The story of a teenager’s alcohol and solvent abuse

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A teenager’s alcohol and solvent abuse – a story that could have ended in tragedy

While working in Dubai - as a consultant senior addiction therapist helping to set up the first government driven addiction treatment rehab centre - I was living in a hotel apartment complex. Many of the men in the complex worked in the oil and gas business and the wives would congregate around the pool three times a week for swimming club activities, of which my wife was part of.

One of the women in my wife’s swimming club had asked for an urgent meeting with me to discuss her 15-year-old son, who it would seem had a bad problem. I politely I told her on the phone that I only worked with adults who had issues with addiction, but she begged to see me for the sake of her son.

On meeting her she told me what had happened; her son had become more and more unruly of late and had started drinking. During a recent incident something had happened that had frightened her so much it made her fearful of the state he had got himself into and the potential threat to his life. She was convinced it was not only alcohol he was using, she had never before seen that level of aggression from him and on further questioning her son had admitted to her he had been abusing solvents and lighter fuel for some time.

I‘d had some previous experience of working with teenagers and young adults and because of the added complexities due to their age, the raging hormones and the time constraints normally involved I had made a decision to leave treating them to the specialist care facilities with experienced child therapists.

I explained all this to her to her and she immediately said she had already researched rehabs in Scotland, where they came from, and other rehabs in Europe and nothing met her criteria. She once again pleaded with me to see him. I agreed to meet him and do an assessment - after which we would review it.

On meeting Duncan, I saw at once he was an aggressive, angry teenager who obviously had some underlying emotional issues. I said I could work through a specially designed, limited programme with him and started with a series of six sessions over the period of six weeks.

The first thing I needed to do with Duncan was build up trust. I started by establishing that everything we shared would stay between us and I would never repeat anything he said to his mother; this he had not expected – he believed I was there to spy on him and report back to his mother. We agreed that the only time I would have been obliged to repeat something to his mother (or anyone) was if he told me he was thinking of harming himself or someone else.

The first thing I asked Duncan to do was write a daily gratitude list and a short journal of what was happening in his life and how he was feeling. After the initial six sessions Duncan and I were working well together, and we agreed to carry on for the next six months.

Over that time, he continually made good progress at home and at school – when we were nearing the end of the six months Duncan said he looked forward to our sessions and expressed a wish to carry on; as a result I saw him for the next year, on a monthly basis, as part of an aftercare programme.

I last met with Duncan on his 17th birthday. It was an inspirational and moving meeting. I felt I had originally met him as a confused young boy and left him as a well-adjusted man, happy and confident to face the world.  Duncan is still in contact with me and has not used again since our first sessions. He does not drink and has made a deliberate decision to stay away from drugs and all those who associate with them and that lifestyle.

Please note: All my case studies talk about real people I have met and helped during my 25 years as an addiction therapist. I always have permission from the client to speak about their story though the names have often been changed to provide privacy and anonymity.

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