This article was originally published in the 2012 Spring Edition of Banana Moments: Family Business Quarterly – featuring youth issues and resiliency.
Barry Lessin works with youth and families struggling with addiction and he wants parents to understand that addiction happens when we are overwhelmed with an anxiety response to stress…
In today’s cyber-powered world, there are more stressors for children at earlier ages from managing your image in social media (including dealing with cyberbullying) to concerns about college and employment later in life. Children are exposed to adult issues early on, and the lies of popular culture tell them binge drinking is safe as long as you are not driving, prescription pills are safe because doctors prescribe them, and casual sex is required to be intimate or accepted. All of these lies create a perfect storm for hopelessness and present risky traps as responses that reinforce stress and anxiety because they are not rooted in truth nor do they serve their best interest.
In this topsy-turvy environment, Lessin is not surprised to see young people seeking relief in addictive ways.
“People tend to move towards things that are pleasurable rather than painful. If we fail, or perceive we fall short, we feel the pain and we need to move through it, but we often try to avoid it,” Lessin said.
According to Lessin, with drug and alcohol addiction it is not the drug that is evil; rather addiction is a disease impacting the brain and can evolve in different ways including video games and Internet porn.
Lessin sees video game addiction as serious a concern as addiction to substances. “It’s the same dynamic as drugs and alcohol,” Lessin said.
According to Lessin, addiction happens as a way to cope with anxiety because it is an easy outlet, and with video games, it allows you to feel successful where you are not feeling that way with social interaction.
And then the outlet becomes overused.
Lessin sees that more and more kids today are compulsively using video games, for hours and hours on end. “Addicted teens experience the same brain changes,” Barry said.
For Lessin, the root of addiction is the lack of emotional regulation. It is trauma based: bullying, bad experiences, diseases in the family, and tragic events.
It is important to take each person individually and not label or judge based upon any one factor, such as genes (i.e. my father was an alcoholic), or environment (my daughter’s friends use drugs), or there was a death in the family. According to Lessin, it is important not to stigmatize the situation. “Addiction is complicated. If a parent can understand what is going on with their child, then that is a major portion of the solution. When parents are on board, the chances of success are greater,” Lessin said.
Lessin wants parents to know there is always hope; and hope is healing and it enables us to express passion, respect and dignity.
How to help children deal with anxiety
Lessin says to focus on emotional regulation: help your child recognize anxiety and how to manage it. Help your child understand they have control over their response to a stressful situation or circumstance, especially when they cannot control the circumstance.
This from Dale Carnegie, in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944):
A. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can possibly happen if I can’t solve my problem?
B. Prepare yourself mentally to accept the worst –if necessary.
C. Then calmly try to improve upon the worst—which you have already mentally agreed to accept. (p.36)