Costs of teen drug addiction

Mercury News, By DARRYL CERENO | Mosaic, June 9, 2017

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John recently turned 20, marking his third year of homelessness. He was originally from Oregon, but traveled south with a couple of friends. He hasn’t seen his family in years.

John is a recovering heroin and amphetamine abuser who started using during his sophomore year of high school. He currently stays in San Jose, and is always moving around the city.

Teenage drug usage isn’t new. But the widespread substance abuse can carry the risk of addiction.

“Craving is the worst pain I ever felt,” said John, whose full identity has been withheld to protect his privacy.

Kids turned into addicts have the potential to ruin the rest of their lives, but professionals say their families also experience great pain knowing that they have a loved one suffering. Natural bonds and any relationship to an addicted loved one can be broken.

John had a healthy relationship with his mother. He felt he was safe at home and enjoyed the time he had with her.

“Me and Moms didn’t have no trouble, we had a normal relationship that a mom and son would have,” John said.

But once John began to use heroin, he stopped interacting with his mother and avoided being in the same room with her.

Often he would not come home under the guise that he was working or studying. His mother rarely questioned it because she was busy with work.

Brittany Simmons, a drug counselor at Asian American Recovery Services, said teenagers who are abusing controlled substances tend to isolate themselves from their parents and basically stop all forms of communication to hide their affliction.

“The isolation causes the family to slowly drift apart. Addiction’s lasting impact on relations with family members is the destruction of any natural bond,” Simmons said.

John said his mom would have tried to help if she knew what that John was an addict. He added that she would make attempts to connect with him because she knew that something was wrong, but he always gave her the cold shoulder.

John doesn’t know what happened to his mother, but he believes he failed her as a son and thinks about her often. Drugs tore him away from his family, and he said there’s a permanent mark left on his mother when John chose to abuse heroin.

Dr. Thinh Mai, a San Jose psychiatrist, has done extensive work with drug addicts. He has dealt with families affected by addiction before, and has much to say about the subject.

“It tears up the family,” Mai said. “The family will be at a complete loss.”

Mai said families that have a loved one become addicted causes so much strain in their relationship that it literally breaks any natural bond. Families tend to end up blaming things beside the illness of addiction, and it worsens their relationship with an addicted loved one.

John said his drug use started early on when he was in high school when his friends began shooting up. He didn’t immediately follow what they did, but after a while of hanging around with them, he decided to try it once, and then tried it again and again until he did it daily with his friends.

According to a coordinator from Nar-Anon, an organization that deals with families affected by addiction, environment plays a huge role in kids getting addicted. Being surrounded by users can usually take its toll on kids.

Cristina, another counselor from Asian American Recovery Services, is a recovering amphetamine abuser who started using at the age of 9, and continued abusing amphetamines until she turned 18.

Cristina said she was surrounded by drug users in her neighborhood, and they influenced her to use drugs. She was introduced to the popular party drug Ecstasy by the age of 9, and she slowly ramped up the frequency until she switched to crystal meth.

Her family was ignorant of substance abuse, so they blamed her drug addiction on her being “possessed by spirits.” Instead of getting her professional help, her parents took her to temples for “spiritual healing.”

Cristina was eventually taken away from her parents and put into foster care because they didn’t give her proper treatment.

The stress caused by her drug abuse continues to hurt Cristina’s family. She said her parents didn’t know how to deal with an addicted child, so they would push aside their emotions and leave everything pent up, and to this day they still act as if she was never an addict.

Her siblings were also affected by her substance abuse, as she was the one who took care of them due to their parents always working. Her siblings would stop seeing Cristina as often because she was always out getting high.

Eventually, Cristina was able to get the help she needed, and now she dedicates her career to helping other teenage addicts and drug abusers.

John hasn’t contacted any of his family since he left Oregon, and he feels that if he did, he would be met with anger and disappointment.  Despite this fear he has, all John wants to do now is find his way back home and see his mom again.

“Parents, never give up,” Mai said. “You are their lifeline, and if you give up, the streets will take them.”

Darryl Cereno, a rising senior at Overfelt High in San Jose, is a 2017 Mosaic staff writer.

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