Author and reporter Maia Szalavitz, who writes about substance use and related issues recently spoke with Youth Today and JJIE about her experience and her newest book: “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” released in April. Here’s Szalavitz’s take on addiction and its complexities, from her own experience and in her own words.
At the National Collegiate Recovery Conference Wednesday at Kennesaw State University, Michael Fishman, Director of the Young Adult Program at Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, neatly summed up everything he had learned in 22 years of treating addiction in young adults. The recurring theme of his keynote address: It’s complicated. “Most young adults are generally poly-substance abusers,” he said. They aren’t just using marijuana; they’re also drinking, Fishman says. It’s not just opioids, it’s opioids and anti-depressants or any other combination.
We are in the middle of celebrating Red Ribbon Week, the oldest and largest drug prevention campaign in the country. Sponsored by the National Family Partnership, Red Ribbon Week “serves as a vehicle for communities and individuals to take a stand for the hopes and dreams of our children through a commitment to drug prevention and education and a personal commitment to live drug free lives with the ultimate goal being the creation of drug free America." Since 1980, Red Ribbon Week has been effectively used to target the substance abuse prevention message to school kids and families. Yet, the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows a disturbing trend in this country in the “continuing rise in the rate of current illicit drug use among young adults aged 18 to 25 -- from 19.6-percent in 2008 to 21.2-percent in 2009 and 21.5-percent in 2010.” This increase appears to be driven in large part by a rise in marijuana use among this age group. Further, a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 20 percent of teens have taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.
Get your questions about recovery from addiction and treatment answered by experts during a Twitter chat held today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET and hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This event will create a dialogue with experts in the recovery, treatment and prevention fields, to allow the public to ask questions and learn more information. They hope to spread the message that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover. This September #RecoveryChat will celebrate Recovery Month and will be co-hosted by Dr. Westley Clark, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Kathryn Power, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. You can participate by following and tweeting with the #RecoveryChat hashtag on Twitter.
In a world where celebrities, athletes and the superstars of society pop in and out of rehab and treatment centers as if going to a day spa, it is easy to be misled to believe that one stop fixes all. Today the public is led to believe that addiction and recovery is a destination rather than a process, and for too many of today’s young adults, this image glamorizes addiction and minimizes the hard work of recovery.
Teens who spend time on social networking sites such as Facebook are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, says a new survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). The report says:
Compared to teens who do not spend time on a social networking site in a typical day, teens who do are:
Five times likelier to have used tobacco (10 percent vs. 2 percent);
Three times likelier to have used alcohol (26 percent vs. 9 percent);
Twice as likely to have used marijuana (13 percent vs. 7 percent).
Teen addiction is “the largest preventable and most costly public health problem in America today,” according to a recent report discussed by the the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Researchers at Columbia University National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 75 percent of high school students nationwide have used addictive substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or prescription drugs. And these numbers don’t include incarcerated adolescents or those who have dropped out of school. Addiction is more likely for “the underdeveloped teen brain,” heightening the possibility of impaired judgment and bad decisions throughout life, the report says. It also says that teens who are exposed to parents' substance use disorders are more than three times as likely as other teens to have a substance use disorder themselves.
It’s always good to have someone to turn to when you are going through a tough time. And life, as we all know, can be full of those bumpy patches. That’s especially true of the teen years. Toss yourself for a moment back into that tumult of peer relationships, galloping hormones, bad judgment and all the temptations on God’s green Earth. Not so easy for a kid, you’ll remember.
["Chasing the Dragon; Finding the Exit" is part two of three part series about heroin addiction. Bookmark this page for updates.]
Editor's Note: The following story contains graphic language and images. It may not be suitable for all readers. One day, long before he found himself wanting to die in a cheap motel, Chris Blum got caught shooting up heroin at work. Needless to say, he lost his job.
Chris Blum is laughing again, each breath a small wheeze followed by a noise that cuts through the surrounding sounds of the coffee shop patio. It’s full and rich, staccato and guttural; four beats long, the laugh of a man who sees the blessing in having anything to laugh about at all.
He’s a big guy, tall with a softness that comes with the newfound freedom to eat food without vomiting it back up again. Not long ago, Blum was a heroin addict. On this hot, sunny afternoon, Blum is sitting under an umbrella, dabbing perspiration away with a napkin and telling me about one of his jobs when he was an addict: a money collector for his dealer.
“I was a nice guy the first time,” he says, smiling. “The second time you didn’t see me coming.”
But then there’s the change, the dip from major to minor keys as he stops laughing. Sitting outside, I can’t see his eyes behind the dark sunglasses, but his smile quickly fades as he recounts one method of collecting a debt.
“The second time,” he continues, “you’d walk in the door and your girlfriend would be duct-taped and I’d have a gun to her head and a broomstick shoved up her ass.”
Blum pauses for a moment turning his face to mine, his last words hanging there awkwardly.
Chris Blum. Photo by Ryan Schill
Heroin addicts will do anything for a fix, Blum tells me, things they never thought they were capable of. For Blum, that meant helping his dealer with the dirty work.
“You’re not a very nice guy if you’re collecting money for drug dealers,” he said. “At that point, I did more drugs just to erase the memories of the crazy shit I was doing to people.”