Erin Dale, a probation officer in Cobb County, Georgia’s juvenile drug court, has never come across a kid who started using marijuna as young as Zach Dykes.
“Seven years old,” Dale said. “Pre-teen, like 11 or 12, is the earliest I’d seen before Zach.”
Zach, 17, is currently in the Cobb County, Ga. Juvenile drug court program. Up until this April, the Hillgrove High School senior had smoked marijuana on and off – mostly on – since he was 7. He’s been locked up on drug charges and probation violation four times.
But you just can’t help but like Zach, Dale said, particularly now that he’s showing drive and dedication to accomplishing some things in his life.
“He’s always wanted to do right and he’s always honest and takes responsibility for his situation,” Dale said. “That is not usually the case with kids we see. Most will do whatever they can to get away with something, but not Zach.
“Until about a year ago, though, he was kind of floating around wanting to get through with probation and school, but something clicked. Since then, he’s raised his grades high enough to play football and he’s putting things in motion to do things with his life.”
Both Dale and Scott Merritt, a certified substance abuse counselor who has worked with Zach the last year or so, hope Zach stays focused on staying clean as opposed to being a caretaker of his older brother, Robbie, 23.
Robbie was released from prison earlier this month after serving 18 months on a drug conviction. Robbie says seeing Zach clean and sober is one of the greatest gifts he’s even been given. Both talk about helping the other stay clean. That sounds good, Merritt said, but it can become a not-so-good approach.
“It’s possible to feed off each other in a good way,” he said. “But when first opportunity comes along to use, I just don’t know Robbie well enough to know where he is in his recovery. I think where Zach is, he’s strong enough to make a good decision and not go down that path. But I’m trying to get through to him that he can’t be responsible for his brother’s sobriety. He can’t protect him and make his decisions.”
Added Dale: “Zach thinks his brother coming home is a positive, and we all hope it is.”
For all teenage recovering addicts, the holiday season can be tricky.
“A lot of people think it’s a great time for kids, and it can be,” Merritt said. “But it’s also just as stressful for kids as it adults. They experience the stress their parents are under and often have just finished some end-of-semester exams. And with school out, the structure is missing and the opportunity to use increases.”
Dale thinks Christmas will be a good time for Zach, though.
“How Christmas helps or hurts is a case-by-case thing. Sometimes, the holiday is a trigger for bad memories or just a trigger to get together with the wrong people and use,” she said. “But a lot of time, when families get together and take the time to see how much improvement there has been with someone like Zach, it can be a real positive reinforcement for all the hard work.”