Personal stories drive anti-drug effort


If I’ve learned one essential lesson in more than three decades of my writing career, it’s this: Follow the story. Whenever I get lost, I follow the light of a story and somehow find my way.

In this column, a reprisal of my column of the same title from almost a decade ago, I will focus on stories.

These are stories featuring people you know … people you work with … people whose lives are intertwined, directly or indirectly, with your life.

I’ll tell stories about teenagers who are in deep trouble with alcohol and other drugs, letting them speak in their own words about how marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs have turned their lives inside out.

Their stories highlight the fear, pain, guilt, and shame that always and inevitably accompany addiction.

I’ll tell stories about the drugs people are taking these days, and how these drugs are getting stronger and more deadly, leading to what experts call “an epidemic” of addiction, especially among young people.

The brain has its own stories, and they are anything but dry or dull. I’ll work hard to make terms like “synaptic plasticity,” “mental hardwiring” and “cellular excitement” understandable and, well, yes, exciting.

Research on adolescent brain development has exploded in the last decade. We know now that the brain goes through a “second stage” of development in adolescence, a 10-15 year period during which teens and young adults are extremely vulnerable to addiction. This is a story that we all need to understand.

I’ll tell stories about family members who hesitate to reach out for help, fearing that their children will be judged and dismissed as “bad kids.” And, of course, these parents fear (with good reason), that people will point at them and whisper, “Bad parent.”

Young children have their stories, too, about family members whose drug use has created great pain and trauma in their lives. These children will find a voice in this column.

Sometimes I meet people who really aren’t all that interested in the stories I want to tell because they think addiction doesn’t affect them or they believe addiction is a choice, a failure of will, a character defect.

Sometimes, too often, these are the people who should know, who must know the facts about this disease because they are doctors, counselors, lawyers, and other professionals whose advice and decisions can — and do -- alter the course of lives.

I’ll tell stories about people, young and old, who are not afraid to put their faces and voices to this disease. Just a decade ago only a few brave souls were willing to speak out. Today millions of people speak openly about their disease and its impact on their lives and the lives of the people they love..

If I stick to the stories — if I allow the stories to unfold and don’t interfere too much with words and analyses — I won’t go too far astray.

And so, I’ll end this first column with a story that gives me chills every time I repeat it.

Not so very long ago my friend Joyce Sundin, a Seattle intervention specialist, met with a family desperate to help their 19-year-old meth-addicted son.

The boy was living in a trailer park. On the day of the intervention Joyce and several family members walked into the double-wide trailer to find the boy asleep on a ratty old couch. He woke up, looked around, and said, “Is this an intervention?”

“So you know about interventions?” Joyce said.

He nodded his head.

“Well, then, you know the drill,” she said. “Your family loves you very much. They want to share their concerns. Are you willing to hear them out?”

“Yeah,” he said softly.

The boy’s mother, father, and brother read their letters, short and to the point. We love you, we’re scared for you, we’re sick at heart, you need help.

“Are you willing to get help?” Joyce asked the boy.

He pulled his hoodie sweatshirt over his head and disappeared. A long silence ensued.

Finally, slowly, he pushed the hoodie back, took a deep breath and said, “What took you so long?”

Kathy Ketcham is the author of 14 books and executive director of Trilogy Recovery Community. For more information, go to


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