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Recovery at Any Age: Young People Can and Do Recover

Greg Williams Ask the Expert

June Recovery at Any Age Young People Can and Do Recover

Ask the Expert:  Greg Williams , Co-Director, Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families

1) I am a middle school Student Assistance Counselor.  I recently encountered a 6th grade student that consumed a 2 oz. 5-hour Energy drink. The student experienced a high heart rate, dizziness and became very nauseous. What if anything is or has been reported or written on the dangers of young adolescents consuming these products?


I am not an expert on this topic.  I would refer this question toSAMHSA directly or another health care professional that could better assist you with your question.  I did come across a company who recently produced an educational program for students specifically on this topic you may be interested in:



2) What are some of the best resiliency models that exist for teens?


I am not an expert on this topic nation wide or the specific evidence-based models that that you may be looking for.  PerhapsFrances M. Harding, the Director of theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, who was also on our show would be a more appropriate person to answer the question about different models specifically. 


However, I can tell you about my own resiliency from my personal recovery experience.  Family and social supports have been key to maintaining my recovery and positive lifestyle.  I was fortunate to have a family unit that became involved and supported my recovery lifestyle.  They encouraged my involvement with peers who also had lived experience with addiction and recovery.  I became actively involved in social and recreational activities that reinforced my recovery, for example, playing on a sober softball team, going bowling with a peer group on Friday nights, and outdoor recreation on campus during college.  As my successful recovery continued, I began to seek out more and more of the joyful experiences as opposed to the negative behaviors of my past.  It is apparent to me that life clean and sober today is far more rewarding experience than any drug or alcohol experience I ever had in my past.  I have grown grateful for the life I am able to live today and I embrace all of the positive aspects of it.   



3) Could one of the factors that contribute to long term recovery and resilience be related to the following factor: people who during early developmental years set a goal or goals for themselves and, with much focus and determination, achieve it. Wouldn’t this set them up to achieve other difficult goals including long-term recovery and resiliency?


I am not aware of a specific study or report that links long-term recovery for youth to goal setting during early development.  Perhaps it is an important study that needs to be done, as much about youth in recovery has yet to be adequately studied and researched.

However, I can tell you about my own personal experience.  I know that from an early age I had goals to be successful.  I didn’t have a specific goal or dream job in mind though.  My family instilled the hope and freedom to choose any path I wished to take and encouraged me that I would be successful no matter what I chose to do with my life.  So my goals were somewhat vague and abstract during early development; I went to school, played sports, and hung out with friends.  My goals to succeed didn’t really change when I got involved with drinking and using drugs; they just sort of became less important and more distant.  Alcohol and other drugs sort of quieted my mind from some of the fear, insecurity, and acceptance issues I had as a teenager.  It became my coping mechanism and I became addicted very quickly.  To fast forward to my recovery, goal setting has been an extremely important part of my ongoing success.  First it was to stay sober, then it evolved to going to college, which evolved into making the dean’s list, which turned into graduating with a 3.75 GPA, which now has me looking into to graduate school.  It is amazing how my life’s goals continue to evolve and grow as I maintain my recovery, never in a million years would I have thought I would be feeling as good and accomplishing as much as I am today.  Recovery continues to open doors for me that I never even knew I wanted opened, sometimes it has been more about the journey than the goal, but without the goal the journey may have never begun.



4) I understand that creating an environment of trust and open communication is key to help keep my young teenagers from getting into risky behaviors and drug or alcohol use with their peers. Talking openly without judgment is not my family’s strong point and I want to change this before we all get into trouble. I’ve seen other families go through terrible times with their children’s drug and alcohol problems, and I don’t want my family to go down that road. Are there any resources online to help me understand the best way to do this?


You are correct that trust and open communication in a family is vital to preventing, treating, and recovering from alcohol and other drug problems.  Some of the best resources my family discovered are other families who have been through similar discussions and dialogues with their youth.  It is a great step for a family to ask for help in this area as your family could be just like my family who had trouble talking about difficult and sometimes scary topics.  We had very similar trouble discussing this as you can read about in a recent family circle article:

For specific online resources about having the conversation and getting additional resources I would suggest the below government websites from SAMHSA and ONDCP:


5) What kind of peer to peer resources are available for teenagers who don’t want to go to recovery meetings or don’t feel that they are “that bad” with their drug or alcohol use?


There are many different positive peer-to-peer resources that exist; unfortunately many of them are specific and/or limited depending on geography.  Whether it is found online, in recovery meetings, through faith congregations, athletics, or the arts the positive peer support young people can get from another peer with lived experience is the most amazing life-changing force I have ever witnessed.  Youth need one another and when peers validate their experience positively it is powerful.  One example of this is a peer-to-peer support group in Bridgeport, Connecticut at Central High School called The Leadership Group.  This particular group started with only a few students and through peer outreach they now reach over 500 students who are all working toward living clean and sober lifestyles whether or not they already have become addicted.  Many of the participating students will tell you they didn’t feel that they were “that bad,” but when presented with an alternative lifestyle their peers supported they grabbed onto it (you can view videos and more information about The Leadership Group on our website: ).

I will also tell you that that your experience with youth that do not feel they are “that bad” is very common and many times a denial mechanism.  In my experience some of the best ways to deal with this standard response from someone with a drug or alcohol problem is to share my own experience about addiction and recovery.  So if you have access to youth in recovery who could talk peer-to-peer with the young people you are working with is a key in breaking through some of the denial.  Maybe there is an “open” youth-specific recovery meeting close to you where anyone is welcome and the youth would not need to have a problem to attend and listen.  You could explain that an “open” meeting means that it is for anyone and not just people with an already admitted problem.  Being at a culturally matched recovery meeting is vital to breaking through denial.



6) What kind of intervention models are there to intervene with a teenager who is using drugs to their own detriment?


I am not an expert on this topic for the specific evidence-based models that you may be looking for.  Perhaps Mark Godley, Ph.D., Director, Research & Development,Chestnut Health Systems who was also on the show could better specifically answer this question.


Our organization, Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families, does suggest that getting a professional assessment or professional support is a helpful starting place in making educated decisions and taking effective next steps with young people. Alcohol and drug use rarely occurs in isolation of other areas of life. Usually, it can be associated with problems in other areas such as school or work performance, family and friend relationships, in conjunction with mental health issues, acting out, or criminal activities. Assessment is a broad term that includes evaluation procedures and techniques designed to measure key areas of youth functioning as well as the youth's environment. The term "assessment" conveys the idea that the assment procedures are not single events, but instead involve different types of measurement techniques at different times that can inform treatment and intervention planning. Assessments may include clinical interviews with the youth, important family members or caregivers and teachers; home visits; or psychological testing. Some of the most used evidence-based models for assessment and intervention we tell people about are Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) and Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN), it may be useful to find providers who use these models in your area.

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