Emmy Hall, an Oregon teen, was 12 when her parents divorced. She and her mom moved to a new neighborhood. Looking back now, Emmy realizes how hurt, lonely and depressed she felt about the situation. She still remembers clearly the day a new friend she had made asked her if she had ever tried drinking alcohol. â€œI said â€˜sureâ€™ because I wanted to seem cool. That was when I had my first drink. That was when it all started.â€
Even though she didnâ€™t enjoy drinking at first, she kept it up to be part of the crowd and because it seemed to make her feel a little better about her situation. â€œI never thought that I could become an addict. I was 12. I had no idea what I was doing.â€
Like most kids and adults who drink, Emmy made excuses that seemed to make it okay. Today, sheâ€™s concerned that many parents let their children drink at home, with the idea that at least they know where their kids are. â€œWhat they donâ€™t realize,â€ says Emmy emphatically, â€œis that kids who start drinking when theyâ€™re underage like that are fifty percent more likely to become addicts. Their brains arenâ€™t finished developing.Â It just messes them all up.â€
In Emmyâ€™s case, drinking soon led to other things. â€œEvery time I tried a new drug, it was because I was intoxicated,â€ she says. When asked how many drugs she tried, she replied â€œIt would be easier to name one I didnâ€™t.â€Â She started by experimenting with painkillers and â€œSkittles,â€ and later on switched to drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth.
The effects of Emmyâ€™s abuse of drugs and alcohol soon showed up at school. She was kicked out of her public middle school several times and went to a private one for a while, but finally ended up in an alternative learning center for kids with problems. Before finishing 8th grade there, she hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon, with a friend. When the friend ditched her, she hitchhiked to Los Angeles by herself. She was officially a runawayâ€”and a drug and alcohol addict.
â€œAt one point, I weighed 86 pounds,â€ she says incredulously. â€œOne day when I had no place to stay, no money and no food, I sent up a little prayer for those three things. Iâ€™m not sure what made me do it, but I went and turned myself in to the Los Angeles police as a runaway. I got what I had asked forâ€”an 8 by 8 cell for shelter, food, and transportation back home to a detention center in Oregon. I stayed there for two weeks, thinking Iâ€™d get out and go back to my old ways. That was when my probation officer told me I was going to rehab.Â The facility was way out in the middle of nowhere, and at first I just sulked. There was no escape, so I just told them what I knew they wanted to hear. I had a negative attitude, though. My heart wasnâ€™t in it, and the only thing I could find to abuse was a pen. I managed to mutilate my arm with it.â€
Emmy says she was at the rehab center for three months before she really began to work on her problem. â€œOne day somebody said something funny, and I smiled. They were like, â€˜Whatâ€™s with her? Sheâ€™s smiling.â€™â€ Her negative attitude had changed to a positive one. â€œAfter that, I began to join group activities and talk and work on my problem. Two months later, I graduated from the program and went to live with my dad. I stayed with him for a year and a half. Then I went to live with my mom.â€
Today, at 18, Emmy is on schedule to graduate from high school on time. Sheâ€™s been accepted at an art institute, but may go to community college for a year while she does a bit more thinking about which path to take in the future. She already works as a photographer and layout artist for a weekly newspaper section called Under 21, and also works with mentally disabled adults, a job that gives her a lot of satisfaction.
She feels badly about what she put her family through. â€œI totally took advantage of my mom,â€ she says, â€œbut she is amazing. Thatâ€™s all I can say. She knows how to make me see that Iâ€™m acting outrageous without making me feel bad about it. Sheâ€™s a genius.â€ She worries about her little brother, now 13, and hopes he wonâ€™t get into the same kind of trouble she did.
Does Emmy consider herself â€œcuredâ€? â€œNo! Iâ€™m scared!â€ she groans. â€œI have to be really careful to stay away from stuff. I am an addict. Itâ€™s in my genes.â€ She is involved in an aftercare program called On Track, and that helps.
It also helps that she has friends who would like to kick their bad habits, and that Emmy can be an inspiration to them to do it. She says most kids donâ€™t realize that after the high, they will get dropped into the lowest low they can imagine.
â€œPeer pressure works both ways,â€ she says. â€œI work with a CADCA coalition, and we have a thing we call â€˜Take it Back.â€™Â Itâ€™s like reverse peer pressure.â€
Emmy said part of what helped her recover from drug addiction was joining a CADCA community coalition and getting involved in CADCAâ€™s National Youth Leadership Initiative. Thanks to the program, sheâ€™s now a role model for other kids and is learning how toÂ prevent drug use in her community.
â€œYou know, kids like to think that theyâ€™re rebelling against society. But if they drink and drug, theyâ€™re going along with the crowd. I say if you want to be a rebel, rebel against drugs and alcohol. Iâ€™m clean and sober, and Iâ€™m proud of it. And I am so happy now. That means so much. I can be happy withoutÂ the drugs, without the alcohol. They didnâ€™t make me happy.Â They just made things worse.
Article is from the NIE tab, “Stay Smart, Don’t Start” produced by the Washington Times and distributed by the NIE Institute.Â