Mental Health Mondays – “Recovery Requires Action: How to Support Youth Battling Addiction”

Mental Health Mondays - July 13 Event

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Key Takeaways – July 13, 4:30 p.m.

Wilbur Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Calusa Recovery

“Recovery Requires Action: How to Support Youth Battling Addiction”


  1. Addiction is a cunning and baffling illness that doesn’t discriminate. It takes to you a place where you don’t know what is normal. Addiction is a disease just like many other diseases we are familiar with like diabetes, depression, cancer. The difference is you can get set treatments for illnesses like breast cancer. When it comes to alcohol and drugs, it’s really up to you. It’s really the only self-diagnosing illness out there. Until you decide to do something about it, nothing will be done. There are varying degrees of this illness, and it can affect anyone in any demographic. Addiction is often a symptom of a much larger problem.
  2. My experience. I have been in recovery since 2012. I started struggling at 15 in high school, have been sober since I was 21. I was confused, my family was confused. It started with anxiety. There was something internal that was off. I started seeking alternative ways to feel better. Sometimes it takes time for things to develop, get worse and get better. This is a lifelong journey for everyone involved. In recovery, you are going to go through a lot of ups and downs, and the people who are close to you are going to go through it with you. All people in recovery are trying to do is be a better person the next day. There’s a statistic. For every alcoholic or addict that is suffering or struggling with addiction, 25 people around them are impacted. On the flip side, if that person gets better, the 25 people get better. We may be in a pandemic right now, but we’ve been in a pandemic with drugs and alcohol a lot longer.
  3. What I’ve seen work. It starts with little things…
    • Establishing a routine with positive behavior. It can help ease anxiety and ground people. It’s as simple as making your bed each morning. People dealing with addition wake up and their mind is scattered and obsessed with a mental obsession. It helps to be able to get up and start in another direction.
    • Finding a group of like-minded people. It’s difficult to do with youth. Kids have natural rebellious state. It’s easier to model behavior than tell people what to do. Sports is a good avenue, because it has to do with routine. Church and volunteering are also great opportunities. It’s best to participate and do it with Family is wonderful, but it can be hard for someone who is struggling. It’s uncomfortable. They tend to bottle it up and becomes external. Parents often want to solve the problem on their own and are reluctant to seek professional help. Get used to the dialog that someone you love is struggling. Accept it’s an issue. It doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent.
    • Physical activity is a huge component of recovery and wellness in general. If using, you are a walking chemical imbalance. When you are obsessed with an outside substance helping you to feel normal, it’s critical to find something else. Physical activity helps with routine and balance. It releases a lot of chemicals in the body that addiction can. You move better, you eat better, you feel better, you think better.
    • Being empowered with responsibility and how it creates ownership. Listen to your kids, they have ideas. Let them work through their thoughts and ideas and find the outcome. Maybe you know it won’t work out but letting them have that experience is important to their self -and self-confidence. A lot of addiction stems from other deep-rooted insecurities; some of these can be prevented if we teach kids that their thoughts and voice have value and worth. I often hear a common response for people about their addictions: “I feel like I was never heard.” Life gets busy. Be present with your kids and start at an early age. Show them positive, healthy behaviors.


Questions from viewers:

Q: What shouldn’t I say when working with youth battling addiction. I worry about making counterproductive statements, causing them to shut down.

A: Allow them to create ownership in their thoughts. Ask a question to provoke a thought and let them create the answer within themselves with your support. You are never going to be able to say the perfect thing to someone who is suffering. If they do shut down, ask them why. Avoid telling them what they should do. Work with them in coming up with answers of what they can do.

Q: What’s the connection between emotional pain and substance abuse?

A: There is no recovery without emotional pain, unfortunately. Until one realizes that they are not happy with the way they are living, nothing will be done. You may start doing a drug or drinking for recreational purposes, perhaps to fit in. You start doing it more and more, and then you realize you are doing it more than you anticipated. Then you start missing significant events. You show up late for your job. Those are external things. Then you start having days where you can’t look out the window because the sun is shining in, and that means you need to get up and be productive. Addiction starts when the pain of remaining the same is worse than continuing.

Q: Any thoughts on what might have helped you not start using drugs?

A: I should have listened more and believed in people who were older than me. People with experience. When I was younger, things may have been different if I had listened to the people who were trying to help me and realize they were not trying to tell me what to do. I was a very close-minded kid. I think the best way a parent or someone trying to help someone open their mind is just talking. Talk deeper than surface so that people get comfortable exposing themselves.

Q: How do you recommend talking to a friend about their use?

A: It’s delicate. It may be someone you may have known for years and you approach them about their issues; it’s a fine line to walk. There’s the “tough love” approach and the “love them until they love themselves.” I don’t think either one is wrong or right. It comes down to what you are comfortable with, whether you are a parent or a friend. The best way to do it is with empathy and understanding. Let them know you area there for them. Let them know if they are scared about doing something about it that you will assist. The worst thing is to be defensive and tell them they are messing up their life. That doesn’t resonate. People become defensive. A therapist we worked with called it bringing on the feather hammer. Talk about the tough subject but do it as lightly as possible.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who are looking for ways to help their child?

A: Pick up the phone and find somebody that you have rapport with and feel comfortable to bounce off what’s going on. A lot of people will make impulsive choices on where to send people for help. You don’t want to wait too long to get someone help, but you also want to make sure someone gets placed in the right spot. It could be they need to see a psychologist or go into full-on treatment. Every treatment center, therapist and doctor does something very, very specific. There’s not a multi-vitamin treatment center that covers it all. You want to find people who are unique at the exact problem you are going through. Start talking to professionals to get insight and input. You don’t want to exhaust resources getting the wrong kind of help. Ask professionals if they think they are the right fit for the problem, and if not, ask them to refer you to someone who is. Kids’ Minds Matter can help connect you with the right professional.

A lot of addiction stems from other deep-rooted insecurities, some of these can be prevented if we teach kids that their thoughts and voice have value and worth.