Formative experience shows addiction – and the response of loved ones – knows no age boundaries

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CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — When I think back on my early counseling career during the late 1990s, the snack Cheetos comes to mind.  

Stock image | Photo by diego_cervo/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

I worked with a youth program at that time. Youth groups are, by far, the toughest way to “cut your teeth” in the substance abuse field. This particular facility had local and state proctor youth attending groups in an intensive outpatient setting. 

On one occasion, I had information that one of the local boys was distributing cannabis to some of the clients in the group. Another counselor and I confronted the 16-year-old, who denied bringing marijuana to the program. He was sent home, as we could not keep the integrity of the program safe and drug-free if he was unwilling to address this issue.

I received a call from the young man’s mother. She was livid. I could hardly get a word in as she shouted at me over the phone, “Why did you kick him out?!”

I tried to get her to redirect the question to her son, who was home with her now. 

Each time I tried to redirect her question to focus on the real issue of her son’s behavior, she angrily asked again why he was kicked out. I could see there was no getting through to her. 

Unsure how to reach this parent, I redirected away from the issue altogether.

“Where is your son?” I asked.

“What?” she responded, along with some expletives.

I asked her again, “Where is your son?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” she said, again with a few more colorful phrases.

“He is on the couch!” 

“Is he doing anything?”

Her anger did not recede. “He is sitting on the couch!”

Taking more of a risk, I asked, “What is he doing on the couch?”

She replied matter-of-factly that he was watching TV.

“Is he doing anything else?” I kept the line of questions going.

“Yes, he is eating.”

“OK, what is he eating?”

She lost it at that point. “He is eating Cheetos!” she yelled.  

I had been working with this mother for several weeks in family group counseling, and I knew her story. She had read a few books about how to parent an addict and was very engaged in her son’s life. What I said next pained me to have to say to her

“So, your son got himself kicked out of a court-ordered substance abuse program for distribution of cannabis. His probation officer will likely put him back into detention until he gets the case back before a judge. He is facing some serious consequences for his behavior… yet he’s home watching TV and eating Cheetos.” 

This is an all-too-common theme among family members of the clients I work with. They are far more invested in change than their addict is. 

This mother and her son are an amalgam of a few situations I observed back in the youth groups. If you examine the motivation behind the parent’s reasons for enabling their child, you will find that the addiction tends to rely on a loved one’s fears as much as it relies on the addict to continue to use. 

Today, the adults I work with have very similar family dynamics, even though clients may be 50 years old and their parents retired. Get your loved one into treatment and begin family group counseling to start the healing process for yourself. 

Written by AARON WARD, Lion’s Gate Recovery. 

• S P O N S O R E D  C O N T E N T •


  • Lion’s Gate Recovery
    • Locations: 260 W. St. George Blvd., St. George | 535 S. Main St. #2, Cedar City.
    • Telephone: 866-471-9476.
    • Website.

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