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Case Study: Choosing Life, without Drugs and Alcohol, Part 1

As the oldest child born into an immigrant family, Silas always carried the burden of great expectations on his shoulders. He was sensitive, intelligent and represented the family’s hopes for a better future. He recalls some early childhood experiences that would shape his thinking later in life—the negative effects of alcohol on his and his extended family with which they lived, the use of physical punishment as a harsh teaching tool. He recalls that early on “I began to question God and morality — how could someone say they love you then hurt you?” As he got older, Silas gained weight. Kids made fun of him at school and he began to feel separate, apart, not “normal.” At this age, in elementary school, filled with self-doubt, Silas began to seek approval from those around him…the first sign, as he sees it, of his alcoholic thinking.

“I started feeling like maybe I wasn’t good enough…questioning my identity and self worth. It became more difficult to interact socially and be a ‘normal’ member of society.” 

As time passed, he began to isolate more, became depressed and his feelings of not-belonging and worthlessness manifested in rebellious behaviors like skipping school as well as occasional thoughts of suicide. At age 18 he began to experiment with smoking weed and drinking. He also tried crack. He was older now, he reasoned, and could do what he wanted to make himself feel better. Like many teens grappling with depression and isolation, Silas was now beginning to develop a new identity — as a person who was outgoing, confident, and accepted by his peers, friends who, like him, used drugs and alcohol to cope. He swore he’d never sniff coke or other drugs though, he was just using these substances recreationally, and there were certain lines he would never cross.

For Silas, using substances felt like a solution to freeing himself from the emotional issues that had plagued him much of his young life. He was no longer confined and oppressed by self-doubt, confusion, and depression.

“I didn’t feel separate..I could connect to people…the drug culture the party people. I was part something now. I was socially acceptable. I had arrived.”

Six months later, he was failing out of school and found himself facing a decision about his future. He had on another solution: he would lead a double life. He got his GED and started an internship working with kids at a middle school. This was a ‘successful’ life he lived to prove to family and friends that he had regained control and was making something good of himself. But he also lived a secret life. His use of drugs increased and he engaged in increasingly risky, and sometimes, criminal behavior. He got into pills, hallucinogens, and was regularly drinking to the point of blacking out. He crossed that line he swore he never would and was snorting coke regularly and sometimes meth. When his internship at the school ended, he began bouncing around to different jobs, never staying at one for more than a couple months.

“I was loaded all the time, not sleeping, trying to go to work and to school, but I felt it all collapsing around me.”

He knew something wasn’t right. The lying, the cheating, the stealing and using substances to escape were all combining to make him feel worse than ever. He bought into the idea that he wasn’t a good person, so why not go all in and give up everything that he felt was good in his life? Now his actions and behaviors, he began dealing drugs for example, were all geared toward using drugs and alcohol. He had become a slave to his addiction. That was all he seemed to care about.

A year passed and he again tried to assess his life. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t accomplished any of the goals and aspirations he had for himself. He felt stuck in an endless loop of using, drinking, and depression. He tried yet again to create a double life one that he could feel good about while still continuing to use. He became an elementary school teacher but his whole life outside of school was still entirely focused on getting high. That feeling that he was a failure still lingered so he used more and more to escape it. He was staying out all night, barely making it to work. His friends and family knew there was something clearly wrong. They confronted him about the lies, not showing up, his secret life. His mom begged him to get some help. By this point, all he wanted was a way to end the pain…putting a permanent end to it all seemed the only way out. He prayed for the misery to end.

He abandoned his teaching job — again crossing a line that he swore he wouldn’t — leaving behind the students who he cared so much about and putting an end to the last thing in his life he could feel good about.

He needed help and he knew it. He called a drug and alcohol treatment center.

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