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BOUNCING BACK 
Teens struggle with substance abuse 
(feature in The Bulletin and The Progress Enterprise, 15 Jan.,1997)
by Theresa Hawkesworth)
 
     Laura hit rock bottom before deciding to turn her life around. "I couldn't go any lower without committing suicide," says Laura, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.
     New Year's Eve, 1994 signaled the start of Laura's new outlook. She went to a party knowing she was supposed to meet her foster parents to bring in the new year. By the time they arrived she had burns on her hands and was passed out on the road.
    "Knowing I had hurt people who had taken me in and didn't have to, that did it," she says. But even that wouldn't have been enough for long. Laura, 18, says the county's youth support program saved her life.
    "It gave me goals. I have dreams. I'm going to graduate," she says. "It totally changed my life."
     Laura started drinking about once a month when she was ten.
    "It was easy," she says. "I started hanging out with an older crowd and they got me drunk."
     Drinking became her escape from family problems until she moved to Nova Scotia. For three years, Laura didn't drink, but at 15 she entered a foster home. remaining distant from the family, she started drinking again at parties, and eventually started drinking before, during and after school. Her grades slipped and she sank lower and lower, losing interest in everything. By 16, she was using marijuana, hashish and acid.
    "It was very easy to say yes because everyone was doing it," she says.
    Finally, a friend dragged her to youth support. She didn't talk or listen for a few months.
    Eventually she realized she had a problem. The program saved her life.
    "It's my family. It gets me through," she says. "I got people I can call at 4 a.m. to talk."
    The combination of support, education, recreation and outreach opportunities offered by the program have given Laura new direction. Most rewarding is being able to share her story with other teens.
    "If you reach one out of 400, that's one kid you're going to save a lot of trouble," she says. "People have come back and said they've quit because of us." 

    Reg, 16, didn't drink or use drugs until he was in grade 9. By then, he wanted to experiment and started drinking. When he went to high school that September there were a lot of drugs around and he started smoking marijuana and hashish.
    "You could go out in the smoking section and get baked for free. I got pretty messed up," he says.
    In November, Reg smoked too much marijuana and poisoned himself. he stopped smoking up for awhile after that, but there were too many temptations.
    "There's drug dealers everywhere and drug dealers are exceptional salesmen," he says. "It's always in your  face."
    After months of smoking pot almost every day he and a friend decided to experiment with gasoline in his garage, inhaling it through the mouth. "When you start using drugs, you don't really care what you do as long as it gets you high," he says. He liked the high from gasoline and got sick when he stopped, so before long he was inhaling three or four times a day. By the end of February the tank was empty so Reg and his friends put their lips around the nozzle of the lawn mower to get high.
    "If you don't use it, you go nuts. It's very addictive. You just need it," he says. "It tears away at you."
    One night he spilled gas all over the couch. he woke up and friends were messing around with a lighter. High, Reg sparked the couch, ending his serious drug use. "I sobered up in five seconds," says Reg. "I burnt two shirts off my back and melted my sneakers. I made a pact with my buddies never to do it again."
    Reg admits he joined the youth support program two years ago to get out of class, but has since realized what the program has to offer.  "Everyone has to make up their own mind to stop, but it's programs like youth support that give you the help you need to make up your mind," he says. "It's 110 per cent support. It's family. It saved me."
    Recently Reg told his mother the truth about the charred remains of the garage couch. "I told her and tears were shed over it, but she stuck beside me all the way. I have to thank her as much as anyone."

     It took more than rock bottom for Rick, 15, to change his life. He smoked his first joint when he was 12. "After my first joint, I wanted anything I could to get high," he says. He drank and did drugs, which he says are always available, as often as he could. One night, Rick and his brother had a private party, drinking beer, rum, and lemon extract. They sniffed gas and Rick took about 60 muscle relaxers. his sister came home and found him unconscious. She punched him in the face, trying to keep him awake, until the ambulance arrived.
    "I went into a coma and woke up in a hospital in Halifax," he says. "They were trying to put a tube down my throat. Everything in my body was shutting down." Released from hospital three weeks later he started detox, but even a near death experience wasn't enough to curb his addiction. he convinced himself he would have been okay if he wouldn't have combined the drugs.
    "I didn't think I was going to get hurt," he says.
    "It didn't take his parents long to figure out he was using again. They forced him to attend a group support meeting where he realized he wasn't alone. Other people were trying to quit so he thought he'd give it a shot. he's been able to quit drugs, but still drinks occasionally. He's not judged or criticized by the staff or other members of youth support and that motivates Rick to stay clean.


     Despite attempts to have a different life, Laura, Reg and Rick know they'll have to live with the effects of their drug abuse for a long time. Laura has occasional acid flashbacks and the permanent brain damage caused by inhaling gasoline - daily headaches, nightmares, sickness, memory loss, slurred speech and emotional problems such as depression - could haunt Reg forever. "Gasoline's bad because it cooks so many brain cells that don't come back," he says. "I find it a lot harder at school, problem solving especially. Intellectually it's pretty tough."
    The side effects aren't only physical. There's a loss of family trust and you're labeled as a drug addict and alcoholic, a reputation and image that's almost impossible to shake, says Reg. "If you've done it once they expect you to do it again."
    There's non-users, casual users, addicts like Reg, Rick and Laura who are able to turn their lives around and those who have gone too far to ever come back, says Reg. "Our path has been the most productive because we survived to teach other people."
    During outreach programs parents always ask if there's anyway to protect their children, says laura. She tells them to love them and communicate with them. "The best way is to let your child know you're going to be there," she says. "They have to make their own choices." Educate them about what's out there and teach them to make decisions for themselves, adds Reg.
    Rick, Reg and Laura agree there's too many drugs; too many kids in trouble for youth support to end.
    "I'd hate to see what would happen if they cut the program," Says Laura. "Kids are falling apart because of drugs and need somewhere to go," adds Reg.
'BOUNCING BACK' part 2