Under Pressure

Under Pressure

Lisa’s second New York Times best seller is a celebrated, urgently needed guide to addressing the alarming increase in anxiety and stress in girls from elementary school through college.

Untangled

Untangled

Lisa’s award-winning New York Times best seller–now available in eighteen languages–is a sane, informed, and engaging guide for parents of teenage girls.

Episode 28

Bored, Sad, & Smoking Weed: How Do We Talk to Kids About Drug Use?

A parent writes in asking for help to address a teenager's marijuana use. Some teens are turning to drugs in this pandemic as they are looking for ways to cope with the sadness and boredom. Dr. Lisa explains what actually works in getting kids to stop using drugs and how to talk with kids in a way that's likely to keep them from becoming involved with drugs in the first place. Dr. Lisa talks about choices kids might make in the pandemic that could have irreversible consequences, while also offering tips on positive coping. Reena asks when adults should be concerned about their own behavior with regard to alcohol or marijuana use.

February 23, 2021 | 26 min

Transcript | Bored, Sad, & Smoking Weed: How Do We Talk to Kids About Drug Use?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 28: Bored, Sad and Smoking Weed. How Do We Talk to Kids About Drug Use?

 

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.

 

REENA: So, every night my husband has been mixing these incredible cocktails. I feel like we’re on vacation. It’s this book, it’s by a man named Derek Brown who owns a Colombia room in Washington, D.C. and the book is called “Spirit, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World.”

 

LISA: Wow.

 

REENA: It’s fabulous. I’m telling you every night it is the most perfect cocktail. We have done old fashions, we’ve done gin martinis, it’s been great.

 

LISA: All right I’m impressed because if I have a half a glass of wine I need a nap.

 

REENA: I know because you’re so small. You’re so small.

 

LISA: I’ve never liked, alcohol and my body have never been very good friends. It’s just how we are. Okay, so you want to know what I’m doing every night?

 

REENA: Yeah, tell me.

 

LISA: I am watching “Call My Agent” like you told me to.

 

REENA: What do you think,

 

LISA: Well, I love it. Here’s the thing. Okay, you know I live in Cleveland. We are freezing our butts off here. It is so cold and I’m a little bit obsessed with staying on top of my steps because I’m finding that making sure walking enough helps me feel better in the pandemic, and it is so cold outside that I’m struggling to do it, and so we have a we have a treadmill in the basement and the beautiful thing about “Call My Agent” is because it’s subtitled I can easily do it on the treadmill because the treadmill’s really loud and so I can read my TV show while I walk on my treadmill, so thank you, thank you.

 

REENA: Oh my gosh the whole point I thought about watching a subtitled series is you have to focus, like you can’t multitask but you just blew that one out of the water.

 

LISA: Yes and I’m getting steps though it is, quite literally this morning it was seven degrees, so I cannot wait till February’s over. All right, what do you have for us this week, Reena?

 

REENA: So we’re talking about alcohol and when is too much too much, it got me think about substance abuse, and then we found this letter in our inbox from a mom talking about drug use with her child, and it says: ‘Dear Lisa, having a son who’s 14 and who went in to freshman year during this pandemic has been really difficult. My son’s group of friends began experimenting with edibles and smoking pot the summer of 2020. We thought it was safe and good for them to be outside riding bikes and skateboarding with masks on of course. Little did we know they were experimenting with drugs. One of his close friends has really gone overboard. His parents found his vape pens and joints and all the paraphernalia. They’ve even walked in on him smoking pot in the living room and smoking in their bathroom. I know they’ve tried consequences but nothing seems to be working. The boys are used to having basketball practice, other clubs and sports that they did most days after school and sometimes on the weekends, and now they do find themselves bored and with nothing to do and not much to look forward to. I think a consequence of the pandemic is really helping spur drug use, maybe even drug use at an earlier age. Please, what should parents do to put a stop to this before it gets even more serious?’ This letter hits on so many points. The boredom, the sadness.

 

LISA: And the way in which the pandemic can kind of set the table for drug use to begin and then, as this person mentions at the end, to maybe really grow out of control, which I have to tell you, Reena, when I started to think ahead last summer as I was thinking, okay this pandemic looks like it’s sticking around for a while, like what should we really be worried about? Kids getting deeply involved with drugs or even trying drugs and then getting stuck on drugs was probably that and depression were my number one and number two concerns, and it is in the narrowing, it is in the not having much to do, and I started to worry and I remain worried, I mean if the kid isn’t going to school physically and the parents aren’t home there are a lot of kids who if they were at school would not smoke pot all day, but if they are left to their own devices at home and they’re bored and they, you know, no one can really tell they’re high, they will smoke weed all day and that terrifies me, absolutely terrifies me.

 

REENA: So, what should this parent do at this point, right?

 

LISA: Well we have two different levels here. So we have the person who wrote the letter who’s on it in a way, right? You know, didn’t think they’d be doing edibles, you know thinking about it a lot now, and then we have the description of the kid in the family where it sounds like things have gotten out of control where there’s use and its unabated, so the first question is what do we do in the pandemic? Like let’s say there’s a genuine reason to worry that a kid is thinking about getting involved with drugs, already involved with drugs, and we are under pandemic conditions, where clamping down on this might be really hard, especially if you can’t supervise in a meaningful way. So, the first thing we do is we just talk about the dangers of drugs and and like I want to spend some time on that, but if it’s already past that point where use is under way, parents are finding stuff, parents know what’s happening and I would encourage parents to take it very seriously early and often, reach out to their pediatrician and find out what’s available in terms of clamping down on this. Maybe drug treatment programs if necessary and the step-wise process I would do actually if the parents were that it’s already well under way, you can work with your pediatrician around getting your kid tested, urinalysis, on a weekly basis. And so you can say to your kid, you cannot use drugs. Full stop. You cannot use drugs and we’re going to start testing you weekly, and if you don’t stop, we’ll take it to the next level.

 

REENA: You know sometimes in hospitals when an alcoholic comes in for some other issue, the doctor will prescribe beers or alcohol because they’re so addicted to that, right? Is there ever a point where you just, it’s a kid, right? You just cut them off cold turkey? Like how does this work?

 

LISA: Well certainly for something like marijuana or nicotine, right? Because parents are also worried about vaping, they should just stop, I mean there’s no there’s no withdrawal that is so ornery that it’s dangerous. It is true that for people who are really, really out of control alcoholics, an abrupt stop can be dangerous, and so, when we say detox for like very severe alcoholics that tends to happen where there’s medical oversight just because the body is so thoroughly adapted to that level of alcohol, but an abrupt stop on, you know, marijuana, nicotine, alcohol for a teenager should not be a big deal. Well it’s going to be a big deal to the kid but it should not be something that is medically ill-advised.

 

REENA: But, you know, you tell a kid not to do something, especially at that age, then they hide it behind your back,  right? I mean I see the drug testing, I get that, but what is the best way to go about this so they really stop and they get it they understand? How do you talk to them?

 

LISA: Well this is really, I think gets us to that broader question of like, how should we talk to kids about drugs, right? With or without the pandemic? And my view on this is exactly in line with what you say, which is at some level they do have a lot of power to experiment and certainly, you know, in the pandemic and it’s only because we have jobs, we have to go to work, they can do stuff during the day, and then of course post-pandemic they leave the house, they go all over town, they can do things, and so for me the approach that we always want to take when drug conversations come up, and this is of course presuming that you’re already not, you know, far down a dangerous road, is to talk about it from a medical health and safety standpoint as opposed to from a, don’t let me catch you, it’s illegal, you know, it’s a immoral standpoint, because first of all, you’re probably not going to catch the kid, second of all they don’t actually care that it’s illegal, like that’s one thing I’ve learned about teenagers, the third is they may not share our morality view on this if that’s where we’re coming at it, but their health and safety goes with them everywhere they go, and they are, at the end of the day, fundamentally responsible for keeping themselves safe.

 

REENA: It’s so interesting to hear you say, talk to them sort of about that health, not so much moral but health and safety. Like I am the Nancy Reagan Just Say No to Drugs generation, she launched a huge social campaign, remember the buttons, Just Say No to Drugs, not that everyone listened to that, but you know it was a great idea in theory, right? But why does that work? The conversations with kids who come in to talk to you that might be addicted, what do you think really works and gets through to them to get them to change their behavior?

 

LISA: Well, so if a kid’s really addicted, right? Or really in trouble with drugs, alcohol, anything, I will say, look, it’s your job to take good care of yourself and you’re really struggling to do it. If you can’t do it then as responsible adults we have to help you do it, right? We have to help you stop, and that becomes the rationale for things like drug treatment, upping drug treatment and I can tell people right now, even in a pandemic drug treatment centers are figuring out how to do their work, so don’t feel like that’s off the table right now, but there’s also the reality that by, you know depending on where you live, by eighth or ninth grade your kid’s going to come home and talk about other kids smoking pot or experimenting with stuff, and for me this is the golden moment to start to have this conversation and our instinct in the movement could be the Nancy Reagan, like well don’t you ever, just say no, and that’s okay but what’s hard is they’re still curious, they’re still saying that those kids are, you know, they didn’t burst into flames, you know, so they remain open, so what I have done as a parent and also a clinician is when I hear about kids talking about other kids using, which is a really common thing and how they open the conversation, I will say that makes me so worried for them neurologically, and then I will do my thing where I’ll say look, here’s what we know. Until age 24 or 25, the brain is still developing, and we know that drug use, marijuana use, can harm a developing brain permanently, and I’ve even said to kids in my practice, have you noticed that the kids who are smoking a lot of weed are kind of fuzzy, and they will say, yes, and I will say, that is what I’m talking about. It actually gets in the way of neurological functioning both short term and potentially long term, and so for me the way we want to enter this is in some ways to say, look if you’re going to try pot, whether you’re my patient or my kid, I actually can’t stop you. I mean lik, we really can’t. But I really don’t think you should because you have one brain for the rest of your life. It is your only brain. You stand to do real harm here and you’re the one who’s going to have to live with that impact.

 

REENA: Okay, you just sold me. We’re done for the day. Thank you very much. That really got to me. That is really great to explain that to them. Would you approach this differently if we weren’t in a pandemic? I’m talking about drug use, getting your kid to stop? Confronting them? Is it any different?

 

LISA: I think I feel a greater sense of urgency about in the pandemic because I just, I do, I think so much about what could kids do in the pandemic, maybe because of the pandemic, that has irreversible consequences, and for me drug use is really, really high on that list. I also worry about eating disorders, which we’ve talked about before, and so I do worry in the pandemic. I want parents to be more hawkish, I want parents to be less relaxed about it, and I think one thing that’s interesting you came from the Just Say No side of things, which I totally understand. I grew up in Colorado in the 80s where even then I think there was a more casual view about marijuana and I knew lots of kids who smoked marijuana and who, as far as I knew didn’t have any bad outcomes from it, and so I will tell you I came into adulthood with a more casual view on marijuana, oh you know kids try pot, it’s not that big a deal, and it’s only through practicing and seeing how dangerous it can become that I’ve become much more I would say rigid about like, you don’t want to mess with this, like you really don’t want to mess with this, and  really trying to impress that on kids, and one of the things I do, which is a little bit provocative but you know gets their attention, is that sometimes when I’m talking with teenagers I’ll say, okay here’s the deal, if it is your lifelong dream to try weed, here’s what you’ve got to do. Number one, get to age 25, right? Get yourself out of that neurological window where you could really do damage. Number two, go to a place where it is sold legally, right? So you don’t put yourself in legal jeopardy by trying it. Number three, get it through legal source there, so you know what you’re smoking because that’s the other concern we have about, you know,  illegally obtained whatever it is, well you don’t know what you’re smoking, you have no idea what’s involved in this and you’re basically spinning the wheel to see what you’re smoking. You have no idea. And then I say, okay so then number four, you can try it but remember you’re still high. Like you can’t drive, you shouldn’t be in a situation where your judgment is required, and that way of articulating it really tries to underscore, okay yes you do not burst into flames the first time you try pot. Like I’m not going to overstate the situation, but you need to think about this entirely from the health and safety standpoint if you are even going to consider it, and this is the only way, really, that you could consider, it I’m gonna use because you can’t see here “safe” thing, but you’re still high and you still have to manage that and you want to be really, really careful.

 

REENA: You know, Lisa, the other thing in this letter that really stuck with me also not just for kids but for adults we’re struggling with this, these kids find themselves bored and with nothing to do, not much to look forward to. I mean we all feel this way, right? Sow do you address this? Bored, nothing to do, not much to look forward to.

 

LISA: I know. That kind of gave me a chill when you said that because it’s scary. It’s scary to me. So, another way we can walk up to this is to talk about it in terms of coping, which we’ve considered before, and to think about better and worse coping. So, the problem with drinking and drugs is that they actually are a form of coping. You feel better when you’re drunk or high, especially if you felt bad before, and so what is described here is using substances to cope with the stress versus better coping, which is using exercise, television shows, contact with friends, going outdoors to cope with stress. So, we want people to be very careful, I would say grownups and kids, about turning to substances for coping because here’s what’s actually convinced me in my clinical practice over time about how scary this can be. When people use substances to cope with difficulty they get a short-term benefit, but usually if they start to make a pattern of it the substance-use itself makes things worse, right? That they’re having trouble sleeping and so then they sleep in and miss class or they’re having trouble at work and so they drink because they’re upset about work but because they’re drinking their work you know quality do degrades, so the the thing that is so frightening to me about drugs is people turn to them for help. They get short-term help but in the again finger quotes “help” the drugs themselves start to worsen their quality of life and then as their quality of life degrades and they feel worse, ah you know it helps them feel better? More substances.

 

REENA: Wow.

 

LISA: And that’s the part where it strikes me as just a slippery slope that you’re safer if you never get on it. Not everybody slides down it. One really, really guaranteed way to not slide down it is to not get on it at all.

 

REENA: So, just for adults for a moment, you know, I’m just telling you and I love cocktail now at night, you know, but I have one, and when do you know as an adult that you, too, are taking in, whether it’s pot or alcohol, when is too much too much for an adult?

 

LISA: My favorite take on this is to think about, let’s just say alcohol here, in terms of a relationship. Reena, you have a relationship with alcohol. I have a relationship with alcohol. Now the question is is it a good relationship or a bad relationship? And we can talk about it like any other relationship in our lives. So, what you’re describing is that your relationship with alcohol is at this point entertaining, fun, is not in any way undermining your ability to be healthy, live your life, do your job, sleep effectively, parent effectively, it’s just making your life better. That’s a healthy relationship with alcohol, and those exist. And I mean I guess if you think, like okay well could an adult make an argument that they have a healthy relationship with marijuana? I imagine that could be true, right? If we held it to the same parameters and it was legal and they were holding it to the same rules? I, actually it turns out I have a healthy relationship with alcohol because my body doesn’t like it and so I just avoid it, right? So that’s how I maintain my healthy relationship with alcohol, but if I were to drink more I would feel crummy a lot, I would feel tired a lot, the next day I feel crummy, it actually just disrupts my sleep is what I find. So, I actually can’t hang out with alcohol all that effectively and have a good relationship. So, the question that we want to pose, certainly about alcohol but then also about you know any substances, does it make your life better or does it make your life worse? Net effect, and that’s how we know.

 

REENA: That is a great way to look at it. When you want to go back to the kids here, you know you’re talking sort of but the legal component and it’s no big deal is how sometimes they justify it. How do you talk to them generally about sort of steering clear of marijuana and and why they should do that? Okay, so the legal thing, this is amazing to me. So you know the last several years many states have made marijuana legal for people over the age of 18, and quite to my surprise I started to notice kids talking about marijuana like, well it’s like basically legal, you know like they just sort of, even really thoughtful smart kids I would actually do this test, I would say, so what do you think about marijuana? Like is it illegal? And they’re like, well it’s basically legal. And I’m like, but it’s not. It’s not, it’s not a lot of states and it’s not for you. And they’re like yeah, but it’s basically legal. That it did actually for a lot of kids feel like a green light on marijuana when it became legalized, though interestingly, and this is a very important thing to say, I thought the underage use would jump a lot with legalization and the data actually never bore that out. So, for what it’s worth.

 

LISA: Yeah I was surprised by that, but here’s where parents want to enter that, if they get into the kid being like, come on it’s basically legal, right? The most important thing to say is, look there are a lot of things that are legal and still not safe. Cigarettes are legal. Tanning beds are legal, right? So don’t confuse legality with safety. That’s not how the government works. The government decides there’s certain things we’re going to just put on the other side of the legal line knowing full well it doesn’t mean they’re safe and so then, you know, what teenagers are about, what kids are about, they are about autonomy. They are about self control. So, I would say to the kid, look to not let the government decide for you what is safe and not safe. They have made it clear they will not enter that business fully. You are in charge of yourself. You have one brain that you’re going to walk around with for the rest of your life. You guard it. Do not let arbitrary laws fool you into thinking that just because something’s egal means it’s an okay thing to do. That’s the way to take up the legal question.

 

REENA: That is good. Oh you give so much to think about from the brain to legality to cutting it off, but you know it’s just without an end date on this pandemic, I just think that it’s so easy to get sad, to get depressed and feel like there’s nothing to look forward to.

 

LISA: It is. It is. But it’s funny as we’ve been talking, Reena, I’ve been thinking about coping. I mean this is a coping conversation. Any time talking about substances, we’re talking about coping, and so what we have to do and keep doing is to re-commit to using healthy coping. You know, not falling into, you know, coping that really could hurt us. Recommit to the walking, recommit to looking out a window, re-commit to, you know, calling a friend, and even you know very exciting cocktails from time to time, right? That can be a healthy form of coping if there’s no downside, and right now you know in your family there’s no downside. So, enjoy that.

 

REENA: I don’t know what I’d do without you, my friend, through this pandemic, I mean it.

 

LISA: I feel the same way. I feel this is like our relationship and getting to be of use, for me is deeply sustaining and and whatever else I almost think the pandemic is making us dig in to things that we may not have cherished in the past.

 

REENA: So true. So very true. I still do not cherish winter. I’d like to make that clear.

 

LISA: I’m pretty over it. Even me, I’m pretty over it at this point.

 

REENA: So, tell us, what do you have? We’re going to book giveaway this week?

 

LISA: We do. We have a fantastic book giveaway. Okay the book is called “Thrivers” and it’s by Dr. Michele Borba. She is a total pro. Decadeslong educational consultant, and that’s important, but really my highest compliment, she gets kids. She gets kids. And the book. The book is titled “Thrives: The surprising reasons why some kids struggle and other kids shine” and it comes out on March 2nd. We have a couple, I think we have three to give away, our lucky winners and if you follow us on Instagram you’ll see the instructions for how to enter.

 

REENA: Perfect. Well that sounds like a great giveaway, and you’re right. Go to Instagram, and I also would say we have a new LinkedIn account, so follow us on LinkedIn and you can do the same. Leave us a comment and you’re entered to win as well. So Lisa, what do you have for parenting to-go?

 

LISA: Any time we find ourselves in a conversation with kids about risk behavior focus not on catching them. Focus on them keeping themselves safe, and the way this should sound if you’re talking let’s say about marijuana, and a kid says, like what would you do if you caught me smoking weed? I think the answer to that question should be, listen. Me catching you smoking weed is the least of your concerns. That is the least interesting that could happen. Do not worry about getting caught. Worry about getting hurt. Marijuana, drugs, risky situations. You can get hurt in those, whether I catch you or not and that’s what I want you to focus on.

 

REENA: Thank you for having us look at issues and we never would have actually.

 

LISA: This is the benefit of getting to work clinically, I get to see all the ways things can go wrong and I’m so glad to be able to help parents steer kids in a safer, healthier direction.

 

REENA: We’re grateful. See you next week.

 

LISA: See you next week.