Feature: In Their Own Words (Part Two)

Guest Post by Linda Millar

“Talk less. Listen more.” 

As part of Drug Free Kids Canada’s efforts to reach out to Canadian parents who are struggling with the issue of teen drug use, we were given the opportunity to talk at length with young people who have gone through – or are presently going through, treatment for their substance use disorder and listen to their perspectives on drug use.

Their stories provide us with a window to explore the thoughts, feelings and actions that have impacted their choices in the prime of their lives – In Their Own Words.

This three-part series includes a one-on-one interview with a young girl, Chelsea* who is making huge strides with her addiction after beginning her journey at the tender age of 11. (Read Part One)

The second part focuses on Chelsea’s parents and what they did to save their daughter.

Finally, in part three, we’ll hear from several young people who are in various stages of addiction treatment and hear their heart-wrenching stories and their suggestions for parents…In Their Own Words.

In Their Own Words Part Two

Part Two: A Parent’s Story

Parenting is hard. Parenting teens is harder. Parenting teens with drug addiction is really difficult. The road to recovery is a journey for all – the teenaged user, the parents and the rest of the family. As primary caregivers, we have the ability, and the responsibility, to be part of the professional team that can support our children with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) through recovery and help them lead long, healthy and happy lives.

Helen*, Chelsea’s mom, currently works in the area of supporting families and youth who have substance use disorders. She has been very forthcoming about their struggle to get Chelsea sober.

When asked how she discovered Chelsea’s drug problem, she replied, “It happened over time. Chelsea started having people over that we didn’t know. “When we would come home, they were all suddenly gone. Her siblings knew that she was smoking pot so we were all concerned. We tried talking to her but she denied everything. She started being absent from family outings and she seemed totally withdrawn around us. It was like she was there, but she wasn’t there.”

The real eye opener occurred when Chelsea’s mom went to parent teacher interviews at her high school. “As I spoke to her teachers and asked how she was doing, I kept hearing that she wasn’t in class very much.” One teacher even said, “She doesn’t come to class much. Is she ok?”

“At that point I headed to the office and asked for a copy of her attendance record” Helen explained. “I was absolutely blindsided by what I saw. Chelsea was hardly ever at school.”

Later, Helen would discover that Chelsea had it all figured out. “She would sign my name to notes explaining that she would be absent for the next few days or that she was at an appointment in the morning but would return in the afternoon. When the school tried to call about the absenteeism, they would be disconnected. Chelsea had figured out how to block all calls from the school.”

Clearly, Chelsea had a problem, but she vehemently denied ‘using’. “It was like waiting for the train wreck”, Helen said. “You know you are in dangerous territory but you don’t know what you can do about it!”

“It was like waiting for the train wreck”, Helen said. “You know you are in dangerous territory but you don’t know what you can do about it!”

“One evening,” said her mom, “I entered Chelsea’s room and found her smoking pot. Of course my first reaction was anger, but when I grabbed the pot and took it in to show my husband (who was less convinced that his daughter was using), there was no more denial. And that is when the journey really began”, Helen said.

“We sent Chelsea to a private counsellor”, she reported. “They talked to Chelsea alone, then my husband and I alone. After that they discussed her situation and finally they told us, “Chelsea needs residential treatment-now! She is absolutely resistant to getting help, so we believe you may have to relocate to the United States to get her in residential treatment.”

At this point you may be asking, “Why the U.S.?” The truth is that Chelsea’s parents tried every possible route. They sent her to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and drug counsellors. There are good treatment centres in Canada but at their time of need the waiting period was, “Just too long” and “Chelsea was not a candidate for out-patient treatment.” In many provinces in Canada, young people cannot be admitted to a residential facility against their will and Chelsea was having no part of this decision.

Fortunately, her parents had the means to get her the help she needed, and so she was sent unwillingly to a wilderness camp in the U.S. for three months, followed by a therapeutic school for over a year. In Chelsea’s case, this was a difficult choice- but one that may just have saved the life of this charming, intelligent and engaging young adult. The costs were high – both in monetary and emotional terms – as Chelsea’s parents had to put their faith in the hands of strangers and were given very little access to their daughter for many months- heart wrenching for her parents, her siblings and for Chelsea herself.

As her mom reminds us “Although Chelsea was fortunate that we were able to help her, it is important to know that it is the child his/her self, who ultimately must make the decision to stop using. Without this ‘buy in’ the chances for successful recovery are greatly reduced.”

Clearly, getting help is not easy. The old adage, “It takes a Village…” rings true here. Help is available, but it takes time, patience and persistence and for some of our compromised young people that puts them at continual risk. As the young people will tell you, ‘In their Own Words’ “Never give up. No matter how hard it is. I am worth it.”

Helen’s greatest words of wisdom to parents are: “Talk less. Listen more.”

* Not their real names

Thanks so much to Chelsea* and her mother, Helen* for sharing their stories.

Linda Millar is a contributor to Drug Free Kids Canada, and an education consultant with over 40 years of experience. She has authored several teacher resources in the fields of substance use prevention, media literacy, childhood obesity, and mental health.

Quick Resources:

  • The Cannabis talk kit for parents provides information on the drug, and practical tools for parents to start a conversation with their kids about cannabis ( and other drugs).
  • The Cannabis talk kit and other health resources can also be found on Health Canada.
  • If someone in your family suffers from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), check out Families for Addiction Recovery.
  • Drug Free Kids Canada inspires and supports parents to talk to youth about drug use.