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What I Wish My Family Had Known: Teens in Recovery Speak Out

“Spying on me just made me more secretive,” says Jen, 23, who battled heroin and crack addiction from the age of 15.

“My mom used to search my room when I was at school. It just made me trust her less, and hide my use more.”

Communication Breakdown

Communication has often broken down in a family long before a young person gets involved with substances. Feeling unable to share the real-life struggles of growing up with parents can contribute to a youth’s need to find comfort elsewhere.

“I woke up every morning with an anxiety attack,” said Luke, now 21. “I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about it. I’d always been the ‘good kid,’ making straight A’s and playing sports. About sophomore year in high school, the pressure started to be too much. I started smoking pot with some friends, and it calmed me down. When my parents found out, they freaked!”

Kate, now 31, tells the story of what happened to her when she was 12, after her mother discovered a journal in which she had written about experimenting with pain pills:

“I went to my regular therapy appointment and was told I was going to rehab. My bags were already packed. I didn’t even have time to go home and prepare. I was completely uninvolved in the process – or the decisions being made on my behalf.

“Additionally, and most importantly, no one ever talked to me about why I was using drugs. The drug use was the problem and that was it. Instead, if people would have seen the use as a symptom that something was wrong in my life – and tried to help me figure out why I felt the need to medicate reality – maybe true early intervention would’ve worked.”

It’s Time to Face the Issue

Parents are understandably alarmed and afraid when they find out a child is using drugs. However, punishing or isolating them from their friends frequently makes the problem worse, not better. A parent’s first priority should be re-establishing open lines of communication with their child. They should try to find out why the child is using drugs, because if the underlying issues aren’t addressed, drug use may get worse.

“Don’t just ask what drugs I did,” says Kate. “Ask me what hurt so bad that I needed drugs to medicate it away.”