Prostitution was not on Sandra P.’s short-list of desired careers, yet selling her body became a source of fast cash when she had a bad fix and couldn’t afford crack. She came to know the streets. She knew where she could get what she was looking for and was willing to do whatever it took to get it. The lifestyle she had fallen into was a far cry from her honorable years of service with the United States military or any of the dreams she had in her youth. It’s scary how quickly substance abuse can consume your life.
The hook was fast, but the consequences were anything-but. Sandra battled her addiction for more than 30 years. It led her down a path that is not uncommon for many young people who start casually using drugs. College is notorious for being a place/time where young adults are exposed to new ideas and try a variety of things they’ve never done before. Drinking and recreational drug use are often high on the list.
But at what point does “trying something” lead to addiction and a life-altering problem? When does having a couple of beers with your friends become having a drink with every meal? How long before you’re drinking yourself to sleep every night?
“Drug abuse is a huge problem for all ages, particularly for teens and young adults,” said John Haywood, Administrator for the Newport News Drug Treatment Court. “Today’s youth face many risks and drug abuse seems to be the worst. The problem needs to be addressed before ongoing use becomes too difficult to manage.”
Haywood has devoted his life to fighting substance abuse and has seen hundreds of lives destroyed by drugs, including college students. He attended North Carolina A&T University, VCU Graduate School and the Old Dominion University Chemical Dependency Counseling Program. His education is firmly founded in promoting recovery and breaking the cycle of chemical dependency. Sandra is one of seven people who graduated from his Drug Court Program this year.
“I never knew how to cope and tried to use drugs to feel better,” Sandra said. “But it just covered up the façade, gave me a sense of false elation. You feel like everything is fine for a little while, but then you come out of it and realize, no, it’s not OK.”
Like many who develop addictions, she started drinking when she was a teenager and it didn’t take long for the habit to get out of control.
“I have an addictive personality, so anything I do, I do a lot of,” Sandra said. She was introduced to cocaine while she was in the Army. The military culture, much like that of a college, encouraged her to experiment. “If only I hadn’t even looked at that stuff. My addiction robbed me of so much in life.”
Though addiction leaves no population unaffected, Haywood is particularly concerned with the rising popularity of “club drugs,” or the types that are commonly introduced to young people at college parties.
“Recent studies show an alarming rise in the number of club drug users,” Haywood said. “‘Club Drug’ is a vague term that refers to a wide range of drugs like ecstacy, Rohypol, meth and LSD.”
While a historically conservative and dry campus, CNU is not immune to the problems of drug abuse. Wherever there are people, there will be bad influences and people who fall victim to them.
“The Office of the National Drug Control Policy finds that the use of many of these drugs comes from nothing more than peer pressure,” Haywood said.
There have been obvious, high profile drug cases at CNU, but the most dangerous stories are often the ones that go untold for years: The student battling depression and drinks to numb herself; the senior who is stressed about his future and hides alcohol in a coffee tumbler so he can drink during class; the girl who took a hit of the wrong stuff at the party and was taken advantage of. They’re all very real, but very avoidable problems. The key is finding a network of supportive and positive influences and eliminating those that point you toward bad decisions.
Kelvin G., also a graduate of the N.N. Drug Court, knows all-too-well the dangers of trying to numb the pain with drugs.
“Drinking was just something I did, until it became second nature,” Kelvin said. “I would drink with friends, I would drink by myself—it didn’t matter.” The seriousness of his problem finally hit him one day a few years ago when he found himself in an abandoned house, drunk, sitting alone while homeless people shuffled in and out of the building.
“They say an addict alone is in bad company,” he said. “Eventually, I had to confront my fears without the alcohol.”
Senior Jeremy Bourne, student assistant in the Office of the Dean of Students, said that he had witnessed too many people make the mistake of falling victim to the temporary fix that drugs provide.
“I can understand why someone might be curious about trying something for the first time,” he said. “But I’ve seen countless occasions where drug use has inhibited someone’s ability to reach their goals.” He added that the long term dangers definitely outweigh any temporary benefits.
“Not only is there a health risk, it’s a huge distraction,” said Bourne, who suggested that students feeling troubled should take advantage of CNU’s Health and Wellness Center, located in the Freeman Center. Staffed with licensed professionals, the Center offers advice and counseling—which is, of course, in a private and protected setting.
Those within the business of recovery stress that it’s important to understand you can have a good time without drinking or using drugs. To keep on the right path, you might have to change your friends or the places you hang out at. It will probably be difficult, but you have to look out for yourself if those people are bringing you down.
“Being above the influence is about being yourself and not letting people pressure you into less than what you are,” Haywood said. “Individuals have the power to reject the negative influence—including drugs and drinking. Just be true to yourself.”