Friday, April 17, 2015

Family In Denial Ignores Addiction'S Warning Signs

Beth Smith has struggled for eight years to help her daughter escape the clutches of heroin. Kendal’s addiction took a terrible toll, but now she’s off the drugs and eager to help other families understand the causes and warning signs.

When Beth Smith found a needle and spoon in her 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom, she did what most parents would do. She called the cops and watched them cart away her daughter’s much-older, drug-using boyfriend.
But as the police hauled him away, he shouted that Kendal was using too.
Beth didn’t believe him for a moment: Not her beautiful, smart, well-raised daughter.
And in that moment of denial, she missed another in a long sequence of chances to save her child. She couldn’t believe it then, but Kendal was already a full-fledged heroin user.
The full nightmare for the family lay just ahead. For the next six years, Kendal bounced in and out of rehabilitation facilities and drug court, gave birth to a methadone baby, dated men in and out of prison and stole from her parents, family and stores anything she could get her hands on to get high.
She’s straight now, but facing a jail sentence. She and her family are also eager to tell their story, in hopes of saving other Payson families from the trauma, ruination and near tragedy their family suffered.
Unfortunately, her tale’s not unusual, according to a mounting number of studies of drug abuse. That especially includes heroin, with a surge in addiction and overdose in Rim Country and across the country.
Research shows that the temptation to drink or use drugs can overcome almost any child, regardless of grades, family background, family support, intelligence or social class. Moreover, research suggests that genes and biology play a key role. Some people can drink or use drugs without becoming quickly addicted. Other people become dependent after trying a drug only a few times — although drugs like meth set their hooks in the brain much more quickly — especially in the vulnerable, developing brains of teens.
However, the research has also revealed an array of risk factors that make teens especially vulnerable — as well as highlighting changes in behavior and characteristics that can offer parents early warning signs.
One of the most subtle, important and persistent risk factors remains low self-esteem, which studies show make teens much more vulnerable to depression, eating disorders and other problems associated with drug use.
One nine-year study showed that children who showed signs of low self-esteem at 11 had a significantly greater chance of both experimenting with drugs and becoming addicted than children who felt better about themselves.
Mother missed warning signs
Looking back, Beth says she didn’t understand the warning signs that appeared when Kendal was just a girl — but her daughter’s struggle with depression and low self-esteem offered the first, tragically overlooked clues.
Teased from second grade on because of her early development and beauty, Kendal felt hopeless and depressed.
With drugs came acceptance and validation from peers and a way to numb the pain of rejection.
Beth says she kicks herself every day that she didn’t step in earlier and help her daughter. Instead of bolstering her esteem, her mother’s efforts to make her life easier and prevent any pain actually fostered dependence and a sense of helplessness.
Beth and Kendal were among those who recently spoke out at a heroin meeting put on by the Payson Police Department. The meeting generated so much feedback, the PPD is holding a follow-up event Tuesday, April 21 at 7 p.m. in town hall, 303 N. Beeline Highway.
This meeting will focus on treatment options, community resources for addicts and their families and new ways for the community to reduce the rising toll of drug addiction that touches countless families, said Police Chief Don Engler.
The Smiths decided to break the silence and shame of addiction.
Provided photos
On the outside, Kendal looked like she had everything, but low self-esteem rooted in bullying and depression set her up for years of heroin addiction.
Silence lets addiction win
“I want to get this out and reach out and maybe help someone or inspire someone,” Kendal said. “We often want to keep quiet, but that is letting the addiction win.”
Drugs find their way into a person’s life in countless ways. Some get hooked on prescription painkillers after sustaining an injury, others try them to fit in with their peers and others start with alcohol, then inch into drugs like marijuana, meth and heroin.
For Kendal, who has battled low self-esteem since the schoolyard days when girls made fun of her weight, drugs offered a way to gain acceptance.
Researchers have found a correlation between the use of drugs and low self-esteem in adolescents. One study found the higher a teenaged girl’s self-esteem, the lower the likelihood of drug abuse.
Using drugs at an early age often leads to addiction. In fact, in 97 percent of cases, addiction originates with substance use before the age of 21, when the brain is still developing and so vulnerable to the effects of drugs, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Colombia University.
“If you’re a parent of a young child and you notice that the child has very low self-esteem, that should be a warning signal that this child needs some attention or perhaps professional counseling,” said a researcher in a Florida State University study.
Beth wishes now she had understood the link between depression and anxiety and substance abuse.
She herself used when she was younger, but overcame her addictions quickly. She took care to raise her daughters in a good home where alcohol abuse was not present and she rarely fought with her spouse.
But Beth says she did everything for Kendal, from making her bed in the morning to lying for her to get her out of slumber parties.
Parents were enablers
“We enabled her,” she said. “I taught her poor life skills and I blame myself for some of this.”
But Kendal’s low self-esteem started with childhood teasing.
At 14, she attended her first party and in one night tried alcohol and marijuana.
She continued to party every weekend, preferring the parties to school where she felt isolated and rejected.
Fresh off a breakup with her boyfriend at 16, Kendal met a 23-year-old man. Much later, she discovered he was one of the biggest drug dealers in town.
He introduced her to pills, Oxycodone and other painkillers. Eventually, he got her to try heroin. It was easy. Kendal didn’t think much of herself and didn’t have much going on. Her boyfriend and drugs dominated her life and her thinking.
Beth now knows she should have done more to keep Kendal active and in school. Because of the bullying, Beth didn’t push her to get involved with other kids.
Now, Beth wishes she had guided Kendal into an activity, whether it was theater or sports.
“If you have a child with low self-esteem issues, you should address that. I regret it every day for not getting her into the proper counseling when she was young,” Beth said.
Kendal’s use of drugs escalated, but her mother remained in the dark. Kendal’s drug dealing boyfriend shot her up with heroin and one night almost killed her by injecting her with a huge dose of heroin while she slept.
Beth knew Kendal’s boyfriend was a user, but remained in denial for a long time that Kendal could be using too.
At 18, Kendal went through her first drug detox.
By then, Beth knew her daughter had a terrible problem. The signs were visible all over her body. She had lost weight, had sunken eyes and her color was off.
As Kendal struggled to get back on track, she met a counselor at a drug rehabilitation program and was instantly attracted.
They started dating and Kendal noticed he made frequent trips to the bathroom.
She realized he was using. But instead of breaking up with him for her own sobriety, she joined in.
“I was like, ‘Let’s do it together, why aren’t you sharing?’” she said. “That was my sick mind. ‘Why aren’t you doing it with me, why are you hiding this from me?’ So, we started doing it together.”
They moved into a Valley apartment and got high every day. He got fired from his job for using and Kendal for stealing money out of the register.
When their dealer got evicted, they invited him into their apartment.
Police raided her home
Police raided the home and arrested the dealer, but Kendal managed to escape arrest.
She went back to detox and returned to Payson to get well.
But instead of focusing on sobriety, Kendal moved back in with another friend who was selling drugs. She got pregnant and by the time she realized she was pregnant, the baby was also hooked on heroin.
Although her mother checked her into a hospital that gave her methadone to protect the baby and prevent life-threatening withdrawals, Kendal remained out of control in a way she says horrifies her now. She secretly sold the methadone and kept using heroin. At six months pregnant, she wound up in jail. That finally reached her. She gave up heroin and her daughter was born healthy.
Child Protective Services investigated her, but let her keep the baby when she showed she was attending meetings, not using drugs and working to straighten her life out.
But heroin can overwhelm the best of intentions once it takes root. When she suffered another heartbreak, Kendal returned to the drug.
After several failed attempts at short-term rehab programs, Kendal found her way to Prescott, with its wealth of longer-term programs. Even there, she failed one placement before getting the treatment she needed.
“It was very strict, almost militaristic,” she said of the Canyon Crossing rehab program.
Although she has not completed treatment, Kendal has been sober 72 days today.
On Monday, a judge will likely sentence Kendal to prison for violating probation months ago.
Kendal hopes to pick up in the program where she left off.
Beth says the current, long-term treatment program has finally started to focus on the life skills Kendal never acquired. Things like getting a job, paying bills and working in the community will all help build up Kendal’s self-esteem.
While she still has a long road to go, Kendal finally has perspective on why her life went so terribly wrong.
“If I had got counseling for teasing back then, it might have helped,” she said.
Instead, she dropped out of high school as a sophomore and turned to drugs for validation instead of healthy activities like sports or school.
Despite her months of sobriety, Kendal knows she’s still on shaky ground.
“Still, I love that I wake up today and that I don’t want to use.”
Research Findings
• Three-fourths of high school students have used some sort of non-prescription drug in the past year.
Source: Northern Illinois University College of Education
• Low self-esteem could lead to lack of development and/or tendency toward drugs or alcohol consumption.
Source: 2011 Kerman University of Medical Sciences
• Prevention and education efforts focused on children with low self-esteem can markedly reduce the risk of drug use at a later age.
Source: Florida State University study
Warning Signs of Drug Use:
 Lack of interest in grooming
 Withdrawal
 Isolation
 Fatigue
 Depression
 Aggressive behavior
 Deteriorating relationships with family
 Change in friends
 Drop in grades
 Loss of interest in hobbies and sports
SELF-ESTEEM AND TEEN DRUG USE
Low self-esteem increased relapse rate
Self-esteem played a key role in whether teenagers in drug treatment programs both avoided a relapse one year later and managed to cope with everyday social and emotional problems, like family conflicts, school and relationships with peers. Parents and teens filled out questionnaires. The scores on measurements of self-esteem accounted for 16 percent of the relapse rates and 25 percent of the difference in handling life problems. The study was published in the Journal of Substance Abuse.
Low scores raised risk of drug abuse
Researchers in New Zealand administered personality tests that measured self-esteem to a large sample of teenagers ages 9-13. They later resurveyed the teens to determine whether self-esteem affected the later development of problems, including drug use. They found low self-esteem significantly increased the risk of drug abuse, suicide, eating disorders and multiple other social problems. The research was published in the Journal of Adolescence.
Low scores dramatically raised addiction rate
Low self-esteem and peer approval at the age of 11 significantly raised the use of drug abuse by the age of 20, according to a nine-year study of a random sample of 872 boys by researchers from Florida State University. They found children with very low self-esteem were 1.6 times more likely to become drug dependent. The low self-esteem had a strong impact on very early drug use, which increases the odds of eventual drug addiction 18-fold. By the time they hit 20, 64 percent had used drugs and 10 percent had become dependent.
Array of studies support findings
The National Association for Self Esteem website posted an array of studies linking self-esteem and drug use including:
Low self-esteem either causes or contributes to neurosis, anxiety, defensiveness, and ultimately alcohol and drug abuse. Guidepost.
The use of drugs is often used to compensate for low self-esteem and feelings of a lack of control over one’s life. Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
A program designed to increase self-esteem significantly changed the attitudes of students regarding their alcohol and drug use. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education.
Sample questions from self-esteem test
  1. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.
  2. At times I think I am no good at all.
  3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.
  4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.
  5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
  6. I certainly feel useless at times.
  7. I feel that I’m a person of worth.
  8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.
  9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.
  10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.