Today on ‘Addicted’ I interviewed Dr. Bobby Smyth, Child and Adolescent Consultant Psychiatrist working with young people who have addictions across south Dublin. I previsouly worked with Bobby in the Young Persons Program, in Trinity Court, when I was the manager of that program. On a philosophical and academic level we come from two different worlds. But on a human level we both share a passion for working with vulnerable young people, who find themselves struggling with an addiction to one drug or another.

During our conversation today we focused on the high numbers of young people coming into treatment for problematic cannabis use. According to Dr. Smyth 80% of the young people he sees in treatment centres are coming due to their use of cannabis. Usually its the parents who have reached the end of their ability to cope any longer. The drug has taken over the family system. The parents have lost control. The young person sinks deeper into depression, or debt or paranoia or fear, or social phobia and the parents can’t cope.

Sometimes the parents are part of the problem. A good friend of mine, Joe Lucey (1960 – 2007), who also worked in the world of addiction and managed the Crinan Youth Project helped me to understand better the teenage drug user. Joe was a family therapist and always understood teenage drug use as an expression of the family system or family dynamic. Often the parents would bring their teenager for treatment, only to be disappointed to discover in the family therapy sessions, that maybe they needed to share some responsibility for the problem and the solution. This also provided the parents with a way to deal with underlying family issues, that they may have been neglecting.

Treatment outcomes in Ireland don’t compare well to international figures, according to Dr. Smyth. The reasons for this are not clear yet. Cultural factors may play a role. We celebrate intoxication. We find any excuse for a drink. We drown our sorrows. We deal with our pain by drinking. Dr. Smyth understands clearly that treatment can be effective, but without family supports, community and social supports, treatment outcomes will be short lived.

Young people are vulnerable by nature. They are growing, changing and developing. They are vulnerable to peer influences, social influences, trends and fashions. They seek to express themselves in numerous ways. They experiment with identities. The stoner identity is attractive. Its rebellious and resistant of the inherited culture. For many young people, they get the chance to move on, let go and emerge in to autonomous adults. However for some, they become trapped in a false identity and can lose years to a drug that no longer serves them, but makes their dealer more powerful.