There are few things that overwhelm me like the thought of my kids struggling with addiction in the future. Right now they are young, vibrant, and super curious about life. But before long, the possibility of them being offered a drink or a smoke, or something else, may come their way. While this is scary stuff, I am keeping great company, as this is a challenge all families face. On our side are research-affirmed parenting practices we can adopt, strategies for building our children’s inner wealth, connections and conversations we can foster with our family and friends, and that thing called hope.
Addiction is one of the emergencies we are responding to at every level of our society, alongside poverty, inequity, and violence. Certain vulnerabilities have emerged from research—including having a family history of substance abuse, exposure to acute or complex trauma, having a strong risk-taking personality, and/or suffering with mental illness. What can we do as parents, friends, and family members to interrupt or prevent these vulnerabilities from paving the road to addiction? All signs are pointing to connection. How we connect to ourselves, our families, and our communities matters—and whether we look upon this problem and our people with compassion or judgement matters.
In the last few years, I have incorporated two therapeutic approaches into both my personal and professional work: the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA), and Motivational Interviewing (MI). NHA utilizes intentions, strategies, and techniques to develop more impactful relationships—helping kids and adults learn to use their intensity in successful ways. It involves using our energy and focused attention to show up in bigger, more powerful ways when things are going right—celebrating any and all efforts toward successful behavior and choices. It teaches how to minimize our reactions to negativity or poor choices so we can effectively apply and enforce rules at the most powerful time to teach them—when things are going right.
Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative style of conversation that strengthens a person’s unique motivation and commitment to change. This approach has met with great success in the field of addiction treatment, as it respects that people are more persuaded by what they personally identify as good reasons to change. Co-creating a plan for change and staying in the driver’s seat can soften the push-back so many of us feel when being told what to do by an “expert.” Exploring ambivalence, values, goals, the pros and cons of drug and alcohol use, affirming strengths, and providing information with permission are some of the core areas of focus in MI.
Investing in the inner wealth of our children and each other, as well as modifying our approach from lecture and shame to exploration and affirmation, can be part of the antidotes we need to more effectively combat the disease of addiction. Staying connected with our kids, modeling good stress management behaviors, limiting our overuse of substances, knowing their risk level, monitoring their health and relationships, as well as having regular conversations sharing accurate information, can be both protective and preventive.
— Wendy Baracka, LICSW / Certified Trainer – Nurtured Heart Approach – is a Clinical Social Worker with Morgan County Schools in Berkeley Springs, WV.