By Chelsea Royer
We hear the tale on the news repeatedly – the kid with drug-addicted parents is moved to the home of a family member or foster care parent, then also becomes an addict. Those who make the news are the extreme cases – they are the kids who lost hope entirely. Many, many more simply wind up on the streets or hanging on to their lives by a thread. Despite prevention efforts, an unfortunate number of teens slip through the cracks and some wonder if there’s any hope for breaking the cycle of addiction within families.
When we hear stories like Sarah’s, we know there is something to be learned. (Names have been changed to protect privacy.) Sarah’s mom became pregnant with her daughter as a late teen. Though she managed to graduate, Sarah’s father decided to drop out. Both battled with addiction and when she was young, Sarah’s parents split up and she was sent to live with her grandmother along with her little brother. For eight years, Sarah barely saw her mom while her dad fell in and out of her life.
Sarah’s mom eventually married a longtime friend and started fresh. “My mom wanted something different for her life and her kids and I was able to move back in with her my freshman year of high school,” says Sarah. “I’ve known my step-dad forever and he feels like my real dad. He’s the one who taught me to ride a bike and has just been there.” The adjustment of moving in with her mom went smoothly for Sarah, up until her step-dad fell back into substance use.
“My step-dad relapsed and it was a big struggle. I feel that dealing with a parent’s addiction was harder as a teenager than as a child because I understood more what it meant. As a kid, you just hear ‘drugs are bad.’ As a teen, you know how bad it can be. My mom was a wreck when my step-dad relapsed and as the oldest child, it was pretty strenuous for me. I kept the whole thing a secret from most of my friends and my step-dad went through treatment out of the city.”
Oddly enough, the best treatment that saved Sarah’s family was the addition of a canine friend. “My step-dad named him and it somehow kept everyone together. Now my step-dad is doing well – he doesn’t even smoke,” expresses Sarah proudly.
Despite the tumultuous family situation, Sarah remained drug free and starts her first year of college this month. According to the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department, Sarah is an anomaly.
Undersheriff Dave Pimentel is in charge of overseeing the county’s Drug Task Force. “My experience in the Drug Task Force is that oftentimes when grandparents raise kids because of parental addictions, it is easy to see a trickle effect of abuse,” expresses Pimentel, who often sees kids become addicted to substances despite being removed from their parents’ homes.
Sarah is thankful she doesn’t have an addictive personality. But she also believes a large part of her success is due to past counseling, her friends, teachers, and the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. “I’ve been a part of AVID since junior high. It’s been lots of fun as have been the people in that class I’ve grown up with. The class convinced me to continue my education and everyone in that class is going to college. It made me realize there was something more out there.” Sarah explains that most of the kids within her AVID class had rough pasts and unstable families. She was not the only one with a tumultuous childhood.
Sarah stayed busy throughout her high school years and especially during the time of her step-dad’s relapse. She was a cheerleader for all three seasons of school and held down a part time job. “I was too busy to feel sorry for myself,” shrugs Sarah. “A positive outlook also helped me get through.” Much of Sarah’s extended family battles with addiction and many of them wander the streets. She knew she wanted something more.
To teens who may be experiencing similar difficulties, Sarah says, “It can be hard to reach out, but if you need help, don’t be afraid. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a teacher than a guidance counselor and you should do that. You’ll have better connection and accountability.”
Officer Pimentel adds a note to parents and guardians. “We need to be talking to our kids at a young age – regardless of who is raising them – and not wait for the school to do it. Prevention begins at home.” Parental or guardian input in a child’s life can make all the difference in the world. Bring up the topic of drugs and alcohol with your teen.
Positive outcomes can happen in unfortunate family situations if we bring it up, support struggling teens, and educate kids on the truths of addiction.