Free Program Helps Teens, Parents Open Up About Substance Abuse

Studies show drinking and drug use is common in high school, but there's a place where teens and parents can get help

Geoff Scheuber received a call in the middle of the night last December that every parent dreads.

"It was a real tough experience to listen and hear what was going on," he said. "And come to the reality that your daughter just got a DUI, and she’s been arrested."

His daughter, 18-year-old Lauren, was leaving a holiday party when she was stopped at a police checkpoint.

"The officer said, 'Have you been drinking tonight,' I said 'no, sir.' He did the little flashlight and he was like, 'please step out of the car,'" Lauren recalled. "Being in high school it’s always around, but that was the first time I got that big of a repercussion or consequence."

As part of her probation, Lauren and her father enrolled in a unique program at Torrance Memorial Hospital called First Step, which is designed to help intervene early in teens that may have run into problems with drugs or alcohol.

It provides information and skills for identifying or preventing substance abuse.

Moe Gelbart, executive director of the Thelma McMillen Center, where the program is based, said it is free and open to the public.


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"This is a difficult thing to ask for information or help because parents don’t want other people to know they have that question or problem," Gelbart said. "So it’s mainly for people who want to understand, how much of a problem does my child have? And what can I do about it? Or, I need to prevent this from happening in my home."

Once a week for six weeks, teens meet with each other in groups led by credentialed staff members. They share what they’ve been through.

They’re taught about drug use – what kinds of effects it can have – and how to communicate with their parents.

"We teach teens what stressors are about, how to manage stress, give them coping skills, what peer pressure is all about," Gelbart said. "We want them to understand there are long term consequences to short term experiments and experiences."

Parents take part, too, meeting in their own group.

“We look at three things: setting limits and boundaries, having consequences, and following through,” Gelbart said. “It’s simple, just not easy.”

The two groups then come together to share and to build trust with each other.

"The group provides a relaxed, non-threatening environment that is very effective in bringing to the surface impromptu thoughts and feelings people may not have known existed," Gelbart said.

"It gives parents and teens a real first step toward assessing if there is a problem and what they can begin to do to resolve it."

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