Anne Florence Brown
That is the number of gallons of alcohol teenagers will consume this year.
Adolescents in America face a battle every day when attempting to live sober. Around 68 percent of 12th graders have tried alcohol, with 37 percent consuming it within the last month. It is no surprise many are struggling with addiction.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease defined by a physical and psychological dependence on drugs, alcohol or a behavior. When an addictive disorder has formed, a person will pursue their toxic habits despite putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
Ryan Flak, a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi, spent his tenure at the university mentoring kids at a local rehabilitation center in Oxford, Stonewater Recovery at 38 County Rd. 362.
“I learned about Stonewater because I was a delivery driver for Chaney’s pharmacy and delivered medications to Stonewater as part of my route,” he said. “I became interested in their mission and sought to volunteer as a mentor for the adolescent males seeking treatment for addiction that Stonewater treats.”
Through his years of volunteering, Flak developed relationships with many youths who were walking through the complicated problem of addiction.
“I saw that a lot of these kids just wanted to be loved,” he said. “Several of them had a hard home life and, to compensate for this, they chose to escape through substances,” Flak said. “Usually, I observed that they did not know what life looked like without substance.”
Even though there might be countless ways and paths to becoming an addict, there seems to be a common thread, according to Daniel Farmer, the academic advisor at Stonewater.
“Addiction does not discriminate,” Farmer said. “In my years of helping kids through this issue, I have seen the same patterns in both adult addicts and child addicts. I have seen one common denominator through all these different cases, no matter old or young, socioeconomic status, race, or gender. This is the longing to escape by changing the way one feels. For many, this change is found through substance.”
Addiction may not discriminate, but society does. Many addicts must deal with criticism while conquering their addictions.
Farmer and Flak are just a few of the many mentors attempting to bring light to the issue of teen exposure to drugs and alcohol and ways communities can support, rather than worsen this issue.
“Our country treats those with addiction as if they are bad people,” Farmer said. “I wish I could tell everyone that just because a child or an adult has made a few bad choices, it does not make them a bad person.”
Ignoring the issue only damages a child’s ability to overcome the fixation of substances. Opening a dialogue about addiction has become a passion of Farmer, a former addict and current education advisor at Stoneware Recovery.
“Above all, I hope people become proactive in teaching their kids about the dangers of addiction and drug use,” Farmer said. “Sweeping it under the rug only means you will trip over that lump later on, and if we begin to see addicts as good people in hard situations, we could really bring hope to a lot of struggling people.”
Ultimately, just talking about addiction may not be enough. In many cases, educating parents, those who experience addiction, and their communities has become a more effective way of battling the problem.
“I hope that we move to educating our communities on how to properly help and treat the people around us who are dealing with addiction,” Farmer said. “We must become urgent about removing the stigma surrounding addiction because keeping this issue silent will only make it worse.
“We must start talking about it with our teens and show them the possibilities substance abuse can bring. Let’s educate our communities and teach them how to best care for addiction both in their own lives and also with the people close to them who are struggling.”