Tuesday, April 1, 2014

JOE: A Teenager's Struggle

By Janet Firshein
WNET Thirteen~ For much of his teenage life, Joe was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Joe, now 19, is a recovered addict who counsels other teens. He knows, he says, that he can't stop someone from using drugs or alcohol, but he hopes his own story can "sort of nudge them into a different direction and explain there's a different way of life." Nobody in his peer group did that for Joe, he says; things might have been different if someone had.

When he was 17, Joe moved with his family to Miami, where getting drugs was a lot easier than in Chile. "Over here, I kind of discovered that you could sort of order stuff like pizza." Joe said he just would get a bunch of beeper numbers and beep suppliers when he needed drugs. 

One of the first friends he made when he first moved to Miami was another teenager who lived down the street and sold marijuana. "He didn't even know me. He just knocked on my door, and he introduced himself, and he offered to smoke me out." Joe says they became great friends, and he began to use marijuana heavily. Eventually, he moved on to other drugs, including LSD and cocaine.

Looking back, Joe says teens have a hard time avoiding drugs because they are so easy to come by and are often supplied by close friends. "In my school alone, there's so many kids that sell, you know, and a lot of time they're friends of yours." Joe says the stereotypical drug pusher whom kids are warned about is the exception. "I used to have this preconceived notion that somebody who sold drugs was, like, some filthy, grungy guy in a parka . . . but some of my first exposure to drugs was [through] close friends, sometimes even immediate family." Joe says it's a mistake for a lot of anti-drug campaigns geared to teens to portray drug dealers as looking like demons. "I think it's a little exaggerated . . . a lot of the kids that I did a lot of the heavy drugs with were just as regular and probably a lot more pleasing to a general crowd to look at than I was."

Ignoring the Problem
When Joe's cocaine use got out of hand, his girlfriend, Amy, became worried. She tried to confront him in a letter, which he dismissed and tossed in one of the many piles of papers in his room. Joe didn't think he had a problem. "I thought cocaine was the most glamorous thing on the face of the planet, even though I was doing it in some rundown, cockroach-filled apartments with some guy who was just living off nothing."
Amy surreptitiously showed the note to Joe's mother, and his parents talked him into visiting a hospital. They admit that they tricked him into the trip by telling him that it would be only for a brief checkup. Once he was at the hospital, they had him kept in the detoxification unit. After several days in the hospital undergoing detox, Joe was sent to an adolescent treatment program. Although he's forgiven his parents, at the time, he says, he was extremely angry at them for taking him away from his "lifeline." "I couldn't imagine a world without drugs. .  . . The way I saw it, I got a lot more out of a movie if I was on acid or drunk. I got a lot more out of everything. To me, drugs were like the spice of life. There was nothing else." Joe says he resented his parents for admitting him to a treatment center and, when he returned home, lashed out at them routinely. "I was just flipping out on a daily basis. . . . I just blamed my parents for all the wrongs in the world."

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