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Been There, Done That: How Personal Stories Can Help Fight Teen Pressure to Use Drugs


Over the last year I have been making an effort to speak with parent and student groups about the effects of addiction on a person and all of those associated with a person who is suffering from addiction.

While my son was actively using drugs, my activity concerning this subject irritated him. It made him uncomfortable and angry.  For some reason he did not want me speaking to groups. Maybe it made him feel embarrassed or ashamed.

For nearly six months my son has been working on his recovery and is not using. For me this is quite an accomplishment to see a heroin addict make such a huge turnaround in his life. It’s hard to believe that only six months ago he was speed-balling and his mother and I were discussing the fatal outcome of those engaged in this activity. Hope springs eternal.

Recently I was asked to speak to students at our local high school about the effects of drugs on young people. When I told my son I was going to speak he asked if he could go with me and speak to them first-hand about what drugs have done to him. This is a HUGE step for anyone in recovery. Facing their addiction head on and in front of a group takes courage.

We spoke to about 50 students that were in the age group of 14-15 years old.  My son is only 22. When he began to talk and answer questions about drugs and his addiction those students were riveted by him. You could almost feel an electric connection between him and those students. His message was direct and in a language they understood. He showed them scars on his arms caused by infections from dirty needles. He talked about what it is like in jail, going through detox in a cell. He spoke of all his lost opportunities with college, jobs and relationships. Maybe his most powerful statement in response to a question about why he started using was, “I started because I wanted to be cool, this is not cool, this is the worst thing you could ever do in your life. Using leads to becoming addicted and I can’t even describe how horrible that is.”

This format of an experienced young adult speaking to a group of teens is the most powerful weapon I have seen in waking up young people to the risks of drugs and alcohol. Let’s face it, I’m just another old guy telling these kids not to use drugs, but when someone in their age group stands there and tells a personal story with all the graphic details — that is called bringing out the heavy artillery.

By sharing his personal story he helped the kids connect the hazards of drug usage.  Being close to their age and someone who has “been there done that” I believe deeply resonated with them, inspiring them to  think differently about the consequences of the choices they make.

Education about the dangers of drug and alcohol use is all about being relatable. No matter if it is parents, relatives, friends, professionals or peers, the key to helping your child fight the pressure to use drugs is education. Give them a way out of those pressure situations. Do not be naive and believe that your child will not be exposed to the opportunity to use drugs. Every single young person out there has to make a decision about whether or not to try using drugs or drinking. Parents, take the offensive; do not wait until the monster has entered your home. Slaying this monster is about educating its prey, before he has a chance to attack.

By the way, I want every person that reads this to know; I cannot remember a time when I was more proud of my son. I stood up at the end of the presentation in front of all of those kids and told them with my voice cracking how proud I was of him to come speak with me.

Editor’s Note: Like any relationship, your relationship with your child changes over time.  For ways to talk to your child about drugs at every age, please visit our Parent Tool Kit.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Ron Grover / January 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Dear Tambi,

    I am so happy for you and your awakening to a life free of drugs. It is admirable of you wanting to help others. This is an important step in your recovery, at least it is very important to my son and his recovery.

    I encourage you to work with youths and use your story and life to reach out. Young people need first person accounts of what drugs are and do to a person. Please let us know how it goes and for you and for those you touch.

    Thank you so much for your message of hope.

    Ron Grover

  2. Avatar of tambi oben jr
    tambi oben jr / December 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I am a former dealer/ user. I live in West Africa. Drugs has cost me at least 16 years of my life, a wealth of opportunities and a lot of relationships. I would like to develop a program that will help clean the mess that I helped create. I spend a lot of time doing research on other groups that share my cause. I encourage you and I believe someone out there will benefit from your effort.

  3. Cathy / December 7, 2010 at 4:59 am

    Great to read that you are speaking with students. I think the best impact is having someone who has been through addiction speak, and tell their story. I know that is something I listen to and learn from. Very moving and thanks for writing.

  4. Dad 4 Truth / November 24, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    This is one of those rare experiences that we just don’t hear about very often. Why is that?

    If one considers the prevention impact that Dad & son had on the students, then why don’t we have funding for a program that dupblicates this success?

    Is there any research that says this type of program would not be affective?

    This sounds like something we should replace the D.A.R.E. program with. Is that program still operational?

    I would encourage Ron to investigate, get some funding and go national!

  5. Avatar of Tamara wolf
    Tamara wolf / November 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I, too, now speak to treatment groups because I lost one of my twin sons, to a prescription pain reliever. I had only discovered some pills two days before his death. I confronted him, told him not to do it again, and left to pick his twin brother up at the airport. After supper, Alex left and wasn’t home when we went to bed. He was 23, so we were use to hearing him come home and that night he didn’t. He died in his sleep at a friend’s. He had only a theraputic dose of this pain reliever in his system, but with his own anxiety medication (also a theraputic dose), his resperatory system and heart rate were affected and he died. Now, when I speak to young people, I can only imagine that my sons stands with me, proud that I am trying to help others prevent the same mistake. I, in turn, am proud of him because he didn’t disrespect us, and never was angry or resentful in our home. He suffered daily from anxiety and we think he found something (this pain reliever) to relieve his struggles with anxiety and fear. IF only that ‘something’ wasn’t such a deadly risk…

  6. Susan Lea / November 24, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Ron – thank you for writing this. This brought a tear to my eye. A story of a father and a son coming so far in recovery is wonderful to read.

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