Melissa Gilbert Talks Teen Drug Abuse and Why She's Worried About Miley Cyrus

Filed under: Alcohol & Drugs, Celeb News & Interviews

Melissa Gilbert drug abuse

Melissa Gilbert says the holidays can be an especially hard time on teens. Credit: Arnoldi/X17online.com

Melissa Gilbert has spoken candidly about her own drug abuse and battles with alcohol, and, recently, the "Little House on the Prairie" actress became the national spokesperson for The Partnership at Drugfree.org, a nonprofit that helps parents prevent, intervene in and find treatment for drug and alcohol use by their children.

ParentDish spoke to Gilbert, 46, mother of two and step-mother of two, about a new feature on the group's website.

ParentDish: What's new at Drugfree.org?
Melissa Gilbert:
Time to get help. It's a new area on the website. It's for parents and loved ones of young people who have reason to believe that their teen or young adult has a problem. It tells you where to go, what resources are best in their local areas, how to get help, how to ask for help, who to talk to, who to turn to. It's a really valuable tool of the website because, once you know there's a problem, if you Google recovery, you're screwed because there's such an abundance of information and it's not filtered.

PD: Also, I assume, recovery for teens is different than for adults.
MG:
Recovery for young people is much different. Studies show that the younger person's brain is affected much more adversely from early drug and alcohol use than an adult. When you have kids, it's a scary prospect.

PD: What else is on it?
MG:
It's run by the people at the partnership, but there's also a great deal of input and personal stories from parents whose children are in recovery -- about their experiences in their local areas.

It's really important because people still don't see addiction as a disease. Instead, they see it as some sort of test of will and it simply isn't. I use the cerebral palsy analogy a lot. If a young person came into your home who had CP and knocked over a precious vase, odds are you're not going to get really angry. But if someone with alcoholism comes into your house and knocks over the vase while drunk, chances are you're going to get pissed and they have a disease. I'm not likening alcoholism to cerebral palsy in any way, shape or form -- I don't want to have CP activists pounding on my door -- but it is a disease and people don't see it that way.

PD: Don't you think this time of year, it's easier for kids to get away with stuff?
MG:
This time of year everybody gets away with it. If the child has grown up with any kind of trauma, this is when there's going to be a trigger. Parents are divorced -- where am I spending Christmas? Or, God forbid, the child has been molested. Any kind of childhood trauma or loss of parent which is traumatic -- the holidays are always difficult.

PD: I interviewed Dr. Drew recently, and he said he has zero drug tolerance for his kids.
MG:
Yeah, sounds about right. I'm so crazy about that man. He saved my ass last year when I was going through my broken back stuff. We've still never met face to face. He was on the phone with me constantly, talking me through taking opiates, how long to take them without triggering my addiction. I agree with a zero tolerance policy. It's easy with Michael (Melissa's son). He's 15 and he's under my roof. We check his e-mails, we lurk on his Facebook page, we go through his drawers. He has no real privacy. You have to earn it. The older kids are different, but I'm always watching. I watch really closely.

PD: What are the signs?
MG:
The signs are pretty clear. You'll see a drop in grades, mood swings will occur, he'll isolate more, want to be with friends more, more surly, break curfew, struggle with school. Those are red flags. And get to know your kids friends. That's huge. Michael is not allowed to hang out with people I don't know.

PD: Does it make you sad, seeing someone like Lindsay Lohan?
MG:
It makes me sad because nobody wants to see someone they admire go through such a difficult time and just fall so far. And, God, Miley Cyrus. You do the math. ... Her mother allegedly had an affair with someone who's recognizable. Her parents separated -- that's her rock, so there's a strike against her right there.

PD: Do you think she has a problem?
MG:
If you don't have a problem, you have your wits about you and you know not to have your friends taking photos. It seems to me like she was looking to get caught, subconsciously maybe. I do want to grab all these people up and tuck them away in my house and say, "I got it, I'm with you."

And let's not forget Heath Ledger. What's more tragic than that? All prescription and over-the-counter-drugs -- no illicit narcotics -- mixed in the wrong combination and a brilliant father of a sweet little girl didn't wake up.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.