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Addiction Prevention: Start Early

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I was only a few months sober in the summer of 2011 when I saw a Facebook post from an old friend. A member of my old social circle died in a vehicle crash; he had been drunk. 

It occurred to me then that I could easily think of a dozen people who I went to high school with – or knew while I was in high school – who died in incidents related to drugs and alcohol when they were very young. 

There was the young woman, two grades older than me, who also died in a drunken car crash during her senior year. There was my friend who used copious amounts of alcohol to deal with his depression, and one drunken night committed suicide. There were multiple co-workers who, after brief periods of abstinence, overdosed from using the same amount they had when they’d built up a strong tolerance. 

These dozen or so who passed away are only a small portion of the people I knew who used drugs or drank heavily. A few entered recovery, and others, I’ve learned, cleaned up their acts enough to get married and start families. 

Throughout my sobriety I’ve shared this revelation with friends, family and occasionally co-workers. Often I’m met with shock. People assert that they can’t think of nearly that many people who drank or used drugs that way, much less that many who died from it.

Is Addiction Among Adolescents Common?

I began to question my memories of my high school and the town I grew up in. Was it really as safe from drugs as I had remembered? The answer, unsurprisingly, is no. 

But based on the statistics that close to 21 million Americans are experiencing a substance use disorder, many of whom are between the ages of 12 and 18, I can’t readily accept that my high school is somehow an anomaly. 

No two people have the same story or circumstances that brought them to drink or use drugs, but one commonality is that the behaviors often began in high school. According to a report from National Institute on Drug Abuse, during adolescence is when most people begin using drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

“The adolescent brain is often likened to a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the reward system) but weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex),” the report said. “Teenagers are highly motivated to pursue pleasurable rewards and avoid pain, but their judgment and decision-making skills are still limited. This affects their ability to weigh risks accurately and make sound decisions, including decisions about using drugs.”

Amatus Recovery Centers Address Addiction Education

It is well established that preventing or delaying substance use is critical for mitigating the development of SUDs. Early this year, Amatus Recovery Centers announced that its Baltimore, Maryland facility, Foundations Recovery Center, will provide drug and alcohol counseling for Baltimore County Public Schools. A five-year commitment,  this partnership is the first time BCPS has partnered with an addiction treatment organization. 

Upon learning this, I felt a great sense of relief. I attended Baltimore County Public Schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. As early as Middle School (grades 6-8 in Maryland) friends were experimenting with drugs and drinking alcohol. I didn’t initiate my own using behavior until sophomore year, but recall the programs warning about drug using behavior — with the exception of having an excellent health teacher in 12th grade — to be lacking. 

I did well in school, but had a mostly anti-authoritarian mindset. I was prone to skepticism, and thought that the risks associated with drug use were not applicable to me. Even as my own drinking and using behavior began to worry me before I graduated high school, I chalked it up to willpower and circumstance. If only I was in this band, or dating this person, or accepted to this college,  I could curb my use.  

The services that Amatus Recovery Centers will provide for Baltimore County Public Schools were needed more than a decade ago, and thankfully this is being addressed now. 

“We are very impressed with Baltimore County Public Schools for recognizing that substance abuse is a major issue in our schools, and helping us address it,” said Mike Silberman, Amatus Recovery Centers COO in a press release. “High school is a crucial time in an individual’s development. We are thrilled that we will be able to build real relationships with students at this vital stage in their lives.”

Find a Treatment Center Near You

Education about addiction and its prevalence is one of the best ways to prevent substance use behaviors. However, for many adolescents and adults alike, using drugs and drinking alcohol hasn’t been avoided, and the majority of people who need help don’t get the treatment they need. 

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, there is help. At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we offer the full continuum of addiction-related care. From medical detox to primary psychiatric care to long-term outpatient aftercare, Amatus Recovery Centers can meet you where you are, and provide the most appropriate level of care to meet you at your needs. 

To learn more about our centers, and levels of care provided, contact an Amatus Recovery Centers admissions specialist today at 833 – 216 – 3079.

Addiction is treatable and recovery is possible.