As a mother of a formerly incarcerated son, I know all too well the struggle that comes with having to ask for help from service providers and others engaged in the system. Even though these relationships were not easy to form, developing strong relationships with service providers was such an important step in my son’s success both during and post-incarceration.
The following tips for service providers, which all come from my newly released book “Doing Time with my Son: A Mother and Son’s Enduring Love through Incarceration” (co-authored with my son Terrence G. White and published by Full Circle Press, 2017), provide concrete suggestions for how you, as service providers, can work together to build relationships with mothers.
- Don’t look at the mother of an incarcerated young man as if she’s failed. Instead, look for areas in which she may not be strong and then help her to address those areas.
- Be able to provide mothers with resources that have proven track records of helping families heal and incarcerated young people become successful. For parents, one of the worst things that happens is when they reach out for help and they don’t get it. Have a list of resources ready to provide the mothers with upon request.
- If you don’t know the answer to something an inmate’s family member asks you, find it. Please never tell a parent that there’s nothing you can do. I reached out for preventive stuff and was told time and again that there’s “nothing we can do until he actually does something,” which in a way actually gave him a license to do whatever he was going to do.
- With a listening ear, listen to every word a mother says — whether a young person is stealing, coming in late, or sleeping all day. Take in as much information as you possibly can to make sure that you can best service the young man and his mother.
- After listening, size up the type of treatment the young person may need, whether a 30-, 60- or 90-day inpatient or outpatient program. Create a roadmap for the mother so she has some idea of what she can expect.
- Let the mothers know about the support that’s out there for them. Let them know that they need to be more educated themselves about the depths of the addiction so that they can better service their child. Help parents understand that addiction is a family disease — know that this might be a paradigm shift for the family, so help guide them through it.
- Learn to listen to mothers without judgment. Some of the mothers you come into contact with might not look like what you think mothers should look like, but the most important thing you can do is listen without condemnation and seek first to understand where they’re coming from, what their pain points are and how and why they might be reaching out for help.
- Once you do open up a good dialogue with mothers, reassure them that they’re not alone in what they are going through with their sons. Let them know that coming for help was the best thing they could have done for both themselves and their sons. Make sure they know that you appreciate all they have done to love and guide their sons and that the resources you’re recommending are additional supports, not replacements or punishments. They don’t come to you to get beat up; they come to you because they want and need help.
- When you suggest resources, make sure that you’ve checked on them and that the services you’re recommending are still available and accessible. It’s very frustrating to go home excited to make that phone call only to find out that the service is either no longer available or that your son doesn’t qualify. Make sure that resources are current and applicable to the needs of the family you’re working with. The resources need to be tailored to whatever the situation is — the last thing a mother needs is a run-around when she’s already running in circles. She doesn’t need the people who she’s relying on to provide her with information to send her on another wild goose chase.
- If possible, help the family find any resources necessary to facilitate visitation. If a mother is not showing up, try to find out what barriers exist. Maybe it’s transportation or child care or finances or work schedules, but if a family isn’t visiting, try to find out why so that you can help to provide the necessary resources.
Bettye L. Blaize is the co-author of “Doing Time With My Son,” written with her son Terrence White. After retiring from Holiday Inn after 29 years, she worked for the Urban Leadership Institute in Baltimore and now the Cambio Group.
NEW YORK — Author and reporter Maia Szalavitz, who writes about substance use and related issues recently spoke with Youth Today and JJIE about her experience and her newest book: “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” released in April. Here’s Szalavitz’s take on addiction and its complexities, from her own experience and in her own words.
A sin or a learning disorder?
There’s traditionally been two ways of seeing addiction. Either it’s a sin and you’re a horrible bad person and you are just choosing to be a hedonist, or it’s a chronic progressive disease. While I certainly believe addiction is a medical problem that should be dealt with by the health system, the way we’ve conceptualized addiction as a disease is not actually accurate.
I see addiction as a learning disorder, and I can’t imagine there would be any neuroscientists who would say ‘No, learning is not involved in addiction.’ You have to learn that a drug fixes your problem in order to crave it, otherwise your brain wouldn’t know what to crave. That sounds very stupid and simple, but a lot of complexity goes into that. The very definition of addiction that is agreed on by most researchers and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, for example, is that it’s a compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences.
So, that basically means addiction is a problem of punishment learning, you aren’t learning from punishment, which is this horrible irony, because if addiction were solved through punishment, which is what we try to do all the time, the condition actually wouldn’t exist as defined.
The learning that occurs in addiction is generally different from the learning that occurs in people when they learn math or something. Addiction is when you fall in love with a drug instead of a child or a lover, and the learning that takes part in that part of the brain is designed by evolution to get us to persist despite negative consequences to do what we need to do. The problem is when that gets misdirected to a drug, and then you can find yourself in some very negative and potentially deadly situations.
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The other reason I think learning is really critical in addiction is that learning is part of development, and we now know through neuroscience again that every mental illness, psychiatric condition, learning disorder, whatever, anything that’s really going on with the brain in some ways, has developmental components to it. So you don’t just wake up depressed from one thing, generally, there’s a whole pattern of things that go into it, your genes influence and the environment influences and your particular stage of development influences.
If addiction is misdirected love, how can that be redirected?
If addiction is misdirected love, and if addiction is compulsive behavior despite negative consequences, the thing people are going to need to get better is love, compassion and respect, not punishment.
Punishment by definition isn’t going to help. So what you need to do to help people to change and recover is to help them find different areas of passion and help them find better ways of coping. Because about 50 percent of people with addiction have a preexisting mental illness, and about two-thirds have had some type of severe trauma during childhood and they are not using to the point where they’re risking their lives because it’s fun. They’re doing something to help them cope.
And so in order for people to recover, we can’t just say ‘love is all we need.’ Love is great and it does help a lot of people, but a lot of people have things like depression or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or other disorders, all of which will need to be addressed in order for people to stay in long-term recovery.
And so because addiction is a developmental problem, the developmental stage is important, things like employment are important, things like having a sense of purpose, meaning and hope are important, and this is why there’s been so many spiritual cures for addiction, because those things often give people a sense of meaning and purpose. The problem is that we have a First Amendment in the country, and you can’t impose — or you shouldn’t be able to impose a spiritual solution on people — and it doesn’t work. You’re either amenable to that or you’re not, and so this makes it a very complicated problem.
Punishment is not going to fix it.
We should not be putting kids in cages and hoping that is going to fix their psychological problems of any type. Incarceration is as useful for addiction as it is for diabetes — that is, not useful and potentially harmful, particularly for kids.
There’s a lot of data that shows that if a kid gets put into the system — and we’re talking about kids who are selected for the same exact crimes — are way more likely to recidivate than kids who just happen to get away with it or kids who are diverted from the system. And there’s lots of studies on that, cross-culturally. What we’re doing is causing harm now.
For kids who are incarcerated for good or for ill, obviously what we need to do if we’re stuck with that is to provide dignified, respectful, homeopathic care as much as is possible in that setting. You really do need to feel safe and comfortable and hopeful that your life will get better, because if you don’t feel that way, why wouldn’t you get high?
People have just created irrational ideas that we just need people to suffer the most extreme consequences and then they’ll get better, and this whole idea of hitting bottom is not the answer. It’s a great spiritual story of sin and redemption, but it’s not a medical scientific thing.
Let’s say I hit bottom and then I get into recovery and then I relapse, and so now I need a new bottom, and then I cover again and I relapse again. You can’t tell if I ever really hit bottom until I’m dead. So it’s not useful; it’s a retrospective concept that also has been used to do an enormous amount of harm, like suggesting we put kids into prisons or throwing them out of the house.
You know, this whole notion of tough love, where you just cut these people out of your life, completely contradicts what we know. And what’s horrifying about it, particularly with a child, a teenager, is if you put a teenager on the street, you are putting them at extreme risk of way worse outcomes than if they are home with you. And if a child is doing something that is harming other family members or harming you or just putting other people at risk in some way, yes, something needs to be done about that, but don’t think that cutting the kid out of your life will help the kid. That is a real mistake a lot of people make.
Parents really don’t want their kids hanging out with a ‘bad crowd.’ We want our kids with people who have good values and — as best a teenager can be — are doing well. When you put a kid into a system, you are basically putting them into a bad crowd. And I’m not saying the kids in the system are bad, they’re more deviant. And so you’re putting them in a situation like, ‘Wow, I smoked heroin,’ and ‘Wow, I did coke,’ and the kid is saying, ‘Wow, I only did pot, where can I get some?’ And so there’s this contagion of worse behavior.
So, what works?
If you’re worried about a kid and drug use, the safest, best thing to do is individual counseling or family therapy, none of which will expose kids to more deviant or problematic peers, and both of which are proven to be effective. At the very least, they won’t hurt. In a criminal justice setting, it’s very hard to create a therapeutic environment where people do feel safe, but the real important thing to do is to do your best to do that. Because the best outcomes that are seen for therapy intervention and for other psychological interventions is where the therapist really connects and the person really feels understood.
What about marijuana?
We absolutely should legalize marijuana. Marijuana is the least harmful psychoactive substance that we have, with the possible exception of caffeine. Since virtually any teenager you ask can tell you where to get marijuana anyway, it is unlikely that we could massively increase teen marijuana use.
I think, obviously, we really want to prevent kids from taking drugs. The best way to minimize this is to minimize harm. We’re never going to prevent every kid from doing something stupid during their teenage years. Your brain is primed to take risks; you’re primed to get into a social scene. [They’re going] to do things that we really don’t want them doing … so we need to reduce harm.
I don’t think there’s a single child who’s ever benefitted from being arrested for marijuana or for underage drinking. This does not solve the problem. It makes worse problems because a) it puts them into the system and b) it gives them a potential criminal record to have to deal with, and it can have consequences for school. The thing we want for all our kids is that they be connected with a learning community, and that they have strong social and familial relationships. If we can do whatever we can do to create that and to reduce bullying and to reduce the kind of pain and shame so many kids feel for so many reasons, that stuff is going to reduce addiction. It may not necessarily reduce use. But, again, 70 percent of my generation used and we created Steve Jobs and [Barack] Obama and [Al] Gore. We have to stop panicking over this stuff.
The worst thing you can do is to make kids so terrified that they’re not going to get into college or that they’re going to get thrown out of high school that when they overdose they aren’t going to call for help.
The most important thing to do is to make sure they stay healthy and alive. Again, that doesn’t mean we should tolerate the older kids teaching younger kids to use drugs ... what we want to do is to reduce the reasons people use compulsively and reduce the harm associated with specific drugs.
We have to think in terms of harm reduction instead of ‘We’re going to get rid of this whole thing,’ because drug use has been with humanity before humanity evolved into humanity. You can see that elephants will get drunk, nonhuman primates will enjoy it, the cats will go for the catnip — it’s built into our biology. So we can either accept that people will seek ways of consciousness alteration and seek to reduce harm, or we can bury our heads in the sand and create more harm with the way we’re trying to stop it.
What about our current drug laws?
The thing about our drug laws is that they’re not based on science. Science could never get you to make alcohol and tobacco legal and marijuana illegal. Only racism can do that. And that’s what we have. We have a system that was devised by racists to create racist ends.
And I know that sounds really extreme, but if you just look at the history, you will find Harry Anslinger [first U.S. commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics] going on about satanic swing and how reefer will make black people think they’re as good as white people — which to him, obviously, was a very horrible outcome. This is the basis of our drug laws. We have cocaine laws because they thought cocaine would make black people impervious to bullets — if only, right? It’s pseudo-scientific at best. You see this stuff in the New York Times in the early 1900s. It’s not obscure. So once you know the history of our drug laws, you have to say it is just based on nothing.
Do we really want to base our 21st century policy on what the colonialist preferred at a certain time in history, not at all based on health or what the preferences of different cultures might be? That’s just ridiculous. I think our drug laws need to be made scientifically, as best as possible, recognizing that values will always be part of that.
Beyond science, how did your background help form your views?
I don’t have kids, but I’ve often noticed when people first become parents they seem to completely forget their own adolescence and they start to, as their kids become teenagers, try to do the things that didn’t stop them themselves. And I jokingly frame this as: Your brain gets wiped of those memories when you become a parent.
I also had my own addiction to cocaine and heroin in my 20s. I knew that it was driven not by the things the drug workers were telling me; in fact, I couldn’t believe any drug information that was given to me by authorities because I knew from my own experience that it was wrong. So when you’re telling me that marijuana’s going to make me crazy and addicted, and it doesn’t happen, why would I believe you about the other things? And obviously there are greater risks associated with some other things. And the reason I ended up taking those risks, I eventually learned, was not because I was some horrible creature that is evil and bad and wrong, but because I was wired slightly differently, and I found that these substances allowed me to connect socially, allowed me to feel OK and not overwhelmed by my sensory issues and emotional dysregulation. So, having had that personal experience, I knew that a lot of the stuff that we say about these things is just wrong.
Having the personal experience made me understand a lot more. That’s not to say I can speak for everybody with addiction. I think there’s a huge range of experiences.
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At the National Collegiate Recovery Conference Wednesday at Kennesaw State University, Michael Fishman, Director of the Young Adult Program at Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, neatly summed up everything he had learned in 22 years of treating addiction in young adults. The recurring theme of his keynote address: It’s complicated.
“Most young adults are generally poly-substance abusers,” he said.
They aren’t just using marijuana; they’re also drinking, Fishman says. It’s not just opioids, it’s opioids and anti-depressants or any other combination. And that complicates the picture for doctors trying to get to know their patient’s true diagnosis.
“The drugs and alcohol may mask the underlying pathology,” Fishman said. Withdrawal symptoms, he added, “cloud the picture,” as do toxicity and detox.
Additionally, many young adults suffering from addiction are also suffering from mental illness of some kind, what Fishman calls “dual-diagnosis.” Depression and anxiety are common in substance abusers and the addiction may begin as an attempt to self-medicate, which Fishman says doesn’t work.
“Ask any young person who self-medicates how that’s working out for them,” he said with a laugh.
The three-day National Collegiate Recovery Conference was hosted by Kennesaw State University's Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery and featured addiction specialists from college campuses across the country.
At a separate address Thursday, John F. Kelly, Program Director of the Addiction Recovery Management Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, echoed Fishman’s assessment.
“Young adults,” he said, “have the highest rates of co-occurring psychiatric problems.”
According to Kelly, who is also a consultant to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, this is a serious cause for concern because of the impacts not only on the patient, but also on society.
“Drugs and alcohol account for more than $500 billion in economic impact,” he said. “It costs more than heart disease.”
In fact, he said, excessive alcohol consumption alone costs the nation $2 per drink, citing a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control.
“Alcohol use disorder is associated with abnormalities in the pre-frontal cortex,” he said, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and moderating social behavior.
Additionally, he said, “drinking at an early age impairs maturation.”
When asked by the audience which drugs he saw abused the most, Fishman said opioids — prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, hydrocodone, and roxicodone and illicit drugs such as heroin.
“Eighty percent of what I see is opioid dependency,” he said. “It’s rampant.”
He added that often young people become addicted to prescription opioids but when they become too expensive they seek out cheaper alternatives, such as heroin.
Abuse of prescription drugs by young adults, he added, “is an epidemic right now.”
Treatment is imperative and should include a specific and consistent structure, Fishman said. Also important is family involvement.
“Parents are often afraid if they set boundaries they [their children] will run away,” Fishman said. Young adults “need a sense of family support,” not the “potential for sabotage.”
We are in the middle of celebrating Red Ribbon Week, the oldest and largest drug prevention campaign in the country. Sponsored by the National Family Partnership, Red Ribbon Week “serves as a vehicle for communities and individuals to take a stand for the hopes and dreams of our children through a commitment to drug prevention and education and a personal commitment to live drug free lives with the ultimate goal being the creation of drug free America."
Since 1980, Red Ribbon Week has been effectively used to target the substance abuse prevention message to school kids and families.
Yet, the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows a disturbing trend in this country in the “continuing rise in the rate of current illicit drug use among young adults aged 18 to 25 -- from 19.6-percent in 2008 to 21.2-percent in 2009 and 21.5-percent in 2010.” This increase appears to be driven in large part by a rise in marijuana use among this age group. Further, a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 20 percent of teens have taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.
So, on the one hand, we have what appears to be a successful and comprehensive substance abuse prevention message carried out in thousands of schools and communities across the country, and on the other hand, we are experiencing a serious growth in demand and use of illegal drugs by those very youth who are the target of this prevention campaign.
Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about alcohol and other drug abuse in a different way. Prevention and early intervention strategies are the hallmark of a public health approach to a chronic condition such as addiction. Public health officials say the goal of this approach is to reduce harmful use of substances, minimize negative health effects to the individual, and limit secondary drug-related harms to society. This approach also acknowledges that relative to substance abuse, there exists a spectrum of use, ranging from beneficial use to chronic dependence.
The public health approach to substance use and addiction is a way of thinking that is taking hold in a time when state budgets are being strained by the high cost of incarcerating people as a result of their alcohol and other drug abuse, and the lack of resources to provide those in need of treatment and therapeutic intervention services.
A public health approach stresses screening and assessments conducted in primary healthcare offices, emergency rooms and other community settings so that individuals are educated as to the consequences of their alcohol and other drug use. These screenings target a large population of risky to harmful users before they become dependent and provides opportunities for early intervention with at-risk substance users before more severe consequences occur.
There is much more work and thought ahead as we move toward a public health approach to addiction, including strategies for the reduction of harm and access to a comprehensive range of treatment and recovery services.
If we believe, as current thinking and evidence shows, that addiction is a preventable, treatable chronic health condition that can be managed over time, we can begin by honoring a strong substance abuse prevention message that is foundational to the development of strong families and communities.
Happy Red Ribbon Week!
Get your questions about recovery from addiction and treatment answered by experts during a Twitter chat held today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET and hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This event will create a dialogue with experts in the recovery, treatment and prevention fields, to allow the public to ask questions and learn more information. They hope to spread the message that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.
This September #RecoveryChat will celebrate Recovery Month and will be co-hosted by Dr. Westley Clark, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Kathryn Power, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.
You can participate by following and tweeting with the #RecoveryChat hashtag on Twitter.
SAMHSA also encourages you to share your stories about planning or attending Recovery Month events, key discoveries of what worked or what didn’t work for you or others in recovery.
Many Recovery Month events are family-friendly but only a few are youth-focused, according to the Recovery Month team. In past years, organizations have also hosted kickball games and teen-focused forums.
If you’re not available for the chat, you can tweet your questions to @RecoveryMonth in advance, using the hashtag #RecoveryChat. Or if you aren’t on Twitter, but are interested in asking a question, you can post questions on the Recovery Month Facebook Page or send questions by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier chat held by SAMHSA in July focused on young people and recovery. The transcript of the chat can be read on the Recovery Month website.
In a world where celebrities, athletes and the superstars of society pop in and out of rehab and treatment centers as if going to a day spa, it is easy to be misled to believe that one stop fixes all. Today the public is led to believe that addiction and recovery is a destination rather than a process, and for too many of today’s young adults, this image glamorizes addiction and minimizes the hard work of recovery.
The debate over whether addiction is a chronic illness, disease or self inflicted behavior has long separated our society and addiction continues to carry a moral stigma. The stigma associated with addiction is damaging enough when we are talking about an adult, but what about today’s young people? Is it okay to brand a young adult in recovery from addiction as a problem, not worthy of our emotional and financial support?
Before you answer, think about this – it is estimated that there are more than 50,000 college students inAmericawho suffer from alcohol, drug, eating and other addictive disorders. Some of these students have acknowledged their addiction, sought treatment for it and have incorporated into their lives, strong, successful recovery programs. As the director of Kennesaw State University’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery where student in recovery from addiction participate in a peer recovery program, I see their struggles and their successes everyday. Our job is to provide those students with a supportive place that offers opportunity and hope while empowering them to succeed in college and in life.
But if we continue to allow ourselves to label them as problems because of age old fears and worn out misconceptions, we are essentially turning our backs and telling them that they are not worthy of our help. If these students were afflicted with another type of chronic disease, the outcries would be loud and the support would be plentiful. So how can we best allocate resources and support a generation of young adults trying to turn their life around?
I believe that the best investment we can make in college-age student’s recovery is to be open and real about the addiction epidemic that has infiltrated our young population. Parents and patients alike expect the addict to be “fixed” after investing thousands of dollars in treatment. And then they keep their fingers crossed as their son or daughter enters the collegiate world.
Finding resources for the recovering addict and alcoholic on the college campus today is limited. Money is found for prevention, education and even to some degree treatment for an unseen population, but barriers spring up when we admit we have alcoholics and addicts on the campus by offering recovery support. Supporting recovery in college would be admitting that we have a problem. However, I submit that supporting recovery on the college campus does not mean we have a problem, on the contrary it means we have a solution.
For the thousands of young adults on the college campus today who are in recovery from addiction, unseen and anonymous working a program and living committed to recovery, who do the hard work of self reflection and community building, I say BRAVO!
In order to advance at all in our handling of addiction and these precious human resources, we as a society must open our minds and the doors of our universities and colleges to offer hope and a visible community of support. Join us on campus at Kennesaw State University Sept. 10, 2011 to celebrate National Recovery month at the Run for Recovery. The Run for Recovery (click here to register) is just one of hundreds of celebrations taking place during the month to support and honor those in recovery. Join the Voices for Recovery sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Teens who spend time on social networking sites such as Facebook are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, says a new survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). The report says:
Compared to teens who do not spend time on a social networking site in a typical day, teens who do are:
- Five times likelier to have used tobacco (10 percent vs. 2 percent);
- Three times likelier to have used alcohol (26 percent vs. 9 percent);
- Twice as likely to have used marijuana (13 percent vs. 7 percent).
The CASA study theorizes the increase is due to what kids are finding on social networking sites. “Half of teens who spend any time on social networking sites have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs on the sites,” the report says.
“The results are profoundly troubling,” the study says. “This year’s survey reveals how the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programming and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, some experts are wary of the correlation between social networking and teen substance abuse. But many agree that parents need to keep a watchful eye on their teen’s Internet habits.
Teen addiction is “the largest preventable and most costly public health problem in America today,” according to a recent report discussed by the the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Researchers at Columbia University National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 75 percent of high school students nationwide have used addictive substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or prescription drugs. And these numbers don’t include incarcerated adolescents or those who have dropped out of school.
Addiction is more likely for “the underdeveloped teen brain,” heightening the possibility of impaired judgment and bad decisions throughout life, the report says.
It also says that teens who are exposed to parents' substance use disorders are more than three times as likely as other teens to have a substance use disorder themselves.
The blame for this abuse not only rests on parents, but also lawmakers and advertisers, the researchers say. Solutions presented in the report include setting a good example at home, higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol products and the elimination of "marketing efforts to adolescents that makes addictive substances appear attractive."
"We rightfully worry about other teen problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in fact prevent," Susan Foster, who works for The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told the Tennessee newspaper.
Health advocates say parents should talk to their children early and “must be the ground forces in the war on addiction.”
Costs associated with teen substance abuse include an estimated $68 billion toward underage drinking and $14 billion in drug-related juvenile justice costs, the study found.
The study is coming out just as September, designated as national Recovery Month, approaches. Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of treatment for substance use and mental disorders. JJIE has more resources and information related to drugs and alcohol.
It’s always good to have someone to turn to when you are going through a tough time. And life, as we all know, can be full of those bumpy patches.
That’s especially true of the teen years. Toss yourself for a moment back into that tumult of peer relationships, galloping hormones, bad judgment and all the temptations on God’s green Earth. Not so easy for a kid, you’ll remember.
But it’s not so easy for a parent either. The only person who can register an anxiety level higher than a teen, is an adult with one living under their roof. We feel your pain.
The troubles of the teen day can range from school, to relationships. But the territory is particularly difficult when it comes to substance abuse.
So, we want to help, best as we can.
Starting in September, parents and teens will have a place on the JJIE website to go, simply to ask a question about drug and alcohol use, addiction and recovery.
Our expert is Neil Kaltenecker the executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and a board member of Faces & Voices of Recovery (FAVOR). Got a question about your son’s suspected oxycontin use, not sure where to turn about your daughter’s alcohol abuse? There are no easy answers about substance abuse and some questions are unanswerable. But Neil Kaltenecker will try to answer as many of them in the best way possible.
So look for the column in early September and in the meantime submit your questions to “Ask Neil,” at email@example.com. She Knows.
["Chasing the Dragon; Finding the Exit" is part two of three part series about heroin addiction. Bookmark this page for updates.]
Editor's Note: The following story contains graphic language and images. It may not be suitable for all readers.
One day, long before he found himself wanting to die in a cheap motel, Chris Blum got caught shooting up heroin at work.
Needless to say, he lost his job.
“That’s when I started going sort of full time. I was going out helping my drug dealer get money,” he said.
And then, Blum said, he had an epiphany.
“Man, I know where my drug dealers keep their money,” he said, laughing quietly. “I can jack them motherfuckers, too.” So Blum got a few of his buddies together and planned the heist.
At a table in a quiet coffee shop in suburban Atlanta, Blum mimed holding two guns with his hands, pointing his index finger at me and sticking up his thumb like a child playing cops and robbers. A bit too loudly for the coffee shop patio he said, “Freeze!”
“Then we’d kick the fucking door down, take the shit and leave. It was a good day.” Blum chuckled. A man sitting at an adjacent table looked uncomfortable.
It wasn’t long before Blum woke up in his motel room, still alive despite his wish to die. He broke down.
“I heard a voice, clear as yours sitting next to me, that said, ‘Get help,’” Blum said. He opened up the phonebook and called a treatment center.
Checking into rehab, Blum was about 50 pounds lighter than when he started using, all the while thinking he “looked like Hercules.” His face was skeletal; his blood counts, liver and pancreas were “all out of whack.” The treatment center kept him on IV fluids for eight days.
And he was about to feel worse.
“Oh man, detox,” Blum said, shaking his head. He inhaled and sighed heavily. “Dude, you’re hot. You’re cold. You’re delusional. You’re hallucinating. You’re angry. You’re guilty.” He couldn’t sleep. He was miserable.
According to addiction counselor William Parrish of the Gateway Center in downtown Atlanta, this is why many addicts never come in for treatment, even if they want to. It’s the “fear of the withdrawal,” he said.
“It’s hell, dude,” Blum said. “It really is hell. At that point you don’t think it’s going to end. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
For many addicts, he said, getting high is the more appealing option, even if they want to get clean. But for Blum, the discomfort was worth it.
“I was scared, I was ready to quit,” Blum said. “But you get to a point where you’re hollow, you’re empty. I mean I was ready to die.”
He stayed in rehab for 74 days. He spent eight going through detox. The rest of the time Blum was in counseling. If he wanted to get clean and stay clean, he needed an attitude adjustment.
“I liked being angry,” he said. “My anger was my way of intimidating you.” But internally, Blum was scared to death.
Blum was lucky, but for those who choose to keep going, shooting heroin means risking their life every time they get high. In the life of a heroin user, “health conditions come from prolonged use,” Parrish said. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, dangers include “collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease.” Because heroin dealers routinely cut their product with any number of toxic chemicals or additives, users are also at risk of clogged blood vessels that could lead to permanent vital organ damage.
In the past, Parrish said, users progressed over a long period of time from snorting and smoking heroin to shooting up. But the majority of new heroin users — mainly white kids from the suburbs, he said — are going straight to the needle, shooting heroin intravenously, something Parrish said he had not seen before. Heroin is dangerous enough, but injecting intravenously presents its own set of unique dangers, he said.
“The primary transmission of HIV is through sharing syringes,” Parrish said. Dirty needles also expose heroin addicts to other blood-born diseases such as Hepatitis C and to physical risks such as skin abscesses from injecting under the skin rather than into a vein. But where do heroin users get clean needles?
A report in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association says 10 states, including Georgia, prohibit pharmacists from selling syringes for “illegal purposes.” Heroin use clearly falls into this category. This has proven to be a “significant obstacle” to the public health goal of reducing the transmission of viral and bacterial infections. Without access to clean syringes from pharmacies, intravenous drug users are forced to either share and reuse needles or find a quasi-legal needle exchange.