For some drug-ad­dicted youths, treat­ment is the way to new life

Va­ri­ety of av­enues help young peo­ple with men­tal and sub­stance abuse is­sues

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drea K. McDaniels

Seth Walters was 16 when he first smoked mar­i­juana in his high school bath­room. Amid the high, his fam­ily prob­lems and bouts with anx­i­ety linked to his sis­ter’s mur­der dis­ap­peared.

“It made mefeel re­ally good,” he said. “It pretty much numbed all of the pain that I was feel­ing.”

Like many teenage ad­dicts, Wal­ter’s road to de­pen­dence started with smok­ing cig­a­rettes and drink­ing al­co­hol so­cially. Then a friend con­vinced him to smoke weed. But that high wore off quickly and he turned to drink­ing large doses of cough syrup.

Walters, now 17, is among thou­sands of youths across the coun­try who be­come ad­dicted to drugs, us­ing them to cope with life prob­lems and men­tal ill­ness.

Young peo­ple suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion are more likely than oth­ers to be­gin us­ing mar­i­juana, hal­lu­cino­gens and other drugs, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Na­tional Sur­vey on Drug Use and Health. Some young ad­dicts start us­ing be­fore they reach pu­berty. Rec­og­niz­ing the strong con­nec­tion be­tween men­tal health and sub­stance abuse, many men­tal health and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams have be­gun jointly treat­ing the two con­di­tions.

Walters re­cently grad­u­ated from a res­i­den­tial men­tal health treat­ment pro­gram at Sheppard Pratt Health, which be­gan of­fer­ing a sub­stance abuse com­po­nent four years ago. The Berke­ley and Eleanor Mann Res­i­den­tial Treat­ment Cen­ter treats 12- to 21-year-olds with se­vere emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems. About a third of them have sub­stance abuse as well as men­tal health is­sues, re­flect­ing the re­sults of the na­tional drug use sur­vey, which found the num­ber of ado­les­cents who suf­fered with sub­stance

abuse prob­lems as well as long bouts of de­pres­sion made up 28.4 per­cent, or 340,000, of the1.3 mil­lion youths who abuse al­co­hol and drugs.

“You need to treat it jointly,” said Dr. Tess Car­pen­ter, clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at Mann. “It is hard to take one or the other in iso­la­tion. You have to take a holis­tic ap­proach to the is­sue.”

Ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ists say treat­ing ado­les­cents is dif­fer­ent than treat­ing adults, who are bet­ter equipped emo­tion­ally to han­dle change, stress and life cri­sis.

“The cop­ing mech­a­nisms for teens in par­tic­u­lar have not been fully de­vel­oped yet,” said Kath­leen West­coat, pres­i­dent and CEO of Be­hav­ioral Health Sys­tem Bal­ti­more, which over­sees men­tal-health and sub­stance-abuse pro­grams in the city. “Adults have had neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and de­vel­oped skills to han­dle and cope with ad­verse life events. Teenagers are much more vul­ner­a­ble.”

Youths also are in­flu­enced more eas­ily by peer pres­sure and pop­u­lar me­dia such as mu­sic videos and movies. They of­ten see them­selves as in­vin­ci­ble and may not think they could be­come an ad­dict.

“They un­der­stand ad­dic­tion to be the low-down, dirty, drunk in the al­ley,” said Duane Hai­ley, a clin­i­cian with Mann. “When they reach the point of ad­dic­tion, they have a hard time think­ing that’s them.”

LaTavia Lit­tle, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Treat­ment Re­sources for Youth in Bal­ti­more, said the youngest per­son ad­mit­ted to her ad­dic­tion pro­gram was 11 years old, but she knows of chil­dren as young as eight who use drugs and al­co­hol.

Lit­tle’s pro­gram fo­cuses on help­ing youths re­al­ize the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of us­ing drugs and al­co­hol.

“We have to find out what will make them con­sider change rather than make them change,” Lit­tle said.

Pa­tients at the Mann res­i­den­tial pro­gram at Sheppard Pratt are re­ferred by their familes, the courts and lo­cal so­cial ser­vice agen­cies. Pa­tients of the 63-bed fa­cil­ity typ­i­cally stay for six to 11 months of su­per­vised treat­ment.

To help the young pa­tients, the cen­ter mainly uses so-called di­alec­ti­cal be­hav­ior ther­apy, which fo­cuses on mind­ful­ness and how to change only what they can con­trol. The ther­apy is meant to show pa­tients how to see their lives as worth liv­ing.

Pro­gram of­fi­cials said all the pa­tients see a psy­chi­a­trist and many are pre­scribed psy­chotropic med­i­ca­tions to treat their men­tal health symp­toms, but not any­thing that may con­trib­ute to ad­dic­tion.

Cur­rent pa­tients and grad­u­ates gath­ered re­cently to cel­e­brate their ac­com­plish­ments. They talked about how the pro­gram helped them get off drugs.

Cait­lyn, 18, said she had tried just about ev­ery drug she could be­fore en­ter­ing the pro­gram. She started smok­ing mar­i­juana at age 13 while in mid­dle school — her first time was at a friend’s house.

“My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was that I’m go­ing to do this again,” Cait­lyn said. “I felt as if I could en­joy my­self more. I didn’t have to deal with any of the prob­lems around me. I was just sort of in this safe space where I could re­lax for a mo­ment and get away from the real world.”

She turned to harder drugs af­ter she said she was sex­u­ally abused. (The Sun’s pol­icy is to not iden­tify vic­itms of sex­ual as­sault.)

She de­scribed how she got a re­al­ity check as she detoxed dur­ing her first week at Mann. She lost con­trol of her bow­els and vom­ited for hours. Be­ing that sick made her re­al­ize how far she’d fallen into ad­dic­tion.

Now a com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dent, Cait­lyn said she sees life through a clear lens rather than a drug-in­duced fog — and she’s hap­pier.

“Mann gave me the skills to get bet­ter,” she said. “It’s cop­ing skills. It teaches you how to think through your ac­tions. To do the right thing is harder than do­ing the wrong thing.”

Do­jah, 17, talked about first smok­ing mar­i­juana at age 13 at the urg­ing of peers.

“I felt free,” she said. “I didn’t feel as worked up as I usu­ally did. It calmed me down.”

Do­jah cried on stage as she re­counted be­ing gang-raped by a friend and oth­ers she didn’t know af­ter smok­ing mar­i­juana laced with an­other drug. She be­came de­pressed and started us­ing more drugs to try to man­age the sad­ness that over­whelmed her.

She said the Mann pro­gram helped her see her self-worth and that she needed to change her life for her young son.

“I learned that I have a lot of things to look for­ward to other than drugs,” she said. “I knew that I was smart, but I didn’t do any­thing with it be­cause all I wanted to do was smoke and stuff.”

Walters, who used drugs to ease his anx­i­ety, said he had to hit rock bot­tom be­fore he could be­gin to re­cover. He knew he hit it when he be­gan steal­ing from his par­ents to sup­port his habit.

“To do the right thing is harder than do­ing the wrong thing.” Cait­lyn, who at­tended the Mann treat­ment cen­ter

Be­fore tak­ing part in the pro­gram, Walters said, he’d never dealt with his sis­ter’s 2007 mur­der. He was very close to her and was just 8 years old when she died. He be­gan hav­ing anx­i­ety episodes that wors­ened on the an­niver­sary of her death.

Now en­rolled in an arts school in Bal­ti­more County, Walters is study­ing dance and said he no longer uses drugs. When he gets anx­ious, he prac­tices breath­ing ex­er­cises he learned at Mann in­stead of smok­ing a joint. He of­ten re­peats mantras to him­self. Change what you can change. Rad­i­cally ac­cept.

“I don’t know what would have hap­pened if I didn’t come here,” Walters said. He doesn’t think he’ll use again. “I had to use it be­fore or I couldn’t func­tion,” he said. “I don’t even worry about what will hap­pen if one of my friends asks me to use. I know how it made me feel and what it led me to and that is not the way I want to go.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Seth Walters, 17, of Rosedale is en­rolled in an arts school to study dance. He said he no longer uses drugs.

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Seth Walters, 17, of Rosedale, re­cently grad­u­ated from a res­i­den­tial men­tal health treat­ment pro­gram at Sheppard Pratt Health.

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