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May 3, 2023

Episode 78: Pursuing an Addiction-Free Teenager with Richard Capriola

On this episode of Pursuing Uncomfortable, we dive into the world of teenage drug use and substance abuse. Our guest speaker, Richard Capriola, who has over two decades of experience in substance abuse counseling, sheds light on the dangers of street drugs, the prevalence of substance abuse among teenagers, and the warning signs that parents need to be aware of. We discuss the impact of the pandemic on teenage drug use and explore treatment options for parents who suspect their child may be abusing substances. Our guest also shares insights from his new book, "The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse," providing parents with invaluable advice on how to approach the topic with their teenagers and build an effective support system for themselves. Tune in for a powerful conversation on a topic that can feel uncomfortable, but is essential for parents to address.

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Richard Capriola has been a mental health and substance abuse counselor for over two decades. He treated both teens and adults diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders for over a decade while serving as a counselor at Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas. He is the author of The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse.

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🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro: On this episode of pursuing uncomfortable we discuss a topic of adolescent substance abuse and how parents can catch warning signs early on. Our guest, Richard Capriola, has decades of experience working in education, mental health, and substance abuse. And he's written a book called The Addicted Child, A Parent's Guide To Adolescent Substance Abuse. 

Join us today, as we cover topics such as the dangers of purchasing drugs off the street, the increase in vaping among teenagers, and the impact of the pandemic on drug use. Also, you will hear advice for parents on how to approach your child if you do suspect substance abuse, and how to build a support system for yourself.  🎶

Melissa Ebken  0:05  
Richard Capriola welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. How are you today?

Richard Capriola  0:10  
I'm doing great, Melissa, thank you so much for inviting me to the program. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. 

Melissa Ebken  0:20  
Well, I really appreciate who you are and what you bring on this podcast, we talk about the difficult things. And I don't know, many things that are more difficult than watching a child suffer with an addiction, or to watch a child suffer at all, but especially with an addiction that just robbed so much promise. So I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.

Richard Capriola  0:42  
You're welcome. And you're absolutely right, it is a very difficult and stressful time for parents, as they go through this, when their child is using a substance and all of the behaviors that accompany it. It is a very, very difficult time for for parents.

Melissa Ebken  1:02  
Absolutely. And as the parent of a 13 year old, I am a little bit low grade terrified, to be honest with you there. He's a great kid, he's made good choices, I think we're gonna be okay. But you know, there's always that chronic anxiety or fear that's lurking in the background, and this is going to be fantastic. 

Richard Capriola  1:26  
Well, I think that fear Melissa is healthy. I would prefer that parents be fearful of this subject. As opposed to thinking it can't happen to them, you know, it doesn't happen to to my child. You know, it doesn't happen to kids that go to my school and things like that, because that can be a very dangerous attitude that many times unfortunately, and sadly, catches parents off guard.

Melissa Ebken  1:55  
Oh, for sure. And I know that no person sets out to say, I'm going to become an addict today. That there's a whole slew of circumstances that come to bear and little choices that bring this about and I can't wait to dive into them. So let's just jump into it. Okay. So, how long have you been this? 

Richard Capriola  2:22  
I have been doing this for about two decades. I started out in the field of education. Was in education for a long time, about three decades. And then as I retired from that career, I moved over and started working in the mental health and substance abuse area, and worked at a mental health crisis center for a while, and then accepted a position at Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas. Menninger Clinic is a large psychiatric hospital that treats both adults and teens diagnosed with mental health and substance abuse issue issues. And I was hired as an addictions counselor, and worked at Menninger Clinic for over a decade, treating both adolescents and adults.

Melissa Ebken  3:15  
You have a lot of experience in this topic. As an educator, what did you look for in kids as red flags for for addictions?

Richard Capriola  3:29  
Well, every kid is different. You know, and there's different reasons why some kids get into alcohol or drugs. Some do it because of the the friends that they're hanging around with. And they want to join in. Others do it because of some peer pressure that they might be feeling. But for a number of kids, not all kids, but for a number of kids, there is often an underlying emotional, mental health issue, that that child is using a substance to medicate. It might be anxiety, it might be depression, it could be an emerging personality disorder. And then sadly, many times these underlying issues go undiagnosed and untreated. We recognize the substance use but we often miss the underlying mental health issues that that child will be struggling with. So it can be a challenge.

Melissa Ebken  4:38  
As a parent, and for teachers that are listening to the podcast, you know, what did we look for?

Richard Capriola  4:45  
Well, you know, one of the reasons I wrote my book, The Addicted Child; A Parent's Guide To Adolescent Substance Abuse, was to give parents and others who are interested in this topic, the warning signs, what they should be looking for. Because so many times I would sit across from a family and I would go through their child's history of using a substance. And they would look at me and they would say, I had no idea this was going on. Or if they did suspect their child was using a substance, they might say something like, I sort of knew something was going on. I knew it. But but I didn't think it was this bad. And, and these are good parents. These are good parents doing the best job they can. They missed the warning signs because nobody told them what to look for. So when I retired from Menninger, I wrote my book, The Addicted Child; A Parent's Guide To Adolescent Substance Abuse, I kept it to around 100 pages because parents are busy. They don't have time to read a lot of information on this. But I wanted to include the warning signs of warning signs on a child that might be using marijuana. I have warning signs for a child that might be drinking alcohol. And I have warning signs on a child that might be developing an eating disorder, or self harming themselves, because sometimes, these can accompany a child using a substance. So it's important that parents know the warning signs. Knowledge is power. The more we know the warning signs like anything else, the more likely we are to catch it and intervene early. But but as a general rule, what I say to parents is pay attention to the changes that you see in your child, you know your child better than anyone. So pay attention to the changes that you see, don't assume that these changes, these behavioral changes are just normal adolescent acting out behaviors, they may very well be that. But they might also be a sign that there's something else going on underneath the surface that that you need to be aware of. Some examples would be a child whose grades are starting to decline. A child who used to enjoy participating in extracurricular activities no longer enjoys those activities or participates. A child who used to introduce you to their friends, you knew who their friends were, you might have even known who some of their family members were, now becomes very secretive of who their friends are. A child who becomes very secretive of where they've been in what they've been doing, coming in at different hours of of the evening. And then of course, if you come across any drug paraphernalia, or strange odors in your house, those are obvious warning signs. So I say be aware of the changes that you see in your child, if those changes sort of come and go fairly quickly, it's probably not too concerning. But if they tend to linger on and on, and then you start to see more and more warning signs, then it's then it's, then it's important that you probably get some assessments done to find out what's going on with your child.

Melissa Ebken  8:00  
And kids are so different. There are some kids that want to speak about everything in their lives, they're very forthcoming with what they're doing, where they're going, who they're seeing the problems that they're struggling with, they are external processors and want to talk it out. And then there are other kids that those internal processors, those are difficult kids, they keep everything inside until they can work it out. And they, when they do ask or want to communicate, it's well down the road. And it's difficult to keep tabs on them.

Richard Capriola  8:39  
It is because they're very much introverted. They can be very quiet, it's sort of hard to read what's going on with them. But again, you probably as a parent, have had years of experience dealing with this child. So you know that child better than anyone, and in you probably have the best approach in terms of, of working with that child.

Melissa Ebken  9:08  
So if we do get to a point where we begin to suspect something, and the child is evasive, which of course they would be. They're not gonna say, Yep, you caught me. I've been doing all these things. What did we do in those? 

Richard Capriola  9:26  
Well, I think the first thing you do if you suspect your child is using a substance or drinking alcohol is have a conversation with the child or try to. Don't, don't accuse the child. Don't, don't threaten or punish the child. You want to come at the discussion with an inquiring point of view and you want to keep the focus on you. In other words, you know, I've noticed these changes and I'm concerned that you might be using a substance or drinking alcohol and that scares me. Can you help me understand why I might be feeling that way? Or I suspect you've been smoking marijuana, you know, and and that bothers me. Can you help me understand why I'm feeling this way, and see if you can invite the child into a discussion with you about how you're feeling about the fact that you think they might be using a substance or you know that you're using a substance. Now, that's a discussion that's probably going to go one of two ways. It's either going to blow up, and the child's going to become argumentative and defensive and angry. Or it might go the other way, and you've learned some things. But but regardless of how that discussion goes, those first discussions, if you're still concerned, as a parent, you want to move to the next stage, which is to get the assessments done that I recommend in my book, so that you can have some professional assessments done, rule in or rule out if there is a problem. And if there is a problem, get a treatment plan in terms of what you should be doing to help that child.

Melissa Ebken  11:02  
And folks, the link to this book is in the shownotes, make sure you click on that link and get a copy of this book, it's a great guide to have on your bookshelf, hopefully, the best book you'll never need to apply in your life. But knowledge is power and have

Richard Capriola  11:17  
Knowledge is power. And I'm hoping that people who take the time to read this book, and it won't take very long, it's about 100 pages. But after reading the book, they will feel more confident, less paranoid, less afraid of this topic, and feel like I hope I don't have to deal with this issue. But if I do, I feel much better prepared to do so.

Melissa Ebken  11:43  
And it's difficult because you know, your kids are going to struggle against you and assert their independence, they're going to go out with their friends, they're going to try things. You know, at some point, they're probably going to experiment. And as a parent, how do you manage expectations? How do you say, All right, I know you were drinking last night. And you know, for one kid, it may just be something they tried once or twice, and not a big deal, whatever. And for another kid, it could lead to something else? How do you find that nuance and keep that conversation open? 

Richard Capriola  12:31  
Well, I think as a parent, you have to set clear expectations of what is acceptable and what's not acceptable in their, with their behavior, you have to clearly let them know that any type of illicit drug use or alcohol use is clearly not acceptable. And will not be tolerated. And beyond that, I think if you have an opportunity to have a discussion with your child about what these drugs do, I think that can be important. And in my in my experience working with teenagers, it didn't do me any good to tell them that drugs are illegal or drugs are bad for them. Or if they continue to use drugs, they might not graduate, their grades might go down, they might not get into college or get a job because none of that meant anything to them. They didn't believe it. But what did seem to capture their attention was a neuroscience approach. In other words, when I could talk to them about the importance of the developing brain, the adolescent brain. Help them understand that their brain doesn't get fully developed until around age 24-25. And then talk to them a little bit about how these drugs work in the brain and what it does to the brain, that seemed to capture their attention. I have a chapter, a brief chapter in my book about the neuroscience, and how these drugs work in the brain that I think parents should take a few moments to read. But if it's one thing that captures their attention, because kids are curious, they want to learn is the neuroscience approach emphasizing how important it is to protect their brain and what some of these drugs like marijuana can do to the brain that is more likely to capture their attention than just telling them these are these drugs are bad for you.

Melissa Ebken  14:28  
I like that. And then the terrifying thing is with the rise of fentanyl and other deadly things, a child might try something one time and it could have fatal consequences

Richard Capriola  14:42  
There's always that possibility, especially with drugs that are very powerful like fentanyl. fentanyl, fortunately, is not commonly found among the teenage population. But it's important that parents understand how deadly this drug is and even though it's not widely used among the teen population, it's important for parents to educate their child, that pills that they might obtain on social media, or, or through the internet, or pills that might be given to them by friends might contain fentanyl unknowingly. And that's the danger with getting drugs over the internet, over social media, from strangers, from friends, who might have purchased those drugs, not knowing that they contain fentanyl, and then pass them along. So it's a very dangerous drug.

Melissa Ebken  15:45  
Absolutely, and let's face it weren't those drugs aren't coming from inspected laboratories that follow protocols and safety issues, these drugs are being made in less than ideal circumstances, by folks with questionable ethics and practices, and they're not using the best equipment. So take away the effects of just the power that the drug has. But the conditions that they're putting, synthesized in alone are quite harmful and questionable. That's true. Let alone then the power of the drug itself.

Richard Capriola  16:27  
That's true. And when you purchase a drug off the street, you don't know where it came from, you don't know how many different stops along the way it made and what somebody has added to it, or how they changed it. So it really is very risky, dangerous activity to purchase these drugs over social media, over the internet, or even from friends that that may be selling or offering you the drug. One of the things that research is tells us is that these drugs are widely available on the street and kids know it. For example, when we ask high school seniors, how easy is it for you to get marijuana? Over 80% of them tell us it's no big deal? They can get it if they want it. When we asked them? How easy is it for you to get alcohol over 80% say, not a problem, we can get it if we want it. So these drugs are widely available and these kids know it. The other aspect is we ask them, well, how dangerous do you think these drugs are? And again, they don't think these drugs are very dangerous. They don't think drugs like marijuana, for example, are very dangerous. So when you have these drugs that are widely available, and the kids know they're available, and they don't think they're very dangerous, the risk of them getting involved in these drugs goes up dramatically. So it's a it's a very concerning situation that's out there. The other thing that we noticed was that there has been a surge a dramatic increase in vaping. among teenagers, where there will be vaping, nicotine and vaping marijuana. Prior to the pandemic for three years, the percentage of teenagers that were vaping, nicotine and vaping marijuana was going up at a dramatic rate. Now the pandemic came along. Interestingly enough, the pandemic came along and it forced the largest one year decline in marijuana use that we'd seen in 48 years. Drugs across the board declined during the pandemic year because kids were pretty much sheltered at home not not going to school, not associating with their friends. Now, we did see a slight rebound in 2022. You know, there was a big increase in alcohol use a year after the pandemic, but slight increases in drug use a year after the pandemic. So we'll see in the future if the increase continues. And we get back to the pre pandemic levels. But but the pandemic did did drop teenage use of drugs and then rebounded somewhat a year after the pandemic.

Melissa Ebken  19:25  
From watching, you know, shows like Dr. Phil and the like in the past, they always emphasize to let kids don't save kids from the consequences, the legal consequences of their behaviors, but advocate for treatment, advocate for rehabilitation and those sorts of things. What are your thoughts on that topic?

Richard Capriola  19:47  
Well, I think the earlier you catch the warning signs as a parent, the earlier you're able to intervene, it's like anything else. If you know the warning signs you're more likely to catch something early on, and we do know that treatment works. Mandatory treatment works. You know, I never never met a teenager when I was working at Menninger Clinic who voluntarily wanted to come into treatment. They all yelled and screamed and bargained and, and tried to get out of coming into the hospital, but the parents held the ground, and insisted that they come in for treatment, and many of those kids successfully went through treatment. So the important thing for parents to recognize is that your child's never going to want to agree to an assessment or to testing, they're not going to agree to want to go to treatment, and them telling you no, it's probably not the first time you've heard it, you know, you're used to your child telling you no. So as a parent, and it can be a difficult decision for a parent to put their child in treatment. But, but, but treatment works. And the sooner you can intervene and get your child into treatment, the more likely you are to put this behind you.

Melissa Ebken  21:08  
Thank you for that. And as we kind of come to a close on this topic, what are some final thoughts and some final words that you would like to share with parents, or maybe with the kids who are listening to this podcast?

Richard Capriola  21:23  
Well, for the parents, I would say, you know, learn the warning signs. Know what to look for. You're more likely to catch it early on, if you know what to look for and you know what the warning signs are. And I would also say to parents, if if you are going through this with your child, you've discovered your child is using a substance, you've gone through the assessment, perhaps your child is in treatment, it's very important that you build a support system for yourself. Because this is going to be a very difficult time, it's going to be a time when you will feel scared. And when you feel feel anxious, when you will start to question what kind of a parent am I? How did this happen? How did this happen to our family? And those are all very normal feelings and reactions. But but as your child goes through this and goes through treatment, and through the assessments, it's important that you build a support system for yourself. And it can be a family friend, it can be a church community, it can be a support group. But I think it's really important that parents who are going through this with their child build a support system around themselves so that they don't feel so isolated and alone.

Melissa Ebken  22:42  
Thank you for that. And thanks again for coming and sharing all of these things with us. And again, folks, I encourage you to click on this link and buy this book. As Richard told us, it is a quick read. It has so much valuable information and I hope I never have to pull it off of my shelf again. But it's there if I need it. 

Richard Capriola  23:03  
Thank you, Melissa. Appreciate you taking the time to to speak to me today.

🎶 Episode Outro:Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode. If this encouraged you, please consider subscribing to our show and leaving a rating and review so we can encourage even more people just like yourself. We drop a new episode every Wednesday so I hope you continue to drop in and be encouraged to lean into and overcome all the uncomfortable stuff life brings your way. 🎶

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Richard Capriola

Richard Capriola

Richard Capriola has been a mental health and substance abuse counselor for over two decades. He treated both teens and adults diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders for over a decade while serving as a counselor at Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas. He is the author of The Addicted Child: A Parent's Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse