Every parent's nightmare is the death and burial of a child. It is not natural or the correct sequence of life events. No matter what their age, the death of your child is always overwhelming.
Thus, when a nineteen year old dies of a drug overdose, it is an almost unbearable burden, no matter what one's religion, ideology or philosophy. Little can make sense of such a tragic human event. What a waste of life and human potential.
However, addiction is a very seductive and infectious disease. It has no set profile. It wears many faces and touches people of all ages, oftentimes those one would lease suspect. It is a disease that if left untreated can and will be lethal.
Unfortunately, many people think they are invincible. Many of our young think that nothing can hurt them or detour them from life's course. Our culture conveys mixed messages that can be so dangerous.
There are certain behaviors that are clearly reckless and inappropriate. These actions cause one to risk forever destroying one's self and others. People who are vulnerable to compulsive, impulsive and addictive behaviors cannot play around with drugs and alcohol. That choice could sideline you forever.
KT was nineteen, but his story begins long before the night he went to sleep and never woke up. KT was born into a traditional Irish Catholic family. He was the oldest of three brothers. His parents are well educated and hardworking. Mom is a stay at home Mom. Dad is in upper management. The family gathers four out of five nights a week for dinner, and they talk.
What happened? When KT began junior high school, he started pushing his limits. He wanted to do more. His crowd of friends began to change. He started rebelling, but continued to talk to his parents.
In junior high, he and his friends started drinking. They got caught and were punished for it. KT also tried pot and hated it. His mother noted that KT was always easily influenced, that he was somewhat impulsive when it came to social choices.
After the pot episode, his Mom sat him down and talked about the addictive behaviors in the family. She warned KT that he was probably more vulnerable than many of his friends. She begged him to be careful and not put his life in jeopardy. Like most teenagers, he assured his Mom that he was not "reckless" and that he would be careful.
By tenth grade, KT was drinking every weekend and coming home drunk. However, it did not stop with drinking. He was now mixing alcohol with other designer drugs. His behavior had gotten so out of control that his parents forced him into the first of three rehab experiences.
In less than thirty days (due to insurance), KT was out. He definitely learned a new vocabulary and lingo. One would be impressed with the volume of material relative to recovery and addiction one learns in a rehab experience. However, as with many teachers, it falls on deaf ears. Young people think they are invincible and can handle whatever comes from their recreational use of alcohol and illegal substances.
Few teenagers (and adults for that matter) who enjoy alcohol, but have crossed over the line of responsible drinking can handle the thought that they can never drink again. The level of denial is disarming and potentially life threatening. That is the complexity of addiction.
If you have crossed over the line and have an addiction problem, you can never consider recreational use of any alcohol and/or chemical substance. Entertaining the future possibility will only threaten any real long-term recovery. That thinking will inhibit you from really embracing true recovery. You might gain abstinence, but you will not have entered real recovery.
Each time KT came within a few weeks, his recovery was compromised. He went back to the drug-infested neighborhood that supported his addiction. He returned to high school, which made it easy for him to get his drugs of choice free. In many ways, it was a no win situation for him. His window of abstinence was becoming smaller and smaller. Most people were not aware of that because his acting skills had substantially improved. Most were fooled and didn't know the severity of his on-going use.
He went through the motions of going to meetings, but started to get high after the fellowship with others of equally weak recovery.
Thanks to managed care, any type of long-term treatment was out of the question. This was further complicated by KT's belief that he did not need long-term treatment, that he could do it on his own.
The empirical data is very clear. A growing number of teenagers are being severely disabled by addiction. We clearly lack the comprehensive resources to provide help for those who want it, never mind the escalating list of those in denial who think their incompetent formula will work.
For the rest of high school, KT was on a roller coaster. He was straight and managing, and then before you could take an extended breath, he had picked up again.
He started binging for days on end. He started to use crack cocaine. He became unbearable to live with. He would disappear for days at a time and literally push his parents to the edge.
Once the crack became boring, he started getting turned on to heroin. He did not use needles because he hated needles. Instead he started snorting it. The rush was quick and unbelievable. In the neighborhood, it was very cheap. He was hooked.
Now KT was stealing to get his fix. Finally, right before he died, he reached out for help. There was not a bed available in any local detox. He agreed to go with his Mom and try again in the morning. He went home that night, went to bed and never woke up again.
There is something radically wrong with a health care system that cannot find a bed somewhere for someone who has a heroin addiction and is desperate.
We need to take the blinders off. Addiction among teenagers is escalating beyond words. There are few to no competent, accessible resources available. Heroin is everywhere. Beware.
We are not invincible, but rather terribly vulnerable. Our children are the casualties of our inaction. We need to act differently now!
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