Click for: Warning Signs of Drug
By KEVIN NEVERS
Duneland has never strayed far from its agricultural artisan heritage. Many
Dunelanders still make a living by their hands, they think of Porter County
not as The Region but The Heartland, and in their families self-sufficiency
is as valued as an heirloom.
So Dr. Jeanne Trifone learned six years ago when she established the
Duneland Counseling Center in Chesterton. Trifone was born and raised in
Chicago, worked there for a number of years as an educator, then—after
earning her doctorate—took a position in East Chicago as a therapist at the
TriCity Community Mental Health Center. But when Trifone moved to Duneland
she rapidly found herself to be an “anomaly.”
“Most people I’ve met in Chesterton have never met a therapist before,”
Trifone says. Why should they have? In Duneland “you solve your problems
within the family or within the church community.”
Therapy, counseling, interventions: these rub against the grain of
generations of custom. Some Dunelanders simply feel uncomfortable confiding
in a stranger. They may see therapy as a sign of weakness or worse of
instability. They may fear being judged. “There’s still a stigma here about
getting treatment,” she says.
Sometimes, though, the world has a way of crushing the most in-dependent
spirit. Sometimes a family lacks the resources or the skills—it may lack the
distance—to confront, much less to solve, a problem. A case in point: drug
abuse. Good parents—great parents—may find themselves helpless to intervene,
and alone and besieged in their own home can only watch as their child
drowns. “It’s a myth that parents have all the answers,” Trifone says.
Her goal, the goal of the Center, is to throw a lifeline to these families.
“What we do here, quite frankly, bottom line, we peddle hope.”
Whatever else it is, drug abuse is a symptom, she says, the symptom of a
“disconnection” somewhere in a child’s life. Unresolved grief. Loneliness.
Stress. Low self-esteem. “Using is a way of coping with anxiety. It’s called
self-medication, whether you’re doing it with prescription drugs or alcohol
or some other substance. What we’re all trying to do in our lives is to
manage anxiety. What we’re trying to do at the Center with kids is to
normalize the anxiety in their lives.”
Every disconnection has its own history, however. It occurs in a particular
environment and is the product of a particular set of circumstances. The
point of therapy is to trace it to its source and then treat the source.
“When kids use substances, it isn’t just a kid problem. It’s a system
problem. I take the long-term view of changing the system. I never just
‘fix’ the kid. We work always in the context of the family. I wholeheartedly
believe that kids don’t use without there being issues on both sides.”
For many parents the challenge is less to recognize the existence of the
problem—the signs are likely to be clear enough if they look for them—than
it is to muster the courage to seek help. Often the fear of their own
inadequacy is greater than their fear for the child, at least until some
crisis leaves them no choice but to act. But those misgivings are misguided,
she says. “Part of the stigma is that parents are afraid to come in because
they’re afraid they’re going to be told they’re bad parents. But we’ve never
met a perfect parent. So we’re not going to attack a parent. We’re here to
take you from where you’re at to where you want to go.”
Film stars and rock stars can afford a few months at an in-patient drug
treatment center. Few others can. “Now you’re talking real money,” Trifone
says, “and you’re talking health insurance. And most programs want you to
pay. And if you can’t pay, you’re up the creek. You have to be a family of
means and that basically knocks out most of Chesterton.”
Yet to the extent that out-patient therapy takes the long view on a problem
long in the making, it can be as effective anyway, so long as families have
the patience and the will to do the work. That work consists at the Center
of four preliminary sessions over a period of two to three weeks, in which
the counselor meets first with the family together, then with the child
separately, then with the parents separately, and then again with the family
together. In these first sessions, she says, “we identify the problem from
each person’s perspective. No one has to agree. Every perspective counts.”
Then the hard work of therapy properly begins, in weekly 50-minute sessions.
Over time, Trifone says, “we develop an alliance with the individual, an
alliance with the parents, and an alliance with the family. We empower them
to be families and individuals but we’re also available as long as we’re
needed, even a year or two later. That’s the wonderful part of being in this
On rare occasions, Trifone adds, “a child is addicted and unwilling to
participate in out-patient sessions. Then we’re going to coach the parents a
lot more intensely about what their options are.”
Three therapists practice at the Center, one of whom is on call 24 hours a
day. Each has a confidential voice mailbox. And generally parents can
schedule the first preliminary session within three to seven days of making
But parents must make the call.
Trifone understands why some do not. They’re embarrassed, paralyzed, worried
about what they may learn. Or life may merely have swamped them. Jobs,
bills, the other kids in the household: all of them compete for parents’
limited time and energy. “Any of us has issues that we could address, but do
we really want to address them today? . . . If they’re also worried about
getting laid off or having enough money for the mortgage, or it looks like
they may be headed for bankruptcy, Johnny coming home late at night might
not be a priority. We’re not here to ask why people haven’t brought their
child into treatment. We have a great compassion for the stresses of life.”
Parents, when they do make the call, will probably be surprised and
encouraged by their child’s response. “Typically the motivation of the kids
is higher than the parents ever thought,” she says, “which is a relief to
the parent. Most of the time kids themselves actually feel a sense of relief
that their parents are finally willing to ask for help. It’s very rare that
a kid will adamantly refuse to come in.”
Parents may be surprised by something else as well. Despite the sullenness
so common in adolescents and teenagers—their apparent disdain both for the
culture and the company of their parents—they are much more desirous of
meaningful contact with adults than they give adults any reason to believe.
“In over 20 years of working with kids,” Trifone says, “I have yet to meet
an adolescent who ultimately doesn’t want a better relationship with the
adults in his or her life. I have yet to meet a kid who comes in just to
attack their parents, which is their parents’ greatest fear. They basically
talk about what they miss in that relationship.”
Given time and effort, families do “bond and work through,” she says, some
80 percent of them. Hope is there for the asking. “It’s our job to work
ourselves out of a job. We’re in a rare profession. Ethically, it’s our job
to work ourselves out of a job.”
The warning signs of drug abuse:
•Continual disobedience of rules.
•Sudden outbursts, verbal abusiveness.
•Sitting in parking lots.
•Avoiding contact with others.
•Change of friends, usually negative.
•Constantly associating with older social group.
•Jumpiness if touched.
•Disorientation of time and space.
•Constant expression of boredom.
•Risky or self-destructive acts.
•Wearing of many layers of clothing.
•Attempts to run away from home.
•Loss of eligibility for extracurricular activities.
•Theft, assault, vandalism, carrying of weapons.