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Duneland drug problem is bigger than heroin

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Guest Commentary


As a mother of a 17 year old recovering addict, I continue to read with great interest the articles relating to the drug abuse problem in Chesterton. I have come to a point in my own journey where I feel strong enough to share my story and hopefully contribute in some small way to keeping the discussion alive about this growing crisis.

My son Mike is an alcoholic whose drug list includes almost everything BUT heroin. Not that it personally matters much, because the problem in our community is WAY bigger than just heroin. Just ask any of our kids. I am grateful that he is recovering and alive – my heart goes out to those who may not have been as fortunate to have found the right intervention in time.

The whole topic of drug abuse is certainly quite complex and encompasses physiological, psychological, and sociological factors. But in my opinion, the two great causes of this crisis are “blame and denial.”

It is so easy to blame somebody or something. Parents immediately come to mind. Certainly today’s music, video games, TV, movies, society in general, community apathy, “the drug-dealing element,” and the schools have all received their portion of blame.

I will admit to my fair share of assigning responsibility as well. Until my world came crashing down last year, I also sat back in my comfortable home, thinking those very same thoughts and feeling pretty smug about it.

It is easy to place blame on the parents, particularly working mothers who were not “there enough” for their children during their formative years. Yes, I will feel guilty the rest of my life because in society’s eyes I obviously was not there for my son “enough.” But what is enough? Would an extra two hours a day have mattered? Four? Eight? And what exactly is quality time? That answer seems a little too simple to me.

Blame and denial – Yes, because of the negative stigma attached to “addicts” I could not believe for the longest time that my son was one of them - pretty heavy denial. I felt embarrassed, ashamed and certainly would not openly admit to our problem. Surely this meant that I had failed as a parent. I must not have been there enough for him, not vigilant enough of the signs, didn’t keep him from the “wrong people.” Therefore, I doubled my efforts to help Mike recover.

My fallacy was that I believed I could. My mantras became “if only I did …fill in the blank here….then Mike would get better” and “this time would be the last time.” It couldn’t possibly be THAT bad.

We did everything in our power to restrict his freedom and access. By the time Mike was admitted to Pathway Family Center, an adolescent drug treatment center in Indianapolis, he was literally a prisoner in our house, leaving only to go to school and therapy. Yet, he still managed to use.

When we removed all of our alcohol and medications, he still managed to use.

He did not go to Gary or some other place to get his drugs of choice, he stayed right here at home and went to school.

After seeing numerous psychiatrists, counselors and undergoing intensive outpatient “therapy” Mike continued to use.

We thought we were doing all of the right things. So what went wrong?

Recent medical literature has shown that individuals are programmed to be addicts before they take their first drink, hit, huff, snort, or shot. When they come into contact with a particular substance for the first time, certain areas of their brains will become activated more intensely than those same areas in non-addicts. From that point forward, the impulse to re-experience that feeling becomes paramount and the downward spiral begins, taking anywhere from one to thirty years to progress.

Unfortunately, the earlier that first experience happens, the more likely the addiction. Yes, the addict is still responsible for taking that first step and my son fully admits to his willingness to try alcohol and drugs and enjoying them for a time.

But no one uses with the intent to become hooked. Typically the path descending to hell is insidious. It does not become treacherous until it is too late turn around without help.

In Mike’s case, he needed to be “unplugged” from everyone before he could even attempt to get clean. It was just too easy to supply his habit here. In fact, both of my sons have said on numerous occasions that they could get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted right here in our community.

In our case, the typical “suppliers” were friends and family, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not.

The Pathway program offered a way for Mike to “check out” of his current situation, get clean, and learn strategies for staying strong and continuing his recovery work when he returns home.

He is currently 168 “days clean” and has recently been promoted to the third of five levels of treatment. He is slowly being brought back into the mainstream. He will struggle with his addiction his entire life, but from this point forward, he will have the tools and support network in place to help him stay sober.

But we all have work to do. Addiction destroys families and friendships and real work must be done to rebuild bridges. It’s certainly not easy but the benefits are truly worth it. Before Mike’s admission to Pathway, I was not sure we would celebrate his eighteenth birthday. Now I have great hope that we will.

I hope that I have caused you to pause and consider my story. The drug abuse crisis is complex and indeed I truly believe that its resolution lies within the “village.” But as any recovering addict will tell you, the first step of twelve steps to recovery is admitting that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol.

True recovery work cannot begin until we admit that there is a problem in the first place. Stepping out of the shadows and getting past the shame, blame, and denial will facilitate some real conversation about the depth and nature of our problem.

It may take the establishment of a local rehabilitation center to change the course of where this community is heading. If we don’t place our efforts towards rehabilitation and treatment, we will spend more on funerals and larger prisons. We pay either way.

It’s not just about treating an addict, it’s about preventing crime, saving lives and making the hope of recovery a real possibility for others, ultimately stopping a vicious cycle. “Just Say No” sounds good but doesn’t quite cut it.


Posted 3/19/2004