#TBT – Denial – No Way!

Back in 2011, our son hit another bottom but still wasn’t ready or willing to go to treatment. The drugs had a grip on him. We sought guidance from an intervention specialist but our gut told us this was not the right person, not the right time, not the right approach. The meetings we had were such a disappointment and ended when the intervention specialist told me I was in denial about our son’s problem. Yep, me. Right. Not so. What follows is a quick vent that I typed up that afternoon … but never sent. Sometimes it’s just good to pound it out on the keyboard. Today, I thought other parents and professionals might benefit from this perspective.

Contrary to what (the intervention specialist we met with in 2011) believes, it is based on limited knowledge of me compounded by poor listening skills. Perhaps it was a “test” of my emotional stamina, open mindedness and ability to accept feedback or how explosive I might be during an intervention if I felt attacked, but back in May I was not at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 for my own recovery; today I am not at a 9.  My therapist, Al-Anon and the online parenting forum that I participate in — all groups who know me far more authentically — would say otherwise.

I will let go of (my son), but I will not abandon nor alienate him — he already feels these to a certain degree. I will not enable him, but I will continue to let him know the family life continues and that our home is a place of comfort and joy, which he may visit but not live as an active addict. I am modeling real love.

I am not in denial nor am I marginalizing his problem.

Midwestern Mama


©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved


Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Behavior


Guest Blogger Rose Lockinger, is back with another thought-provoking, informative post. As the face of addiction changes, so does the perspective on its definition. MWM

Why do people drink alcohol or use drugs? There is no one answer to that question. It’s generally easier to justify having a drink, for example, than doing a little cocaine or speed, but the reasons are often the same. Curiosity, peer pressure, curbing social anxiety, fitting in, turning 21. The list goes on.

While the list of reasons why a person might drink and use in the first place seems pretty cut and dry, the next question is much harder to answer. Why can some people stop, and others can’t? Why does a drug and alcohol rehab work for some but fail for others? Why does one person decide they have had enough, but others don’t seem to be able to make that decision? Why is it that a person will continue using or drinking, even in the face of severe consequences? Why would a person voluntarily put a drug into their body that could possibly kill them, or continue doing a drug they have just overdosed from

For the person who is in active addiction, it’s tough to explain to friends or family why they can’t stop. It’s also difficult to see that there’s a problem at all. Denial is a defense mechanism that plagues many addicted persons and their families.

The Disease Of Addiction

So is addiction a disease? There is a definite divide over this, with some agreeing that it is indeed a disease, and others believing that it is a behavior. Who’s right?

Research suggests that there are both genetic and environmental components to addiction. If addiction were solely a result of environmental influences, it could still be considered a disease, not simply a behavior. Here’s the dictionary definition as found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

An impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors

There are strong arguments for addiction being at least partially caused by genetic influences. In addition, it is often preceded by trauma, abuse and neglect, and often goes hand in hand with mental illness.

Other factors that support the disease model of addiction include the fact that addiction is chronic, progressive and relapsing. Without treatment, true addiction rarely goes away on its own. It requires effective intervention and treatment.

But Isn’t It A Choice?

To some degree, yes. The first time someone picks up a drug or a drink, it is indeed a choice. It’s a choice plenty of people make. Alcohol is one of the most widely used mind-altering substances in the world, but not everyone becomes addicted to it. Other drugs may be used by people recreationally or temporarily, with no long-term ill effects. Any time someone picks up a glass of wine or takes an opiate painkiller they are certainly making a choice. But it’s doubtful that any of those people choose to become addicted.

Another argument that might be proposed is that the addiction is a side effect of a behavior, and therefore shouldn’t qualify as a disease. In other words, the person made a choice to continue using substances and subsequently developed an addiction that got out of control, but it was a result of their behavior.

If someone smokes cigarettes and develops lung cancer, does that mean the cancer isn’t a disease, because it was caused by a behavior? The reality is that cancer is cancer. A person’s choices may impact whether or not they get diabetes. But diabetes is still a disease.

So yes, addiction does come about as a result of behavior, but that doesn’t make addiction any less of a disease.

Addiction Isn’t A Moral Issue

Along with those who believe that addiction is a behavior, there are also plenty of people who believe that addiction is a moral issue, or a total lack of willpower. This is not the case, however. Granted, it’s easy to see why someone may feel that way. The behavior of an addict may be baffling and frustrating. They may do things that are out of character. So often you hear parents wonder where their sweet, loving child went, or a spouse wonder what happened to the person that they married, because this “new” person is virtually a stranger. These behaviors are largely due to the changes that the brain undergoes during addiction.

When you think of willpower, you have to understand that willpower isn’t really a thing that applies here. What you are considering to be willpower is actually impulse control. A lack of impulse control is characteristic of addiction. It is also a trait that appears in certain other disorders, as well. In fact, a lack of impulse control in childhood has been used as a predictor to determine whether a child is at risk for addiction or other issues.

There Are Often Other Underlying Factors

The disease of addiction doesn’t appear to have any one root cause. This is true of other diseases, as well. Cancer may be partially attributed to genetics, partially attributed to environment and partially attributed to behavior. With that said, we’ve all heard of the person who did everything right, has no history and was not exposed to any type of carcinogen yet still died from the disease of cancer. Why does this happen? We still don’t know. Disease isn’t always that simple. Causes vary, and treatment outcomes vary, as well.

When it comes to addiction, there are a variety of risk factors that seem to contribute to the likelihood of addiction. Here are a few:

  • Addiction in the family. This may be a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, etc. This means that there may be a greater likelihood of addiction due to genetic influences. The family member does not have to be a primary caregiver in order for this to be considered a risk factor.
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse. Research shows that children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect or other trauma are far more likely to develop addiction later on in life than those who did not experience trauma. This isn’t just about the adult survivor trying to numb the pain (although that is part of it) but also due to the fact that childhood trauma itself causes measurable changes to the brain that might make it more vulnerable to addiction and other mental illness later on.
  • Environmental factors. A person, whether a child or even an adult who is constantly exposed to substance abuse is more likely to engage in the behavior. While this in itself may not cause addiction, it does increase the risk factor that addiction may develop.

Addiction Is A Deadly Disease

Anyone can develop addiction. It is a disease that does not discriminate. There is no one “type” of person who becomes addicted. People who are healthy, affluent, educated and come from “good” families can be addicts. Men and women, young and old can become addicts, regardless of race, socioeconomic status and religious beliefs.

People die every single day as a result of addiction, and it needs to stop. Stigma and criminalization do not improve the situation, they make it worse.  They make it difficult to move past the consequences that most addicts face.  The more that stigma is lifted and awareness is raised the more people will be willing to seek help.

Like other diseases, addiction can be managed with care. It’s important to not give up on the addicted person. Many do recover. They go on to become productive members of society, and active members of their communities.

About Our Guest Blogger

Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find Rose Lockinger on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram



#SoberSummer kicks off for 2016

Certain tunes and lyrics get stuck in my head. One of these is the theme-song from the Disney series Phineas and Ferb, a delightful cartoon about making the most of summer vacation by having fun every day:

 There’s 104 days of summer vacation

And school comes along just to end it

So the annual problem for my generation

Is finding a good way to spend it.

It reminds me of my youngest son’s  innocence amid the chaos of his older brother’s addiction.

As we near Memorial Day – the unofficial kick off to summer – it’s time to bring back the Our Young Addicts #SoberSummer campaign. Each day from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Our Young Addicts will post substance-use prevention tips for parents, professionals and other adults of influence.

Please follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Linked in, by liking, sharing, retweeting and quoting these tips. Use the #SoberSummer hashtag. And, by all means, share your tips with us and we’ll incorporate these into our postings – after all, we have 104 days of summer to fill!

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts    All Rights Reserved

100 Fun Things to Do Sober – 2016

In early recovery, it’s especially important for parents to encourage young adults to pursue healthy sober activities. MagShores @ SoberCourage has compiled a list of thought starters for people of all ages. Heck you might find some ideas for yourself – or even something you can do together with your kiddo!

One of the things that #SoberSon has enjoyed is watching Netflix to catch up on shows he missed during addiction. Within a few months of recovery, he also earned enough money at his part-time job to get a laptop (he sold the one he’d gotten for college to buy drugs early on in his addiction), so he’s also enjoyed playing video games again and being able to do research, read the news and much more online. Plus, once he started back to college last year, the laptop was vital to doing his homework. All in all, it’s given him a sense of independence and accomplishment. MWM

#TBT Thoughts on Pot from 2012

Midwestern Mama has been reviewing a series of drafts from four years ago when her son’s addiction was escalating. At the time of this draft, she knew for certain that he was a pot smoker; she suspected it was a lot more than pot, but hard evidence remained elusive.
When it comes to addiction, there are several schools of thought.  Intervene right away  — and keep at it.  Let the addict bottom out.  Raise the bottom.  It all makes sense … with most addictions — eventually, the addict will have enough consequences that they seek or accept help aka treatment.  They truly become ready and willing to change.  And they have to, because recovery is forever, every single day.
But Pot, good old harmless Pot, is something else altogether.  The user — aside from the consequences of laziness of which there are many — can go on for decades until life and all its potential passes by.  All in the vain of self righteousness.
Now for many people, Pot is more or less harmless, but for an addict — someone who has a chemical dependency disease, Pot is insidious.  Unlike hard drugs, users don’t crap their pants, vomit, pass out, rot their teeth, get sores on their body, etc.  Pot users are less likely to commit violent crimes.  They may steal money from a sibling or sell a belonging to support the habit.  They may not live up to their potential, but they get by and often they are generally well liked.
Their friends usually move on, finish school, get jobs, have families, and while they may occasionally smoke for fun, it’s no longer an obsession, a right or a calling.  The addict is left in the dust, alone, miserable and desperate for the next toke. That’s my son – wondering where his high school friends went. Reality, they went to college, graduated and got jobs, even bought homes and started families. 


Pot is called a gateway drug, and it’s true that most drug use started with Pot or s similar first high.   But there are also Potheads that never advance and in many ways, I think that may be the saddest aspect of all.  Pot is the anti advancement.  It is the ongoing nothing.  It just is.
Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Opioid: Drug Addiction Support and Recovery


This week’s guest blogger is Joshna Roy, who writes to inform us about opioid addiction and treatment – an epidemic and growing concern. MWM

Opioid addiction is not just a personal problem. It affects the entire family. When a son or daughter gets addicted to opioids, then people who suffer the most are his/her parents, siblings, and grandparents.

Of late, there has been a lot of talk about opioid crisis in the US. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the past couple of years. Here is an infographic showing the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire, which is one of the worst affected states in the US.

Do you have a drug-addicted son/daughter in your home? If so, what should you do to save them from addiction? This post will teach you some simple ways to save your child from opioid addiction. Before that, it’s important to know some key differences between opioid and non-opioid drugs.


Opioids are Narcotic drugs whereas non-opioids are non-narcotic in nature. There is a lot of difference between the two classes of drugs:

  • Opioids act on the Central Nervous System (CNS) whereas non-opioids act on the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).
  • Opioids are addictive whereas non-opioids are non-addictive.
  • Opioids belong to the class of Schedule II/III controlled drugs whereas non-opioids do not belong to the class of controlled drugs
  • Opioids cause no anti-inflammatory effect whereas non-opioids cause anti-inflammatory effect
  • Adverse effects of Opioids include sedation, shortage of breath, and constipation whereas adverse effects of non-opioids include gastric irritation, renal toxicity, and external bleeding.
  • Opioids have no ceiling effect but non-opioids have ceiling effect. i.e. they increase in dosage leads to horrible side effects but not increase in analgesia.

 Treatment and Recovery for Your Son/Daughter from Opioid Addiction

1.  Research and learn all you can

In order to save your child from drug addiction, it’s important that you know what it is and how it affects your child and what are the various options to treat the problem. Start with a basic research on the Internet. Get to know what these drugs are and how they work in the body.

 2. Observe them and identify their ‘cycle’

Since opioids create a sense of dependency and tolerance on the user, it’s important that you carefully observe the symptoms and effects of these drugs on your children. Does your a son/daughter experience minor symptom like body pain, restlessness, and excessive sweating or advanced symptoms like irregular heart beat rate, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Identifying the level of addiction is moving one step closer towards eliminating it.

 3. Get advice from people who’ve been through it

Once you’ve learned the symptoms and impact of the drug on your child, the next thing you can do is to seek advice from people who have already come out of opioid addiction. It’s a major problem in the U.S. so you start a discussion on any forum or blog and ask people for advice. Who knows? Some of the remedies and suggestions by people who have crossed the path of drug addiction might just be what you’re looking for to save your child from drug addiction.

  1. Seek Medical Help

Visit the detox centers in your area and ask them for quick help. Usually, they will start by monitoring your child’s activities and determine the extent of addiction and appropriately take steps to help your child overcome opioid addiction. That includes opioid antidotes such as trazadone and Chloral hydrate to control nervous problems and restlessness and lead to proper sleep in the night. The personal treatment plan that most detox facilities suggest could be very effective in dealing with addiction recovery. It includes medical support and counseling as well.

 Final Thoughts

Opioid addiction is a disease, and it can’t be cured in a single day. it requires a step-by-step procedure from basic to higher level recovery options. Follow the advice mentioned above, and you will be able to give some relief to your addicted son/daughter.


Joshna Roy - Withdrawl Ease - guest blogger - May 2016

Joshna Roy is the writer and social media strategist at withdrawal-ease.com, a blog that educates readers on detox and withdrawal options for Opioid addicts. She is a health and fitness expert and writes mostly on topics relating to health, psychology and paleontology.

Addiction: The Two Questions I Asked Other Parents

When it was clear that my son was addicted to drugs, we wanted to do everything we could to get him help. But nothing seemed to help. Like any parent, I asked others who had been through this what worked for them and I hung onto every word … hoping, hoping, hoping they held the secret to getting my kid to treatment and recovery. Now that my son is in recovery, other parents ask me the same questions that I used to ask.

  1. How can I get my kid to go to treatment?Once parents recognize the problem and realize that this is not a phase or something their kid will grow out of (common myths), they start to look at treatment options. At first it seems so simple. Perhaps you’re familiar with a local treatment program. If not, a Google search spits back many possibilities – except that many of these are not viable options. That’s when it becomes overwhelmingly complex and challenging. There are so many options – in-patient, out-patient, 12-step, faith-based, wilderness, abstinence-based, harm-reduction, MAT, evidence-based … and more. Yet you wonder, which one is best.Often there is a long waiting list. Often cost or insurance is a barrier – treatment programs are expensive. One thing to ask about is scholarships. (There’s a 12-step immersion program called The Retreat in Wayzata, Minn., that has funding for anyone who asks for help. The program is for 18+ but they also offer a family program.)

    But let’s get to the real question. Once you’ve found an option or two that you think would be good for your kid, you have to get them to go. What comes to mind is the cliche about leading a horse to water …

    This takes a concerted effort to discuss the problem with them, get their buy in and agreement. And that’s where it stalls – or even becomes an argument, which by the way is never productive but is completely understandable give the emotion and concern that is wrapped up in your kid’s addiction.

    The cliche continues, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

    Do not give up.

    One possibility is to work with a professional such as a counselor or even an intervention specialist (but keep in mind, not all are the same and there are many different approaches and philosophies – and price ranges for this service).

    We consulted with a group early on and paid for some good advice, but decided it was not the right approach at the time. With hindsight, I still feel this would have been a disaster and am glad we trusted our gut. Later on, however, we did engage with a group called Love First, and while our son was still not ready, the intervention did help get family and friends on the same page and sent a loving, powerful message my son that he needed to go back to treatment. One last resource, that I offer is a group called Drew Horowitz & Associates – Drew has guest blogged for Our Young Addicts – and offers an amazing service; I wish we had known about him when our son was still using as I think Drew might have been someone who would have gotten through.

    As you’re probably starting to sense, getting your kid to treatment is not quick or easy. More than likely, you’ll need to be encouraging, consistent and persistent. Don’t expect immediate acceptance. You may have to bring up the idea many times … and it may takes months or years. I don’t say this to discourage you; I say it to manage expectations that you’re going to have to calmly and considerately continue to recommend treatment.

    If your kid is under the age of 18, you have a bit more leverage as a parent; but compliance doesn’t always mean that your kid is ready or willing to attend a treatment program.

    If your kid is older than 18, getting them to treatment is a far more difficult undertaking. Be prepared for resistance and outright refusal, which leaves you in the position of having to set some boundaries. Yet, an impasse is not helpful for you or your kid, so handle this with all the care you can muster. Be firm in your hope that they will accept help and consistent in your concern for their welfare. Respect their choice even if you don’t like it or agree with it.

    Each day, my husband and I awoke with the belief that “maybe today will be the day.” Keeping that hope front and center reminded us that there was always a possibility.

    There’s one more part to the horse-and-water cliche: Even if you cannot make the horse drink the water, you can salt the oats. Let me tell you, we did a LOT of salting the oats!

    Encourage your kid to at least give it a try or to visit with a counselor at the treatment center – sometimes they can be more effective at helping your kid see the need and the possibility of treatment.

    My husband and I used to tell our son, “We love you. You deserve to feel better. And going to treatment will help you have the life you really want.”

    We maintained a regular, persistent effort to encourage our son to go to treatment even though we knew that treatment alone was not the panacea but we did know that it would set in motion the possibility of a better path forward.

    At the end of this blog post, I’ve summarized part of our journey and you’ll find more in the archives.

  2. What finally worked?A whole lot of patience and persistence, not to mention time. Daily text messages (we never stopped paying for my son’s phone as it was a way to check in and track his whereabouts). He didn’t always appreciate the texts and sometimes wouldn’t answer, which scared me a whole lot more than the bitter responses he’d sometimes send. In other words, a whole lot of starts and stops. Not giving up. Not losing touch. Not putting our own lives on hold – after all, we had two other kids, jobs, responsibilities and interests. Including our son as much and as often as possible, even if he chose not to engage. Finally, after about five years of this … he started a program that worked for him.

    About eight weeks into the 12-week program – the last one he attended, I asked my son what it was about this program that worked for him. He said the other programs hadn’t been bad per se but that this was the first time that he wanted to stop using. The other times, he knew he needed to stop using.The difference was want vs need.

    This strikes me as important.

I also think he knew things were not getting better and that he was at risk of dying – in other words, he was now salting his own oats.

Answers to your questions

By reading this post, you’re doing one of the most important and helpful things possible – you’re asking questions and seeking answers. I do not know if my answers will be your solutions, but I do know that getting your kid to treatment and getting them to stop using is mission driven, takes time, takes patience, takes faith. And once you find some answers, please share them with others who are on a similar path. Together, we will be able to help our kids and our families. Wishing you better days ahead.

It takes time –  a quick recap of our family’s efforts (and setbacks) to get my son to treatment and recovery.

The first time we brought up treatment, he refused – and denied the problem – but agreed to meet with the center even though he didn’t agree to start their program. At least he knew we were concerned and serious about him getting help. A few months later, as things continued to spiral downward, he agreed to look at some options by doing online research and he did some last-minute searches with a deadline that we imposed.

Eventually, in a terrible moment, he agreed that he wanted to feel better and that the drugs weren’t helping him, so he reluctantly agreed to a 60-day wilderness program. He got cold feet, but through much coaxing we got him on the airplane and to the center; unfortunately, he ran way nine days later.

Nearly a year later, on a cold, snowy, subzero night when he was homeless and without a buddy’s sofa to crash on, we got him to agree to an out-patient program here in town. He attended the program off and on for several months, but still wasn’t ready to stop using.

It took a little over a year before he was willing to try again and this time – quite desperate –  he made all the arrangements himself for an in-patient program. We supported him and didn’t let him off the hook when he started backpedaling. We bought him toiletries, let him wash his clothes and borrow a duffle bag. This time, we saw some true progress and he completed close to 60 days before being discharged.

When he got out, he ran away instead of going to the half-way program, but through encouragement he showed up a few days later – sober, thank goodness (required for admission), and stayed there for a couple of months before relapsing.

That particular relapse came on fast and hard. We had an intervention (with Love First) and he said, “Thanks, I know I need to change, but not today.” Things got worse and worse and I was preparing myself to write an obituary. One night, a couple months later, he showed up at home and was overdosing (not the first time he’d overdosed).

It was his last high. He lived.

The next day, I handed him a list of three places that met his “criteria” with the edict that he call and make a decision to start a program. And the next day after that, July 11, 2014, he started a high-intensity out-patient program. He’s been sober and in recovery ever since.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved

The Solutions Team #fsts16

Meet the “solutions team” who worked together to host the From Statistics to Solutions conference on May 12. From left to right: Tracee Anderson, Adam Pederson, Rose McKinney and Laura Zabinski.

Our Young Addicts partnered with Know The Truth, the prevention program for Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge. Together, we convened more 425 professionals including licensed alcohol and drug counselors (LADCs), social workers, educators, medical professionals and law enforcement officers. Each professional earned five CEU credits for attending the conference.

Our panel discussions covered early intervention, warning signs, collaboration and moving forward.We are grateful for participation by the following individuals and organizations:

Abe Abrahamson – Wright County Juvenile Probation Officer

John Choi – Ramsey County Attorney

Saul Selby – VP of Clinical & Transitional Services, MnTC

Linda Skillingstad – LICSW, LADC, PrairieCare

Brent Thompson – Pharmacy Director First Light Health Systems

PJ Agarwala, MD – Director of Child Psychiatry at the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital

Bill Hutton – Washington County Sheriff

Judge Michael Mayer – Dakota County

Jason Reed – PsydD, LP, Psychologist and Clinical Lead for Melrose Center

Sherry Gaugler-Stewart – Director of Family & Spiritual Recovery at the Retreat

Lexi Reed Holtum – Steve Rummler Hope Foundation

Patrice Salmeri – MA, LADC, Director of StepUp Program at Augsburg College

Lindsey Smith – Regional Prevention Coordinator

Misty Tu, MD – Mental Health Medical Director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota

Judy Hanson – Chemical Health Specialist at Wayzata High School

Chris Johnson, MD – Allina Health

Paul Meunier – Executive Director YIPA

Jill Petsel – Former Executive Director of MN Recovery Connection

Tim Walsh – VP of Long Term Recovery and Mental Health Services MNTC

Laura Zabinski – Program Manager of Know the Truth

In addition, we featured three personal stories:  Kaityln Arneson, a  young woman who works for Know the Truth, talked about her experience with addiction and recovery (coming from a non-stereotypical environment); Lori Lewis, a mom who lost her son to a heroin overdose (read the transcript of her presentation posted on this blog yesterday) – she called out how the healthcare system failed her son; and I shared our family’s story of addiction sharing hope for possibility of recovery – even when it seemed hopeless.

Our keynote speaker was Chris Bailey, with an incredible tale of his own journey through addiction. He led us through mindfulness and meditation, which were key components of his recovery and included a walking journey across America in 2015 with his twin brother, Bobby.

In addition to volunteer support from Know The Truth and from my team at work, this conference was made possible by generous sponsors including:

Melrose Center

Mn Adult & Teen Challenge

Recovery Brands

The Retreat

We also had more than 25 exhibitors who contributed to the success of From Statistics to Solutions.

It was an incredible day that will move away from statistics and toward solutions to the underlying issues of youth substance use, including strategies for prevention and treatment. Everything about the conference exceeded our expectations. Without a doubt, we will be back bigger and better for #fsts17.

Midwestern Mama aka Rose McKinney

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.


Stories that Connect


Today’s guest blogger, is a Lori Lewis, a featured speaker from yesterday’s conference on the underlying issues of youth substance use. Lori’s story share some unique connections: both our sons are named Ryan; both about the same age; both were overdosing at the same time. From there, her family’s story takes a different path. She frequently shares her story at community forums and we are grateful that she shared it at #fsts16. MWM

On July 10th 2014, my son Ryan died of a heroin overdose. He struggled with the disease of addiction for a year and a half to two years. An addiction that began with opiates and moved to heroin.  The progression was rapid.

Never would I have thought I would be sharing Ryan’s story with you tonight.  But my husband and I along with our children feel that if it can help one family or individual, then we will share.

I’d like to share Ryan’s story, our story, in hopes that it brings more awareness to our communities that this wicked drug heroin as well as other opiates are here in our communities.  There’s no town that hasn’t been affected by heroin and our loved ones are using this drug and they are dying.  This can happen to anyone of us. It can start by using pain meds for a simple dental or medical procedure or with the recreational use of pain meds and it can easily and quickly lead to addiction.

These drugs are just a Tweet, text or Snapchat away and can be delivered right to your door at any time of the day or night.

Ryan was the oldest of our 4 children.  Just 23 years old.

If you asked anyone to describe Ryan, they would tell you he was intelligent, artistic, creative, energetic, had a goofy sense of humor and a passion for music. He was so much fun to be around.

Ryan excelled in music, art and photography.  He was most content when he was playing guitar, painting, drawing or taking pictures.

Ryan had much to offer.

Ryan’s substance use began towards the end of his junior year here at Tartan in 2008, we had suspected he had be smoking pot. This assumption proved to be right. 

At that time Ryan entered a 30 day outpatient treatment program at New Connections.  He attended school and treatment there during the day.  After the 30 days he returned to Tartan to finish out his junior year. He graduated in 2009 and the next few years were uneventful.

In December 2012 Ryan’s girlfriend called.  They had been living together for a year.  She stated Ryan was feeling a little depressed and she was worried about him. Ryan then called stating that nothing was going right and he just wanted to end everything and nothing was worth anything anymore.

I immediately drove over and realized the situation was not good.  I convinced him to go the ER.  It was during this ER visit we learned that Ryan had opioids and benzos in his system. He had anxiety so the benzos I understood but the opioids?  Where did he get them?

One of the places was from me.  I had had back surgery a year earlier and he had taken the left over pain meds.  We did not have them locked up.  Why didn’t we?  These meds can kill.  Guns kill.  We keep those locked up!  I didn’t think about it.  Didn’t think we had to worry. Not my kid! Not my family. How could this have happened?

We addressed the issues and Ryan told us he had not been happy with many things.  There were financial issues as well and he asked if he and his girlfriend could move in for a couple months.  We agreed.

Within the month they moved in.  Things were a little rocky as they had to follow rules as we had kids that had to get up for school, we had to get up for work, etc. The usual rules.

In the months that followed Ryan seemed to get angry and irritated more easily.  It was hard to even have a conversation.  Again we had questioned the substance use and he denied.  I had also noticed that he was often ill with ‘flu-like’ symptoms in the morning but never put all the pieces together that these were withdrawal symptoms.  How could I miss this?  And I’m a nurse. I don’t know.

Again I would ask him all kinds of questions, how could you be so ill this morning and feel better in the afternoon?  No one gets better this quickly!

Ryan finally got tired of the questions from us as well as his girlfriend and he moved out and they broke up.

This was difficult for us as we had no way to know for sure how he was doing.

One day Ryan brought his clothes over to wash.  I thought I would be nice and start his wash for him.  I went to grab the items out of the wash to put in the dryer and felt something in one of his socks.  I pulled out a needle. I didn’t get it.  Why was this in his sock?  I called Ryan but no answer.  I called his girlfriend and asked if she knew anything about this.  She had been talking to his roommate and friend that morning and his friend had told her he was acting strange and that he suspected Ryan was using heroin.

How could this be?  This is the kid who cried every year when he had to get a flu shot up until the time he was 17!  How could he be using IV drugs?  We couldn’t wrap our heads around this but knew we had to get him help.

We moved Ryan back home and made a visit to St. Johns ER. The Chem/Dep counselor recommended Inpatient Treatment at that time and yet there were no beds available in the Twin City area.  No beds!! They were all full. So we brought him home and helped him through his withdraw symptoms and literally watched him the entire weekend 24 hours a day.  We did not let him out of our site.  It was exhausting.  On Monday we got him into St. Johns Intensive Outpatient Treatment along with AA meetings several nights a week.

During the 2nd week of outpatient treatment we got a call that Ryan was in the ER.  He was having withdraw symptoms which meant he had been using while in treatment.  St. Johns again recommended Inpatient treatment and would not accept him back in outpatient because of the use.

My husband and I were not on the same page for the recommended option.  I wanted him to be admitted and my husband, and Ryan, felt we could do this together with AA meetings, counseling and outpatient treatment at Canvas. And so we went this route for a while, had random UAs done, and had him check in with us multiple times a day.

This did work for a few weeks and then again Ryan relapsed.  At this point I could not stand by and watch this anymore and I contacted the counselor at St. Johns and asked for help.  Because this was on a Friday our only option was another ER visit and a 72 hour hold.  We just did not want to do this and instead stayed home again the entire weekend and watched Ryan round the clock. He went everywhere with us, he slept in the same room with us, we stood outside an open bathroom door.

On Monday we got him in for a Chem/Dep assessment and after many hours and much red tape there was a bed open and we were able to have Ryan admitted to Hazelden in Plymouth. By now it was early October.

Our son was safe for the time being.  We were exhausted.  During this time all or energy was focused on Ryan and keeping him safe and in recovery.  Our other three children lacked our attention.  What they did receive was the little bit we had left and most of the time that was not much.  We didn’t have the patience for even the smallest of their needs.  There were times when I would lie down in bed at the end of the night and ask my husband if the other kids were even home safe in bed.  This disease affects the entire family and it’s so very isolating.

During his first stay at Hazelden we all attended a 4 day Parent and Sibling group and learned much about this disease.  After the 28 days at Hazelden Ryan had gained 23 pounds, was back to his old self and was again full of life and fun and in recovery.  Within the week he had relapsed, in fact we would find out later that he had used the same night he came home. So back he went for another 14 day stay.

This time Hazelden Center City had an opening and they felt this would be better for him to be with adults.  After this discharge, Ryan had been in recovery for approximately 5 weeks when I received a call from my daughter stating that her car would not start and she had to get to work.  I told her to go downstairs to see if Ryan was home and to see if he could give her a ride.

Within minutes she had called back frantic.  She was talking to me on one line and 911 on the other.

Ryan had overdosed. 

She found him unresponsive, blue and barely breathing. He was brought to Regions where I met them.  As I sat in the room with Ryan, reminding him to breathe every time the alarm went off on the cardiac device and I just cried.  I felt so helpless.  How do I help my son? What is his rock bottom because I’ve hit mine.

When his dad got to the ER we talked with the doctors, nurses and councilor’s and asked them what we could do.  They told us to tell him he could not come home and that we should leave the ER and have him figure out a way home and a place to stay as we were enabling him and we were not helping.  To hear this is hard, and it goes against everything you know and do as a parent.  But we told him all of this and we left.

This was unbearable but we went home and packed a bag for Ryan and left it by the front door.

Ryan showed up at home and thought he was going to stay.  It was hard to stick to our guns and tell him that we had his suitcase ready and he needed to find a place to stay.  He left that night and if you remember it was bitter cold a year ago in January.  Neither my husband nor I slept that night wondering where he was and if he was safe.

Ryan called a day or two later and asked if he could come home.  Our terms were he could but that it required treatment.  Ryan reluctantly agreed.

Again we felt relieved that Ryan was in treatment and safe.

Ryan was in recovery for longer this time.  The recovery time was longer but the relapses were more severe.

During recovery Ryan and his girlfriend had got back together, he was hanging out with his friends again, having fun with his siblings, making music, drawing, and painting and laughing.  Our Ryan was back. It was so good to see this.  After discharge he was attending Intensive Outpatient Treatment at Hazelden in St. Paul, going to AA meetings and doing what he needed.

Ryan so very much wanted to get better.  When I asked him what was so hard and what I could do to help he just said, “Mom the physical and psychological cravings are just unbearable at times.”  This was even with the monthly Vivitrol injections that are supposed to help reduce cravings.

It was around end of May when I suspected Ryan was using again and we confronted him.  He had been slipping on his meetings and did not want to continue attending day treatment.  We were right.

As parents we were at our wits end, exhausted and in need of help for our son. 

Again he went back in to Hazelden at the beginning of June.  This time we told Ryan that what we were doing at home was not working and on the advice of his coucelors he would need to move in to a Sober House when he was discharged.  He was extremely angry and would not talk to us for about a week.

When he and my husband did talk one night Ryan said “Dad am I ever going to get better?” “Yep were going to get through this together buddy.  We can do it.”

On Monday July 7th my husband picked him up from Hazelden and helped move him into the Sober House in St. Paul.  He was still very angry with us about this situation and decided not to talk with us that day/night.  We gave him time and on Tuesday he called us to talk.  On Wednesday I went and picked Ryan up after work, brought him some clothes and bedding and we went grocery shopping.  We talked about how things were going and made plans for the next day.  I gave him a hug and a kiss, told him I loved him and how good he looked.

On Thursday afternoon at 12:30 PM I received the call from a man who identified himself as a St. Paul Police Officer and asked if he could come talk to me a work.  Why do you need to come talk to me?  What is going on?  Why can’t you tell me what is going on over the phone? My mind started racing.  Where is my husband, where are my kids, is Ryan in trouble?  How could he be in trouble he is at the Sober House?  I then just asked him if this has to do with one of my kids and please just tell me.  He then told me that my son Ryan had overdosed that morning.

What did that mean?  Ryan had overdosed before.  What did this mean I asked him but not wanting to hear the answer?  He then told me that my son was dead.  He had died at 9:30 that morning of a heroin overdose.  I just kept screaming ‘No’ over and over. This is not how this was supposed to be.  He was supposed to be at a Sober House in recovery, safe.  We were supposed to work through this together.

The officer met me and drove me to my car.  He told me they had talked to my husband and gave me as many details as he could at that time.

On the way home I was in shock.  My phone rang and rang with my husband trying to reach me but I just could not talk to him and hear his voice.   This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.  Ryan was supposed to be in recovery, get the job he so hoped for, marry the love of his life, and celebrate all of those firsts.  He was robbed and we were robbed.  There is such a void in our lives now. We miss him terribly.

As parents we feel that we have failed.  We could not protect Ryan. 

Our healthcare system failed him as well and our family is still frustrated by this. 

His treatment was not individualized but rather followed a set process.  There were roadblocks every step of the way.  No continuity of care, gaps in information or lack of information, lack of knowledge of available resources and prescribers.  Every provider’s progress note stated “At high risk for relapse” and yet he was discharged.  There is much room and need for improvement!

The face of addiction has changed. It can be any one of us.  No longer can we say “This will never happen to me” as it can and it does.  No one chooses to become addicted.  The person chooses to use that first time.  The drug then chooses them.  We as a community can recognize this, educate ourselves and support people that suffer from this disease just like we support someone who has cancer or diabetes or one of the many other chronic diseases.

We need to take action and make change happen.

Lori Lewis

















Student Blog Post – Be the First Voice


Midwestern Mama is pleased to feature another one of her students’ blog posts. This student worked on a group project to help develop our May 12th conference: From Statistics to Solutions – Addressing the Underlying Issues of Youth Substance Use. Here is her perspective.

Nine out of 10 people with addiction started using substance before the age 18. I find this to be very alarming and it’s important that we help our family, friends, and next generation. You might be thinking that you don’t know anyone that could be at risk or that is currently using. Well I bet you know someone that lived with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated; Lived with a parent or guardian who died; Lived with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison; Lived with anyone who was mentally ill or suicidal, or severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks; Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; Witnessed a parent, guardian, or other adult in the household behaving violently toward another (e.g., slapping, hitting, kicking, punching, or beating each other up); Was ever the victim of violence or witnessed any violence in his or her neighborhood; and Experienced economic hardship “somewhat often” or “very often” (i.e., the family found it hard to cover costs of food and housing). That was a list of adverse childhood experiences that came from childtrends.org. If you know anyone that is currently in or has been in one of those situations research has proven that they are at high risk of using drugs or alcohol. We need everyone aware to understand that substance use is a problem in our youth today. Help make a change. Did you know that when an adult talks to a teenager regularly about the dangers of drugs and alcohol they lessen the chances of this child using drugs by 42%! However, only 25% of teens report on actually having these conversations.

I am wiring thing blog to inform you that everyone can help change the statistics to solutions and also inform you about a summit that is happening here in the metro area on May 12, 2016.Our Young Addicts along with Know the Truth, the prevention team for Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, have created a conference for social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, professional clinical counselors, nurses, educators, parents, law enforcement professionals and government officials. If you or someone you know is interested I encourage you to attend this FREE summit.In this summit the will be talking about early intervention, identifying needs long before a young person tries drugs, and about moving forward. The keynote speaker is Chris Bailey. Chris provides first-hand tools on how to deal with some of the biggest epidemics of mental health and addiction.   This is the first year this summit it taking place and as you can see we need more solutions because the statistics are alarming.

This topic is very close to my heart I have seen one of my best friends struggle with addiction. She started using marijuana in 9th grade and by her senior year she was addicted to heroin. Seeing my friend completely change because of her addiction to drugs is something so horrifying that I can’t even put it into words. I can remember sitting up all night worrying about her. Being in high school and not knowing how to help her I felt as a friend I wasn’t doing my job to help her get better. Over the years she did get help and is currently in recovery. I am glad to say that I am on the road to getting my friend back. Addiction is very scary and I know if we all work together we can help find more solutions for our youth. You can find more information about this summit by going to this link.(http://www.mntc.org/event/prevention-summit/)

 About the guest blogger:

Sheri Houston is a current student at Metropolitan State University. She will be getting her degree in public relations and plans to find a job within her major when she graduates. Sheri is a mother and realizes her daughter is already at risk for using drugs because of her family situation. Every day she talks about making positive choices and how everything in life is a choice. Sometimes you’re put in a bad situation but how you handle the situation is your choice. She encourages you to talk to your children and be the first voice that they hear about how substance use isn’t a great choice.

Are the rules the same for young addicts as adults?

Here’s a draft that I started in 2012. At that time, my son’s addiction was in full swing and getting worse. Now (in 2016), we are nearly two years into his recovery. Yet the question still seems as relevant now as it did then.

So much of the 12-step wisdom for loved ones and co-dependents feels like it’s from the perspective of a long-term, adult addict whose life has become upside down.  With an older teen to young 20-something, it seems to me the rules don’t fit so neatly.

It feels like sink or swim.  It feels like tough love.  It feels like an impasse.  It feels like abandonment by the parents at a young addict’s most vulnerable of times.  I understand love the child and hate the disease … but in letting go, detaching, etc. are we sending the wrong message — one that may be appropriate for an adult but is inappropriate for a young adult?

Brain research says that maturity and chemistry are still malleable until age 25, so it makes me wonder if we don’t need a significantly different approach in approaching treatment and recovery for young addicts than what “works” for adults.

This is something that my husband and I struggled with during our son’s addiction. In many ways Al-anon saved my life because it came along when I desperately needed serenity and through the steps I did learn and recover. However, I still needed guidance on how to parent a young addict and so much of the protocol was AA-based.

Ultimately, when we realized how close we were to a deadly overdose, we rethought our approach and embraced a more nurturing one. Mostly, with hindsight, I do not feel our earlier approach was wrong but it was very hard on all of us and I always wondered if we were doing all the right things. For our family, the nurture seemed to come at exactly the right time because it was around this time that our son finally admitted his problem, sought help and embraced recovery.

What are your thoughts?

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Twelve-Step Rebellion


This week’s guest blogger is Jay from @OneMindDharma who writes about finding serenity through meditation after years of trying to find it through traditional 12-step programs. It’s important for young people in recovery to find an approach that works for them rather than what works for people quite a bit older. Thank you, Jay, for sharing your experience with the #OYACommunity. MWM

I can give the story of my life quite simply. I was 12 years old when I started to drink. I would show up to punk shows drunk because I felt self conscious about being so young around older kids and hoped that the smell of booze and the forced stumble would make me appear as cooler than I felt. I grew up to be addicted to opiates quite young and found heroin at 22. At 26 I decided to stop using drugs, was hospitalized and stayed in sober living for many months.

One of the things I can relate to with young people is the resistance to a 12 step program, and I congratulate you on this discovery. The fact that anybody has gone to something enough to realize that they like it is extraordinary if you think of the different tasks that acquiring drugs or alcohol entails. We become mindless when we’re going through the motions of getting high, that even a small fire wouldn’t have inconvenienced me much while I was loaded. But sober, the initial resistance is to be expected and deeply encouraged to push through.

The problem however is once you’ve gone to your first few meetings and you see the word, “God,” or you look around the room and there isn’t anybody similar to you. I was 19 at my first meeting and spent many nights in diners with folks who talked about their mortgage or even put on music in the car that made me want to jump out. I understand feeling misplaced, and so I commend you for this observation. This means one is aware, not simply “going through the motions.”

I would estimate that I went to 2,000 twelve step meetings before I turned 25. I tried to force myself to believe that “this would work for me.”

I tried to see drugs as this vacuum that could steal my soul by simply thinking about it– reciting, “brick wall,” for fear of being possessed. I would call my sponsor to ask permission to go on a date or to leave work early to catch a concert I wanted to see. He would ask, “is this Jay’s will or is it God’s will?” The idea was that any decision I was making was most likely harmful and going to lead to me getting loaded or with a needle in my arm. I appreciated this — this was the father figure I longed for for so many years.

Eventually though my life resembled somebody else’s life and I found little joy in my daily activities. The lack of luster I could live without, however I began feeling more and more alone. I started thinking in two different thought patterns– the 19 year old who wanted to be 19 and skip class to skateboard like any other 19 year old versus the 19 year old young man who was focusing on interest rates, responsibility and work ethic.

Neither is worse than the other, but I felt the focus was slipping from not wanting to get high into being a clone of my sponsor and his 40 plus years of life experience. So I began to rebel against his suggestions, and a satisfaction would come when I broke these rules. The same feeling, in fact, as getting high, which eventually led to me getting high.

And so for years this cycle would continue. I would push my drug runs to the brink of death so that I could feel this “bottom,” that they would all tell me I wasn’t finished using until I felt and experienced. The reality is that I was done and I didn’t need to feel ostracized or shamed for being a kid. Instead, I began to search for different methods of getting clean without the help of AA. One of these for me was NA for a short while. I liked the fellowship– it seemed to be a younger crowd. I didn’t like the steps, and I started to realize that that was okay. I believed for myself if I were to tell my deep dark secrets to anybody it should be a therapist, as that was who I felt comfortable telling these to. I didn’t mind paying for it, since my life was on the line.

My therapist eventually would say things like, “You have so much going on up there Jay, have you looked into meditating?” I had not.

And so my journey of meditation began. In the beginning I had candles and incense and would focus on the fronts of my eyelids and my breathing. In time, I found guided meditations and Buddhist principles.

I knew that quieting my mind and observing my thought patterns were both important, but I also wanted to grow as a person. I didn’t want to change who I was, I wanted to become a better version.

I finally met my teacher at a meditation meeting in Hollywood. He seemed to like the same music as me, could identify with my anger and my rebellion, and began to help me implement different principles and practices into my personal life.

One of the big ones was what the Eightfold Path refers to as “Right speech.” This, to me, means not to speak ill of anybody, and unless it’s absolutely necessary not to speak about anyone who isn’t around. Of course people have to be mentioned, but the way I mentioned them became a focal point. Even the way I said things seemed to have an undertone I wasn’t normal aware of. I began thinking before I spoke, and being mindful of the intentions behind my words.

Slowly, I meditated more and more frequently, and I noticed that the urges I had to use and to act out weren’t as prevalent. I also noticed that I started doing things in my free time that I enjoyed again, and surrounding myself with other people my age who didn’t care how I got clean, they just enjoyed the fact that I was myself.

Eventually I started working for my teacher, and am now the outreach director for his meditation company. At 27 years old I have over a year clean from everything, I bought my first car, I have two jobs, and

I’m becoming the version of myself I secretly knew I could be. For the most part I don’t do anything I don’t want to do or am required to do.

I live a life that I choose to live and it no longer feels forced.

We can choose to be who we wish to be in this world and anything truly is possible if the effort is there. So long as you’re trying you have a chance to make the change at anytime that you wish. Rebellion is the catalyst of change and true rebellion begins when you make the effort to change yourself. Meditation helps me, and if you’re struggling with finding your place in AA or any program utilize the wonders of the internet and find different means of recovery. There are meditation websites, there are online recovery communities, and there is meaning if you search for it. You’re too important to give up hope, and your place in this world is out there somewhere. I wish you well and hope you find it on your journey.

About Jay:

Jay is the community outreach director for Www.oneminddharma.com He works on an animal rescue ranch and enjoys playing music in his free time.

LIVES (Leveraging Impactful Videos to End Stigma)

From the hosts of Thursday  afternoon #CADAChat: Learn more about LIVES – Leveraging Impactful Videos to End Stigma. Here’s your opportunity to send a powerful, life-changing message.

Addiction affects 23.5 million Americans every year, yet only 11 percent receive the treatment they so desperately need. Why is this? While access and cost are barriers to treatment, public perception and stigma remain two of the biggest obstacles. The guilt, shame, judgment and isolation that can be felt by individuals struggling with addiction can make asking for help nearly impossible.

Here at Recovery Brands, we’ve been working to help end this stigma. In fact, we conducted some research to fully understand the far reaching and devastating impacts. The findings showed that 82.2% of individuals struggling with addiction have felt stigmatized and of these individuals, 73.9% have felt most stigmatized by their family. Additionally, individuals cited stigma as the second largest barrier to seeking treatment. It was second only to cost!

To get more people the help they need, we decided to do our part in eliminating the stigma. We realized that to really help combat the issue, we needed to bring a new message around addiction to help change perceptions. We also started to recognize that a lot of the PSAs of the past tended to be unintentionally stigmatizing. Many of the messages that individuals in our company grew up on included, “Just Say No to Drugs,” or “This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Drugs.” For individuals in the throes of addiction, these messages can be shameful or unrealistic. Saying “no” is not necessarily an available tool for someone struggling with addiction. Likewise, showing a picture of a frying egg may inspire feelings of shame or guilt instead of hope and encouragement to seek treatment. We knew that we needed a next-generation PSA that would bring a fresh, encouraging message to those who are struggling with addiction.

Instead of creating a new message ourselves, we decided to take it to the masses. After all, great ideas come from anyone, anywhere. Thus, Recovery Brands launched a three-month national campaign, the LIVES (Leveraging Impactful Videos to End Stigma) Challenge. The contest is designed to inspire and generate a new message surrounding addiction and behavioral health disorders. In short, we are seeking video submissions that will reduce the stigma surrounding the disease and encourage individuals struggling with addiction to seek treatment. Submissions close on May 23, 2016.

Two awards will be granted at the close of the LIVES Challenge: The Judge’s Choice Award and The People’s Choice Award. Each is paired with a prize of $5,000. To determine the Judge’s Choice Award, submissions will be vetted on creativity, impact, clarity and quality by a panel of third-party judges. The panel includes Chris Henderson, lead guitar player of Three Doors Down; Justin Luke Riley, president and CEO of Young People in Recovery; David Sheff, author of New York Times best-seller Clean; Anne Fletcher, M.S., R.D., a nationally known, award-winning health and medical writer, New York Times best-selling author, speaker, consultant, and author of Inside Rehab; Maia Szalavitz, neuroscience journalist writing for publications such as VICE and TIME, and author of Unbroken Brain; and Patty Powers, nationally recognized certified recovery coach, recovery coach for A&E TV Series Relapse. The video that receives the most public votes within a set period of time will be presented The People’s Choice Award.

If you’re inspired by our challenge and its mission, we ask that you join us in ending the stigma! To participate, visit recoverybrands.com/lives. If you can’t participate, but would like to help us spread the word, simply share our challenge with your followers via social, or purchase a Pura Vida bracelet on our LIVES Challenge website to donate funds to a charity that is continuing this mission. Any questions? Email lives@recoverybrands.com.

Thank you to Recovery Brands for sharing this inspiring opportunity to change lives and end stigma. MWM