In our next “Breaking the Stigma” piece, we’d like to bring light to an ever-growing problem across the world…teen drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (2022), 50% of teenagers aged twelve to seventeen have misused a drug at least once. Additionally, 61.5% of teens have abused alcohol by the time they enter their senior year of high school.
To better understand this topic, I reached out to some brave readers who wanted to share their stories with our community – names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Bryan, a male in his thirties, details an addiction to heroin that started at age fifteen:
“My best friend and I started using together. He lived in the country club, and I lived in a trailer park, but we lived like no one ever knew either of us.
When we found each other, it was like for the first time the world didn’t matter. It’s crazy.. depression brought us together, and we weren’t alone anymore, but we still had to find something else.
So we started smoking cigarettes, then weed, then shooting heroin. I lost everything. I was homeless living behind a dumpster while he was in prison. He started to get his stuff together after prison and tracked me down and got me off of the streets.
Then January 4th 2020, he passed away due to his drinking. It changed my life. I felt like it should have been me. But I had something I never felt before. Purpose.”
Tracy, a female in her thirties, spoke candidly about overcoming her drug addiction when she became pregnant.
“I started speed when I was 15ish and when that wasn’t strong anymore I started meth. I dropped out of college and dropped contact with my family. My mom’s mom, my nanny, tried getting me sober. To the point of taking me to another state away from everyone I hung around with for over a week to clean me up.
I’d love to say this worked and I stayed clean after that. That whole week I was sick in pain and felt absolutely horrible. I was so upset that they thought they could make me change my life and that they thought they could control what I wanted to do. We came home after a week, and I was feeling better. But as we were pulling into the driveway, I jumped out of her car, got into mine, and I was on the phone to get high again.
For almost a year, I didn’t talk to any of the family. My nanny found out she was going to die of cancer in that same year. She was closer to me than my own mom when I was younger. I was high when she called to tell me what the doctor had told her. I’ll never forget the lack of care or emotion I had when I told her “how is that my problem” and hung up.
I wasn’t there for her or my family as they struggled with this. I had no home, no job, and no income so I lived in my car when I wasn’t hiding out in hotel rooms. I never robbed anyone or took anything that wasn’t mine. I had got wrapped up with the wrong people, but they kept my gas tank full and a roof over my head.
Eventually, my partner at the time and I decided to stop doing drugs, and February 27th was our first full day of no drugs. I was sick again.. pain, fever, chills, body ached all over. Light, sound, and movement made me sick. Seeing things, hearing things, thinking I was going crazy. I still didn’t want to eat… eating made me sick. My stomach hurt so horribly bad as my body tried to recover from hardly ever eating. I tried sleeping the time away and that ended in nightmares each time.
After close to 3 and a half weeks, I was almost a normal person again but still craving it. In this time, I got a job and started getting my life on track. My partner got high again and went away for a week. When he got back, I told him I thought I was pregnant and wanted to wait to get high again until I found out for sure.
On April 22nd, I found out for sure that I was pregnant. I decided that I wasn’t going to get high until after I had the baby. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the same choice.
In this time, my beloved Nanny passed away, and I still had not made amends with the family. Even after all this time, I still haven’t forgotten how horrible of a person I was to her in the most vulnerable time of her life.
Even after 16 years of being sober, it’s a daily struggle to not turn back. The craving never really goes away. The thought of not feeling pain, depression, heartache, and all of the unwanted emotions normal people have to deal with the drug makes you numb to.
I’m not the strongest person by any means, but I feel like God knew what he was doing by making me a mother when he did. My kids are my reason for being clean and staying clean. There’s nothing anyone can do to make you stay clean after treatment. It’s all up to you…you have to find what makes you want to be clean. When I feel myself struggle with life, I turn to my closest friends and hold my kids to remind me that they are my reason for keeping myself together and on track. They are my life and my strength.”
Warning Signs of Substance Abuse
With these powerful testimonies in mind, what are some of the warning signs your teen might exhibit if they are suffering from an addiction? The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (2019) asserts that your teen may be hiding an addiction if you notice:
- Major physical changes, such as extreme weight loss or dramatic changes in sleep habits
- Changes in behavior, such as lying or stealing
- Abandoning longtime friends or dropping old friends for a completely new group
- Withdrawing from participating in activities your teen formerly found enjoyable or grades slipping
- Disregard for rules and resisting discipline
Further Resources on Overcoming Substance Abuse
If your teen or a young person you love is suffering from addiction, it is important to seek help right away. Here are some resources that can help guide your next steps:
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article How to Stay Mentally Healthy While Recovering from an Addiction
- Information on mental health and substance use from mentalhealth.gov
- Resources and advice from Rethink Mental Illness and the Mental Health Foundation
Additionally, we also have an online forum to support those who mentor youth, whether it be our personal children or in our professions.
I moderate the group, and we would love to have you! You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2019). Early warning signs of teen substance use. Retrieved March 6, 2022, from https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/warning-signs-teen-substance-use
National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. (2022). Drug use among youth: Facts and statistics. Retrieved March 6, 2022, from https://drugabusestatistics.org/teen-drug-use/
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is a care coordinator for a local mental health agency in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com) – her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.