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Power to the Parents: I started using marijuana when I was 13...

Power to the Parents is a regular feature that has appeared in every issue of The Guide to Good Health for the past year. The purpose of the column is to present advice and support from expert professionals at Gateway Rehabilitation Center to help parents and guardians who are concerned about young family members and substance misuse. With this issue, we have consulted an "expert" who has lived the experience. His name is "Nick," he is 19, and he is eager to share his journey with readers, with the hope of offering others insights about substance abuse and recovery that may help them as they struggle with challenges within their own families.

Can you tell me about how you came to enter a recovery program at Gateway Rehab's Youth Center?
I started using marijuana when I was 13 or 14. It was a social thing, I was doing it with my friends, but it was also a way to escape from stress. I was reluctant to come to Gateway at first. It wasn't voluntary; I was court-ordered to come, because I got into some trouble. I knew I needed it, but at first I didn't like it; I didn't want to stay. Eventually, I realized it wasn't bad.

What made you start to like being at Gateway?
The best thing about Gateway was that I acquired skills to deal with difficult things. Instead of using to escape stressful things, I learned how to control my emotions and express myself in healthy ways. I learned how to speak to people.

I came to understand the importance of structure – having a routine helps a lot. It's actually a life skill. My day there was organized; I knew what to expect, what was going to happen. We had three big meals and really good food; that part was great. We had group meetings, classes and sessions with our therapists. The other really great thing about my time at Gateway was my relationship with my therapist, Jeremy. He taught me how to deal with my anger.

Did you learn things about yourself at Gateway?
You definitely learn a lot. There are others all around you; some you will like and some you won't. But that's how it is in real life. Sometimes, other kids frustrated me. They made me want to leave. But over time, I learned that reacting to them was one of the reasons I ended up there in the first place. I needed to learn to deal with negative people who provoked me. You have to practice your new skills with the other kids. Now I know what my triggers are – the things that upset me. I have the skills to walk away, distract myself, or play basketball to work it off. I don't yell at people anymore; I talk in a calm voice. I try do my best every day.

What has been hardest for you, now that you are home?
I had to leave old friends behind and that was really hard. I need friends who are in recovery like me. I need positive people around me. The friends I made at Gateway are still my friends. But it was tough.

How has this experience changed your life?
I have better control of my emotions. In many ways, I'm a different person. I practice the things I learned at Gateway every day. You have to; if you don't you might slip back into old behavior. I feel that I made huge strides. After being at Gateway, I completed my probation perfectly, passed all my drug tests, got a part-time job and started taking classes at a community college. My relationships with my family are better. I try to help my younger brother by telling him to stay in school, get a job, and stop doing weed.

What would you like to tell parents about how Gateway can help their kids?
It's a really nice place. Everything at the Youth Center is brand new; there's a gym, fitness center, and a basketball and volleyball court.

I think parents should first try to be nice about it, offer to take your child to Gateway for a visit. If that doesn't work, you might have to force them to go. I'm glad I was forced to go; it was worth it. There's no question that I'm a more mature person and my life is better because of Gateway. It's the best facility around. If you work at it, your life will change for the better.

Commentary from Richard Foster, Ph.D., Executive Vice-President for Treatment Programs at Gateway: Most often, those who come to the Youth Center come with an external motivation, like Nick. That can serve as a jump start. Nick was able to go on to develop internal motivation. He had to work hard, progress through levels of the program and earn privileges. Our 90-120 day program helps with the transition; it's a long stay, but it takes a long time to make changes. Less time generally means less likelihood of success.

If parents think their child is using drugs or alcohol, they need to remember that they not only have a right to question their child and check up on his activities, but also a responsibility to do so. For more information, contact Gateway Rehab at 1-800-472-1177 or visit www.gatewayrehab.org.

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