Teens & drugs: What’s changed?

We’re seeing drug abuse increase in middle and high schools and it’s a reflection of an evolving culture of isolation.  In a good article recently published in Psychology Today, What Makes Teens Happier, Jean M Twenge Ph.D. compares to the correlation between happiness and various activities.  Of course, there are many other factors; drug potency and availability, pressure on teens, hyper-parenting, etc. Dr. Madeline Levine provides more depth in the society aspect in a couple of great parenting books. For this blog, however, I’ll focus on the “Now what?”

When should parents worry? There are clearly different degrees of danger and urgency.  That said, any teenage illicit drug use carries risks (overdose, addiction, reliance, behavioral, legal, etc.) and warrants parental involvement. Social use can quickly turn to coping. Adolescents are learning how to deal with relationships, failures, loss, and all of life’s punches. They need to learn from difficult experiences (not avoid them).  Remember, their brains are rapidly developing!

Having ongoing, open dialog, with your teenager is the first step. Have a firm stance but show compassion for their struggles and mistakes.

If your teen can’t stop on his/her own or if you see warning signs of deeper issues, rehab facilities offer the environment for change that needs to occur. I recently asked a friend, Eddie Fischer, who is in long term recovery and is also an advocate for adolescents, what changes have to happen.

First, surrendering to the fact that (s)he has lost control. It’s not “just” weed. Many people never get past this step. Just think about how hard it is to admit that you don’t have control.

Second, it takes a change of heart; recognizing that life’s meaning comes from places like faith, relationships, love, and service, which ultimately transform pain into purpose. It’s learning that being high isn’t the only way to feel better and turning to another for help after a bad day instead of struggling in isolation.

So, what can you do as a parent?

  1. Show your children Unconditional Love: Remember that addiction isn’t a character flaw, it’s a disease. This means showing compassion, not being a pushover.
  2. Get help: Many parents fear doing anything that will interrupt their child’s education and they fear the shame that comes along with the stigma of addiction. I’m a parent and I really get this. Unfortunately, if you’re at this point, your child’s life may be at stake. Maybe not today, but a year (or ten years) from now.
  3. Include therapy: This is hard! There is a lot of stuff to work out for your teen, you, and even others in your family. This is a disease that impacts the whole family.
  4. United parents (guardians): Use the EAR (Empathy, Assertiveness with feelings, Respect) technique. This may be the heaviest cross you ever carry together. Shift away from blame and towards understanding of each other.
  5. NEVER give up. There is hope, even when it doesn’t feel like it. MANY others get through this.


Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Teenagers: Getting What You Want

Attention teenagers: Does it feel like you never get what you want. It’s like, no matter what you ask for, the answer is “no.”  Your parents never understand your point of view. Fortunately, you can impact future requests by developing skills to get what you want.

A counseling tool called DEAR MAN can be used to develop this skill.   You can hear an overview of the DEAR MAN technique on Marielle Berg’s podcast called “The Skillful Podcast.”

First, prepare for the conversation ahead of time. This helps regulate your emotions and keep a calm, confident demeanor (this goes a long way with adults).

I’ll share the DEAR MAN steps and then give an example:

D – Describe the situation (stick to the facts here). My tip is to consider the other’s perspective if you can.

E – Express your feelings. I feel statements work well.

A – Assert what you need. Be specific and clear.

R – Reinforce how this will benefit you AND the other.

M – Stay Mindful Stay focused on this request. Don’t get caught up in bigger topics.

A – Appear Confident Use confident body language, make eye contact.

N – Negotiate. Be willing to compromise.

I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of steps but it’s actually not too bad. Here’s an example:

Let’s say your parents want you to play club soccer next year and you really don’t want to play…

You: Mom, dad, (D) it’s time to sign up for soccer next year and I know you both want me to play.  (E) This year was really difficult for me.  I don’t feel enjoyment anymore and the energy that goes into playing really takes a toll on me. (A) I don’t want to play club soccer next year.

Mom: We’ve already told you that you have to play. It’s important that you stay active and you can’t spend all of your free time watching YouTube videos.

You: Well, (R) I can focus more on school and even look at art classes. I know that I’ll have more energy and be a happier kid which I think you might appreciate.

Mom: Last time we let you take time off of activities you sat in your room all the time and it’s not good for you to do that.

You: Well, (R/M) I know you want me to focus more on school and I know that I can. I also want to try the art classes.

Mom: You have to do something this summer. How about you at least join the recreational team for the summer only and see how it goes. Then we can look at the art classes in the fall.

You: (N) Yeah, I can do that.

I know this is a simple example, but the keys are; prepare, be clear, stay on topic, avoid getting emotional or argumentative, consider what’s in it for them, and compromise.

Once you master this, you can use it for the rest of your life to get what you want!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

What your spouse needs…

Have you ever looked at your significant other and thought, “I just don’t understand you?”  The differences between men and women can create complexities in relationships. Two books that I recommend to couples contain eye-opening truths that can radically improve the depth of a relationship. In the books, For Men Only and For Women Only, Shaunti and Jeff Feldhan describe (with remarkable accuracy) what men and women think, want, and feel. The authors conducted surveys, personal interviews, and other research with thousands of men and women.  Just consider how understanding each other’s deepest insecurities can improve how a couple supports each other.

A basic insecurity that most men feel is that they must be a provider and need to feel respected (even more than loved). They have a driving need to do a good job and take care of the family. It’s a constant reminder that he’s either achieving or that he’s not good enough. It’s the fear that everyone will realize he is not as good as they think he is.

Tips for women…

  1. Affirmation is everything (tell him he did a great job)
  2. Let him figure things out on his own
  3. Don’t tear him down (especially in front of others)

For many women a basic insecurity is the need to be wanted (loved). It’s more than a specific feeling after a fight or an event. It’s the need to be reminded because that voice in the back of her head keeps asking “does he even want to be with me anymore?” It’s noticing everything that is perfect about someone else and feeling personally unlovable.

Tips for men…

  1. Reassure her of your love (especially during conflict)
  2. She needs you to be present (yes, even during conflict)
  3. If she needs to talk about the relationship, listen without getting defensive

Why does this matter? Loving someone includes understanding what they need.  Whether you simply observe, ask, or do a little research, (s)he’s worth the effort.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Value in suffering?

We spend a tremendous amount of energy (and money) trying to avoid suffering. Entire industries are built around helping people feel better.

Clients come into my office looking to eliminate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and other “negative” emotions that cause tremendous pain and suffering.  Often, clients fight (or bury) feelings without taking the time to explore them. Surprisingly, an important step in eliminating negative feelings involves accepting that they have value. Only then can clients understand when the feelings (sadness, guilt, anxiety) become unhealthy.

For example, let’s say a client (we’ll call him Carl) comes in with debilitating feelings of sadness and loneliness every evening. He wants to stop feeling his agonizing sadness.

Before challenging Carl’s sadness, we explore what his sadness reveals about his core values.  We find that his sadness shows how much he values deeper relationships. It also reveals his compassion for others and how he values accountability vs blame (when he takes on these burdens).  It also points to his nurturing personality and a need to help others. These are all positive core values that go hand in hand with Carl’s sadness.

We also explore any advantages of this sadness. Advantages of his sadness include protection from having to be social or doing things that are uncomfortable.  Carl’s suffering also allows him to empathize with others.

Once Carl explores the value in his sadness, he can work on it in a healthy way and change the way he feels. Why? Simply put, deep down Carl doesn’t want to give up his core values or advantages so he will resist efforts to eliminate his sadness.

We all experience this resistance but it’s typically not something of which we’re aware.  In TEAM therapy, Dr. David Burns calls this resistance the key to successful therapy. He calls exploration of the value in our suffering a “negotiation with a client’s subconscious.”

We put tremendous effort into avoiding suffering. How would our lives be if we eliminated all suffering? Perhaps a blog for another day!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC


Seek to Understand

One of the most important aspects of a fulfilling life is the depth of relationships that we have with people around us. With each interaction, we have the opportunity to develop a more meaningful relationship. Easy, right?

Well, when you’re getting along it’s easy. But what about when you’re angry, or when you’re being criticized?  Do you know someone that you struggle to be around without getting angry or annoyed?  Do you wish you had a better relationship with someone close to you such as a spouse or a child?

Communication for more intimate relationships with those close to you requires empathy and compassion. It requires you to care as much about the other as you do yourself. The vast majority of arguments are over who is right and who is wrong.  Intimate communication means that you shift away from caring who is right, and instead try to understand what the other is feeling.  Just remember these three words; “seek to understand.”

This change of heart (and attitude) can improve relationships in your life immediately. Then, you can develop deeper communication skills through techniques like those found in Dr. David Burn’s; Feeling Good Together. WARNING: If you skip the change in heart and learn the communication techniques for your personal gain (like to win arguments), you will come across as patronizing or condescending (not good).

Try this:  Next time someone criticizes you, find the truth in what they said instead of defending yourself. Seek to understand what that person sees and feels. This simple change in heart will do wonders for even the most challenging relationships. Here is an example:

You have a rough day at the office and get home late from work and as you walk in the door;

  • Spouse: “You’re always late and I’m sick of waiting for you!”
  • Your reply: “I’ve had a long day and now you’re on me?”

Notice that you have replied defensively and have not validated the spouse’s feelings. Here’s another reply:

  • Your reply: “You’re right! I am late, and you have every right to be angry. It’s been hard on me too. Maybe we should talk about it?”

By seeking to validate and understand your spouse, you open the door for a much deeper dialog instead of arguing over who is right.

Give it a shot and be amazed by how good a change of heart feels!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

God’s Love

Growing up, my family went to church every Sunday. Like many other teens, church didn’t feel especially relevant to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, I just didn’t feel (or see) His presence in my life.

The truth is, God’s relevance in the lives of teenagers today is stronger than ever. Teens in the US experience record levels of anxiety and depression, and quietly feel worthless for not being good enough.

Our perfectionist culture tells us that individual success, money, and power make us important. That happiness and self-worth require high achievement, and that anything less than the best is not acceptable (in anything). Just stare at that statement and think about how unrealistic and damaging (not to mention FALSE) it is!

I recently read a great little story called Twenty Dollars. The unknown author makes a great point about the value of our self-worth (even when we can’t see it).

What does this have to do with God? God offers hope by teaching us unconditional love. God does not demand that we earn a lot of money, get top test scores, or make varsity to be worthy. He teaches us that we don’t have to earn love. In fact, He welcomes our imperfections and our brokenness. God measures richness of our hearts, not our financial status, and it’s our obsession with status that ignites much of the anxiety and depression in teens. I came across an article on GotQuestions.org (long but well worth the read if your interested) in which the author provides a great explanation of what Jesus meant when he said “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).

The bottom line, is that achieving our goals helps us live the lives we want and success feels good. Just don’t let achievements (or failures) define you. They don’t! They are simply things that you do, not who you are…

If you’re a young (or not so young) person reading this, and you don’t feel God’s presence in your life (yet), you can still learn from His wisdom… it can be life changing!!

The world scares me a little less when I remember that God loves me in all of my success and my failures. I try to love others the same way. I hope and pray for you to experience His love too.  The good news… you don’t have to earn it!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Hold on to your Power!

Imagine yourself driving to work one sunny morning. It’s been a good morning and you’re content (in your own peaceful thoughts). Then the car in the next lane aggressively moves into your lane ahead of you and the driver suddenly brakes! You break hard to avoid contact as the articles on your console (sunglasses, phone) fall to the floor. How do you react? Do you get angry or do you brush it off?

Every day, our interpretation and reaction to external events impacts the way we feel. You see, it’s not the actual event that causes us to feel a certain way, it’s how we interpret it. Imagine all of us walking (or driving) around with a big filter over our heads.  Everything that enters into our experience has to go through this filter. The filter is made up of our beliefs, past experiences, knowledge, personality, influences, where we live, etc.

When I experience something, my filter interprets what I just experienced.  In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), this interpretation happens though what are called automatic thoughts. Sometimes, my automatic thoughts allow me to experience something fully and productively, and other times my automatic thoughts are twisted so they impact me negatively. Through CBT, people learn to identify and impact these automatic thoughts to help them experience life in a healthy way and feel better.

Dr. Christian Conte (www.drchristianconte.com) provides a tool for changing the way we react and he uses the driving example (above). Dr. Conte suggests using a physical (or visual) reminder to remain in control. As your driving, your peace of mind is your power and you control it. You want to keep control of your power. Imagine that while driving, you hold this power in your steering wheel. So now, you physically have a grip on it when the car cuts you off and slams on the breaks. You have two options.

One option is to let your anger take over. You can curse loudly at the driver, waving your fist and honking your horn. You may think about how “bleeping” inconsiderate the driver is and how you can’t believe anyone would do that. In this case, you have handed over control of your power (your peace of mind) to the external event. You have tossed your steering wheel into the other car! You will probably carry anger for the rest of your drive. In fact, you may take it with you when you get to work, and even when you get home and tell the story at the dinner table. The anger still effects you all day long!

Your second option is to look at your steering wheel recalling that it holds your power (your peace of mind) and you don’t want to let go. Acknowledge that the other driver did something dangerous, but not on purpose. There are many possible reasons (maybe he didn’t see you, maybe he is in a hurry, maybe he is just a bad driver). Whatever the reason, the driver isn’t out to ruin your day. By holding onto your power, you can see the situation for what it is and not as a personal attack. You can react productively, and quickly return to your content state of mind.

CBT provides many tools to help us feel better.  Give this one a try next time you’re behind the wheel!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC