Teen tells of drug use, recovery

Isaac became addicted to prescription pills six months after first trying weed
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Isaac can pinpoint the exact gesture that may have saved his life.

Two weeks after running away from home, the teenager met his older brother for lunch. Isaac “looked like death” and was spun out on drugs, as he had been for the past several months. He confessed to his brother, who lived in a different city, all about his drug use.

“He showed me the same love and affection,” Isaac says. “That was what got through to me the most.”

The 17-year-old is a friendly teenager with expressive eyes and a big smile. The clean-cut young man laughs often, especially as he plays foosball in a small room in a nondescript building in Roseville on a July afternoon. He’s known as the group’s foosball champion.

Isaac has spent a lot of time in this room, filled with chairs organized in a circle. Several collages hang on one wall, each with three categories: “How the world sees me, how I feel inside and how I see myself.”

There is a large piece of butcher paper with a poem about a teenager trying to regain the trust of her parents — lost as the young woman struggled with drug addiction.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 75 percent of all high school students in the United States have used addictive substances, including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine.

Isaac, 17, (whose last name is withheld because he’s a minor) is one of them. But he’s not just a statistic of addiction. He’s also another adolescent on the road to recovery.

Isaac started smoking weed at 14 years old, as a freshman at a Roseville high school. He quickly moved on to harder drugs, experimenting with ecstasy, mushrooms, acid and prescription pills. This was within six months of first trying pot.

Soon he was taking prescription pills every day. He left home and “binged on anything I could get my hands on,” he says.

“It took me until then to realize I had a problem,” Isaac says. “But I still was one foot in, one foot out.”

He thought he could stop the hard stuff, and limit his illegal substance intake to alcohol and weed, which he considered less risky. But he learned it doesn’t work that way.

During his sophomore year, he was living at home again and his parents noticed he was ditching school. One day, they told him he had a dentist appointment.

“I found myself here,” he says.

Here is the Full Circle Treatment Center in Roseville, an adolescent outpatient substance abuse program.

“I like (the name),” Isaac says, sitting on a couch in the center. “(It) has a better ring than ‘rehab.’”

The one-year program starts with 10 weeks of intensive recovery with group therapy four days a week, and individual and family therapy sessions, says counselor Jordan Sanders. When the teenager is clean and sober, the client attends three sessions weekly, then two and then one.

Clients are drug tested three times a week. The center currently has 22 clients, with most between age 13 and 18 years old. Substance abuse is the center’s primary focus, but the program also addresses self-esteem, communication skills, goal setting and other issues teens deal with in daily life.

“We treat the person as a whole,” Sanders says.

At the end of July, Isaac completed his year at the center. Throughout the experience, he fluctuated between making significant progress and hitting a wall.

“Overall, the part that helped me the most is the individual one-on-one with the counselor,” Isaac says. “It got me to see the root of my problems and understand myself a lot more.”

He realized in part that he struggles with self-esteem issues.

“Doing drugs made me feel like I was awesome,” he says.

But when he was sober, he didn’t feel so awesome. As his dependency on illegal substances grew, his relationship with his older siblings fizzled. When people expressed anger over his problem, he didn’t respond well, he says.

Family and friends concerned that a loved one may be abusing drugs and alcohol, should sit that person down and be calm, respectful and express empathy, Sanders says. Above all, she says, parents should never assume — that their kids aren’t on drugs, their child hasn’t tried alcohol or just because they experimented with weed and turned out OK means their daughter will, too.

“Drugs and alcohol are everywhere,” Sanders says. “Just because you have a good, loving family, your kid does (well) in school, the communication is great — anyone and everyone can be affected by use abuse.”

Parents should stay engaged in their child’s life, know their friends and keep the lines of communication open by asking questions and expressing interest.

“Don’t rely on Facebook to know who they are,” she says. “And (don’t) forget what it’s like to be a teen.”

As for Isaac, he’s rebuilding his relationship with his parents and focused on the future. During his first two years of high school, he managed to maintain good grades. Earlier this month, his family moved to San Diego so he could attend a performing arts school.

The young musician — he plays bass, guitar, piano, harmonica and sings — hopes to pursue a career as either an audio engineer or song writer. He wants to live out the passion he's discovered.

“The biggest change I’ve gone through in recovery is finding a sense of identity,” Isaac says. “You really loose that in drugs.”

Sena Christian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Wasted youth: This is the second article in a three-part series on teen substance abuse. Today: Meet a recovering addict. Aug. 17: How people are tackling the problem. To read the Aug. 3 article on facts of the problem, visit