Pay It Forward
Franky Price, Jr.
Addiction is a burden to those personally affected by it and a coping mechanism for those who suffer from it. One group of people disproportionately impacted by addiction are those in our foster care system — the most vulnerable youth among us.
A survey conducted by DSHS shows adolescents in foster care are fifty percent more likely than those living in their biological parents’ homes to have a current substance abuse problem. As we are taught in school, a youth’s brain does not finish developing until age twenty-five. This means that struggling with addiction before then can dampen dopamine receptors and lead to less interest in life while sober.
For many years, I watched drug addiction deteriorate my parents’ physical and mental health. Exposure to drug use shaped the way my 12-year-old mind understood “coping,” so eventually I too picked up drugs and used them to “cope” with my tumultuous life. Once I entered care, getting high was no longer a viable option. At that point, I didn't fully understand the magnitude of addiction in my life and neither did my foster families. They lacked knowledge of addiction and had no idea how to help me.
When I was in foster care, I told my foster parents that I really wanted to attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings on a weekly basis. Instead of addressing my need and nurturing it, they promptly got upset and told me there was “no need” for me to go to meetings. Their lack of understanding made me feel like my feelings were wrong and my journey became even more challenging.
Addiction can lead to many uncomfortable conversations and leave youth in care feeling misunderstood. Fortunately, if one has understanding foster parents, there are many resources available to youth during their journey to sobriety that can help them feel better understood within their addiction.
After being taken away from your family and friends you completely lose your support system, which leaves you desperate for community. Struggling with addiction makes having people to support you so much more important, especially for foster youth dealing with addiction. Whether it be themselves or their family, it's important that the youth has a supportive community such as NA or AA in order to help them understand that they are not alone.
Once you're in foster care, talking about addiction is a challenging topic because you don’t always know who you can trust, as I experienced in my foster family.
It's very important that foster families become educated about family addiction by seeking literature on addiction through rehab centers, internet, or meeting halls; this can help foster parents know how to begin a conversation. Specialized training for foster families is key to knowing how to deal with youth who are struggling with addiction and especially those who are detoxing, which can be extremely dangerous. Adequate care means supporting youth throughout their battle with addiction, from understanding the problem more comprehensively to supporting them during their most vulnerable times in recovery.
At the end of the day, it is up to both the foster family and the youth to work together in the journey towards sobriety. But for that to be able to happen, there must be a real effort to make sure foster families are equipped with the knowledge to provide support during the complicated process of recovery. Unity, love and education are critical to treat youth addiction in care. Bonds with foster families can become stronger with a compassionate, knowledgeable response to addiction instead of judging without understanding. Until then, I will keep the words of Jimmy Dean close to me: “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”