Rae Barker, who shared her personal story of substance use and addiction at this week’s Shared Space (pictured above), said she started drinking at 12 years old to ease her anxiety.
The 23-year-old, who has been in recovery for two years, eloquently spoke to the audience of 70 gathered for the community conversation. She talked about her early struggles with mental health, her teenage and young adult years battling opioid addiction and seeking recovery, and the grief of losing friends to the disease.
Listening to her, it was easy to see the struggles many youth face and the devastating long-term effects of early substance use.
“I know the guilt and shame of living in recovery, but I also know the pain of losing people to this disease. It’s always okay to feel grief and a horrible loss, even for people who you may not have known that long,” she said during the panel conversation.
Her comments align with a recent press release shared by our partners at Roanoke Prevention Alliance, regarding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (click to read our 2017 Restoring Hope blog post “Tough Talks: Parents, Children and 13 Reasons Why”).
The show’s initial launch last spring captured the attention of youth globally and created countless discussions about mental health, bullying, social media and the connection to substance use and suicidality.
Concerns were raised by mental health advocacy groups and experts about whether the series presented risks to some viewers because of how it addressed these important and complicated issues.
With the recent release of 13 Reasons Why season 2, and a seeming increase in online and community violence, organizations from around the world have asked Netflix to cover the many difficult issues included in the series responsibly.
SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) released a website with information, resources and toolkits for youth/peers, parents, educators and clinicians/professionals for families to address the specific topics raised in the episodes (www.13reasonswhytoolkit.org).
From SAVE on Youth and Substance Use:
Drugs and alcohol are bad for you, and most are also against the law completely or illegal to use for anyone under the legal age of consumption. Be smart and just say no if someone offers you drugs or alcohol. Even experimenting can be risky, so walk away and tell them that you don’t want to be part of that crowd. Say “My life and my future are too important to me. I don’t want to ruin it for a few minutes of an artificial high.” Even if you are at a party where everyone else might be drinking alcohol, be smart and avoid the temptation. It could save your life.
Drugs and alcohol will not solve your problems. If you are struggling and need help, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend or trusted adult. There are negative consequences of using drugs including losing your friends, getting kicked out of your favorite sport or activity, getting in serious trouble with the law, possibly hurting someone else, disappointing your parents, and even the possibility of death. If you are worried about your own substance use or that of a friend, reach out to a counselor to begin the process of recovery.
Addiction is a real disease. Young people can become addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs and even over-the-counter medications. Most people do not see the slide that is happening to them after they begin using drugs. It is often not until negative consequences start happening that others realize there is a problem and the person that is using sees it. Without intervention and professional help, addiction can become life-threatening to the person using and it can become dangerous to others – think drunk driving, sexually assaulting someone when you are high, etc.
A note on opioid medications: just because a drug is legally prescribed does not mean that they are not dangerous! Many of you have probably heard about opioids which are prescription painkillers. They are highly addictive and when abused can be life-threatening. It is illegal to use someone else’s prescribed medications and it is illegal to sell, give away or distribute someone else’s medications.
You probably know if your friends are using drugs or alcohol and often you know if they are doing it too much.
Are they lying about their use?
Are they hiding their use even from friends?
Are they taking risks to get drugs or get high?
Have they changed from the way they used to be, the way that you once knew them?
Are they hanging around a new group or a group that gets into trouble with authority or the law?
Are they stealing?
If yes to any of these, talk to someone you trust about your friend and do whatever you can to stay away from the negative behaviors. You can still remain their friend, you can still care about them, but stay away from getting involved in the things that they are doing around drugs and alcohol.
Research demonstrates that depictions of violence and self-harm can increase the likelihood of copycat behaviors. Adolescents are a vulnerable and highly impressionable group, frequently copying others’ behaviors or reacting in response to things they have seen. Based on how season 1 ended and from the pre-release trailers, cast interviews and pre-release statements from Netflix blog posts, we assume that topics in the series might include: suicide, school and personal violence, bullying, sexual assault and substance use.
Alert (not a warning) for Parents and Teens – 13 Reasons Why:
1. For vulnerable and at-risk youth (for example those living with depression or an anxiety disorder) we encourage families to make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to watch 13 Reasons Why because of the triggering impact it might have on them. We recommend using the show’s TV rating as a source of guidance about the intensity of the content. Some of the story lines could be quite upsetting and result in them needing additional monitoring, support and/or treatment.
2. If your teens do watch the series, make an effort to watch with them. This will allow you the opportunity to monitor the impact the show has on your child. It also affords you the chance to talk after each episode and ensure that they are comfortable enough to continue watching.
3. If you are not able to watch together, talk with your teens about their thoughts, reactions and their feelings about the content. Check in with them multiple times as it can take a few days to process the content and they will likely continue to talk about the show with their peers. Let them know that they can come to you with questions or worries about themselves or their friends and that you will be there to listen and help guide them.
4. Reassure youth that fiction and reality are not the same thing. Even though some might believe that what they have seen on television is or feels like reality, it is critical that you help them understand it is not and that the outcomes from the series do not have to be their outcomes.
5. Learn what resources are available in your local community where you can find help if needed. These might include: a local public health agency, a mental health professional, the counselors in your child’s school, or a crisis phone service in your area. Knowing who you can reach out to for support is a good prevention strategy.
Thanks to young people like Rae, who also shares her story in local schools by volunteering with the Prevention Council of Roanoke County and assists addicts seeking recovery through her work with the Roanoke Valley Hope Initiative, the connection between mental health and substance use is getting more attention.
Thanks also to each community member who shared their personal stories of addiction and recovery, and their efforts to bolster treatment options in the Roanoke Valley. Beth Macy, author of the recently released Dopesick, moderated the panel discussion this week and shared some of the research and stories she has collected on the opioid crisis affecting our community and our nation.