change is happening as well. And it’s been really difficult during COVID, because, you know, lots of kids went absolutely nocturnal during COVID binded for a while, you know, meals are kind of happening whenever we get to them. And you know, things have been a little topsy turvy, and kids also, you know, their social emotional, learning their goals, their their needs, or needs is the word I was looking for. They’re not being met. And a lot of the regulation that they get comes from having a schedule that is predictable, and that that gives them a sense of security. And when that goes away, that’s really troublesome for that’s difficult for them too. So, for me, I’m always looking for change. I don’t you know, I don’t get easily thrown by the ups and downs of adolescence. You know, if a kid is cranky, one day, I sort of say, Okay, well, let’s see how things are tomorrow. Because that’s how adolescence works. But if you have persistent change, and especially if it’s sudden change that that sticks for a little while, that’s when I start talking about Sweetie, what’s going on to you know, the last couple days you just haven’t something hasn’t seemed right. And if that persists, then it’s time to sort of there are a few books I really recommend. One of them is by Dr. Joseph Lee, and it’s called recovering my kid, and he’s the head of adolescent services at Hazleton, Betty for the what used to be beautiful but Hazleton in Minnesota. They have a really wonderful adolescent recovery program there and his book is really great. David chefs clean talks a lot he’s David is Nick chefs dad, Nick was the boy and beautiful boy, so has was a methamphetamine addicted to methamphetamines. And David, in that book clean talks a lot about there’s some prevention stuff in there. But what the book is predominantly about is, number one, how do we sort of get our hands around this substance use issue in the United States, but also some treatment and recovery stuff in there as well. My specialty is on, you know, my expertise is in prevention, not as much intervention and recovery. So I will always defer to the experts in those areas. And Dr. Joseph LEE certainly is one of those. And David chef.
I’m curious, this pandemic, it’s such an interesting dichotomy as it relates to this particular subject matter. Never have you had so many parents around their kids for such long periods of time, and it probably ever, you know, memory. At the same time, you’ve got all these restrictions that could potentially exacerbate the thought of relying on like you say, escape mechanisms. What do you see as the impact of this pandemic on addictive behaviors?
So we know that adults drank more, a lot more have for over the past year and a half. And as I said, drinking in front of kids is not that’s not what worries me What worries me is the messaging about why we’re drinking more things like, you know, man, I’m just not coping with this, well, I just really need a glass of wine or, you know, I’m really freaked out about having to go back to work or I’m really, you know, and then using alcohol to medicate or to numb out those feelings that we don’t want to deal with. You know, in a in a typical period, we could say something like, you know, oh, you know, the holidays with family that is going to be so stressful. I hope there’s enough wine at grandma’s house. Those sort of messages that we send about the fact that we drink in order to medicate our feelings to oblivion or oblate obliterate our feelings or to avoid our feelings. What we’re teaching kids is that when feelings are challenging, you can self-medicate in order to not feel them or you can numb them out so you don’t have to feel them. And that’s that messaging is what I really, really worry about. And a survey came out just the other day. That one in six adults let that one and six parents let their kids drink at home. During the pandemic, and again, that’s those the permissive stance on drinking with kids simply leads to higher risks lifelong risk of substance use disorder. So and the nice thing I actually tweeted this morning that my son’s school sent out a note saying they’re sending out a survey to assess. It’s an anonymous survey. And it’s going to it’s meant to assess kids, the kids, the students, social emotional health, what do kids need right now, because they’re planning for sort of next year for re-entry to in person school. Right now, my kid is in school half the week and not in school and the rest of the week. And, to me, that’s like the most important thing we can be doing right, now we need to talk less about learning loss, we need to talk less, because that’s an arbitrary thing that you know, it’s it’s not that sort of a red herring, what we need to be talking about is what’s happening with kids mental health, social emotional learning, and we’re going to have to do some real meat remediation where that’s concerned, and a lot of kids are going to have social anxiety going back to school, a lot of kids are, this has become our new schedule, this has become our new, you know, the rituals we have at home, the the things we’re doing at home to have some sort of sense of a normal day to day schedule, and up ending that next year is going to be difficult for kids too. And we’re gonna have a lot of kids who are going to be going to new schools where they have no relationships, it’s now been long enough that kids are going to be moving from, you know, middle school to high school, or you know, elementary school, the middle school, or whatever it is, with no context for where they’re going. So it’s just going to take a lot of patience and a lot of support for not the academics as much as the emotional needs of the kids going back.
What has surprised you most in terms of the feedback that you’ve gotten on this book, in the short time that it’s been out?
It’s been great. I mean, I’m hearing from a lot of people, some, you know, a lot of people I’m having to sort of just refer somewhere else, because again, it’s about intervention and treatment. And that’s not my wheelhouse. So I make sure to give back to give them resources. What’s been interesting to me, and I sort of, I don’t read comments, I don’t read articles about myself, once the book is out there, it’s out there, and I have no control over how people react to it. So for me, it’s just sort of from my mental health that sort of just best not best not to know. But the stuff that lands in my email box, or that I see in comments when I’m doing online. The, what’s been interesting to me is some of the defensiveness about the myths. So when I talk about, like, for example, the European moderation myth. So first of all, that’s a permissive stance on drinking. But the moderation myth of European moderation myth is, is also a myth. Because the idea is you want to teach your kids to drink like, quote, like the Europeans were, you know, moderation is the rule, but but the European Union as a whole has the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world. So then people come back to me and they say, Oh, well, that’s just Eastern Europe. That’s not like France and Greece in places like that. And I said, well, actually, Eastern Europe, they’ve been making such progress, lowering their consumption rates, that they’re the ones moving the needle right now in Europe as a whole. And I’m sorry that you want to hold on to this myth with such tight-fisted way. Because when you look at for example, even you know, France, which often is the place that people are thinking about when they’re dreaming about raising, you know, their, their little French, like children who drink with moderation. You know, even Francis had to say their public health ministers have had to say, you know, what, we, that this is our drinking, or alcohol consumption rates are just too high and higher than they should be for people’s health. And so they’ve had to recalibrate their recommendations on how much people should drink per week, or I think it’s per week, in order to bring things back in line. So it’s, it’s surprising to me and the whole, I know, kids are going to drink anyway. So I’m going to buy the kids the keg and have it in the basement and, you know, take the keys. Number one, that’s illegal. And if I were to find out that my kid was at a place being served alcohol, I would be horrified. Number two, you are actively increasing your child’s risk of having substance use disorder over their lifetime, and you’re exposing their brains to alcohol. And there are risks to kids to adolescence that don’t exist for adults, kids Miss under estimate how drunk they are, which is why they’re more likely to drive when they’re drunk. They also don’t tend to feel the negative consequences of drinking too much. So they don’t get that sort of like, Oh, I shouldn’t do that again, because they don’t tend to get as hung over as an adult who consumes the same amount would and girls consume. Girls are we women are missing. We have less of a particular enzyme that breaks down the alcohol so women, not just from a body conference. standpoint, but from an enzyme standpoint tend to end up with higher blood alcohol content. There’s just so many things that can do harm and adolescence that, that the feedback that I get is just, No, you’re wrong or No, I don’t want to believe that or here’s the exception. No, not this country. It’s that’s been surprising to me how important it is for parents to hold on to those those myths.
What do you want? Anybody who reads the addiction inoculation to leave with?
Just the idea of delay, delay, delay, I think. And, you know, well, first of all, I want parents to understand that it’s only 10% of the population that’s either wired, the way I’m wired or has, you know, the susceptibility, my brain just works differently when it comes to alcohol and substances. So by for it is of all likelihood, it is totally likely that your kid is going to be fine and not have substance use disorder over their lifetime. And that’s great, that’s 90% of the population. However, in the meantime, their brain is not done developing until they’re in their early 20s. So if you’re sending them to the LSAT tutor, and you’re getting them school tutoring, and you’re having them practice piano every day, and you’re doing everything you can do to make it so that they’re as successful as pot as possible, and yet you’re allowing them to, you’re taking a permissive attitude with, with their brain with letting them consume substances. And you’re, you’re allowing them to expose their brain to real damage from, you know, for example, kids who consume cannabis on a regular basis, have smaller hippocampus than kids who don’t and the hippocampus is where is the seat of memory processing in the brain and you know, that alone right there if you know if you’re worried about what college your kid is going to get into than having a permissive stance around substances and saying their brain whatever little mate will make it up with this tutoring over here. You know, that’s that’s problematic. So delay, delay. delay is the big message here. Not only are you protecting their brains for longer, you’re lowering their risk for substance use disorder over their lifetime.
Such a ton of important information Jessica Leahy, author of The Addiction Inoculation Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence. Thank you so much for your time today.
You are so welcome and thank you for the great questions.