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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 21, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Guest: Schools play key role in helping kids overcome addiction

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Amy Frierson

No one chooses to be an addict.

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic, progressive, family disease — meaning it’s incurable but treatable. The longer it’s left untreated, the worse it becomes for not only the addict and his or her loved ones, but for the entire community as well.

In America, an estimated 2.5 million young people are illicit drug users.

The earlier someone uses drugs or alcohol, the more likely he or she is to become an addict. Young people are also more vulnerable because parts of their brains are still developing. There is a dangerously fine line between experimentation, where someone can stop using, and addiction, where he or she no longer has that choice.

Here’s the good news: With treatment including a continuing care component, chances for maintaining sobriety improve and people are more likely to avoid devastating lifelong effects that come with addiction.

What can we as a community do to help young people facing addiction? Here are two, relatively simple ways we can help them begin the road to recovery. Our schools play a crucial role in both approaches.

First, we need to educate and create awareness in all students by focusing on facts about the disease of addiction instead of just the negative consequences. One of the complexities of addiction is that most addicts continue to use despite serious consequences.

Our educational approach should include warning signs and present real solutions, like the many support networks and treatment options available, again striving to reduce the stigma around addiction and increase the likelihood that people will ask for and accept help.

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Second, but equally important, we must provide education options for those who do choose that path, like recovery-based high schools. By design, these schools accommodate the special needs of students facing addiction and provide trained teachers, small enrollment and recovery programs that are part of the curriculum. Education is not a privilege; it’s a basic human right that should never be denied to anyone.

These schools offer an invaluable network of peer support through the recovery process and provide a physical change in environment, eliminating triggers like seeing old acquaintances who might still be using.

I am proud to say that Seattle Public Schools has plans to open an Interagency Recovery School in Queen Anne next month. What shocked and saddened me was the outcry from some who are viciously opposed to it.

On one neighborhood blog, negative comments abound, carrying the general sentiment that “We don’t want this school/those people here.” This public response perpetuates a negative stigma that could discourage people from seeking treatment.

District officials have cited community support as one critical factor in these students’ road to recovery. Those who do not support this program should consider the facts, not fears, surrounding the disease of addiction. Seattle Public Schools should be commended for having this program, as much as the students should be commended for going.

Instead of casting judgment, let’s be an example of community support that inspires other recovery schools. Seattle’s program can be a story of success, starting from the very beginning.

No one chooses to be an addict, but our community can choose to support these individuals in recovery.

Amy Frierson is a Seattle resident who strongly supports programs that help people with substance abuse.

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