At 15, Kym Laube found herself in front of a judge. Her mom filed a Person in Need of Supervision (PINS) petition because, though not old enough to legally drink, Laube was an alcoholic.
I grew up in a single parent household and I was passed around to multiple family members—aunt, uncle, grandparents. There was a high rate of alcoholism in my family. I had a grandfather die of cirrhosis and I was physically and sexually abused by my stepfather. When you are a kid living in a world you don’t feel like you belong in, you begin to have these traumatic life experiences happen and it becomes difficult to feel positive or happy.
I always felt that there was something wrong with me, not just that I did bad things, but that I was bad. And no matter how many people tried to encourage me or be supportive I couldn’t find that value in myself. When I drank, I didn’t think about any of those feelings and when I was under the influence I didn’t have a care in the world. It was very much an escape for me.
A year later, to make her probation officer happy, Laube got involved with Hugs Inc. The Westhampton-based organization provides individuals, families, schools and communities with prevention education strategies aimed at reducing high-risk behaviors.
I volunteered at their weekend conferences and it taught me about hope. I began to realize I wasn’t the only one keeping secrets or living a challenged life. People also validated my importance. Those two things made me see that my life could change and that I was worth it.
Laube wanted to do the same for others. She worked with Hugs Inc. from 1985 until 1992 (when the organization lost all its funding). She went on to work with addicts and their loved ones at a Suffolk County-based treatment provider and is currently a board member at FIST – Families in Support of Treatment. She returned to HUGS in 2002 as the executive director.
When I took the organization over, I was the only staff member and they were about to close their doors. I wanted to make sure the need for prevention was loud and clear.
Prevention works on cleaning up communities. That also supports our recovery communities. When you are recovering, you need a healthy environment.
We live in a culture of partying and in so many ways we mirror that behavior to our kids. Right now we are hyper-focused on opioids, heroin, methamphetamine and [gray death, a mixture of heroin and opioids so dangerous that an extremely small grain can kill].
We know that almost anyone who has gotten caught up in opioids, not 100 percent but darn close, began simply drinking what we call pathway drugs (alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs). [Seventy percent of illicit drug users reported abusing marijuana before graduating to opioids. Eighty percent did prescription drugs.]
At Hugs, we look at how we can strengthen the family and help them adopt certain alcohol policies. We encourage parents not to wait until prom or graduation to come to an understanding with their child on the family rule about drugs and alcohol (the earlier the better). From 5-8 years old, parents can look to use teachable moments. Should your child see a person drunk in public or on TV, parents are encouraged to let children know it is never safe to get drunk. Ages 10-12 are some of the most important years to talk about alcohol and drug use. Parents are encouraged to role-play situations and practice how to say no, even if a “good” friend offered them alcohol. Parents should role model behavior. If the family goes out to dinner one parent doesn’t drink. That way, when they all get in the car and drive home they see: If mom is having a drink tonight and daddy isn’t it is because daddy is driving and we don’t ever drink and get behind the wheel.
It can sometimes feel like a no-win situation for parents when it comes to keeping their children safe and their kids from partying. On one hand, “teens will be teens” and parents may feel it’s better for their child to call for a safe ride home than get in the car with an intoxicated person for fear of being punished. On the other, alcohol can be a gateway drug and it’s illegal for teens to drink.
Parents want their kids to talk and confide in them, and in some ways they want to be their friend. But as a result, some parents shy away from keeping rules and disciplines in the house. It is important that families have their own personal policy based on science and the law. This means no alcohol under the age of 21. We encourage parents to set up text codes with their kids. If a kid goes to a party and there is alcohol, or the kid feels uncomfortable, all they need to do is text whatever the word is or the letter “X.” Their parents know to wait a couple of seconds and give the kid a call to get them out of that environment. We also encourage parents to have an agreement that if the kid has been drinking or has engaged in high-risk behavior, they can call their parents and no questions will be asked that night. It is always suggested to wait until your teen is sober and you have had some time to think things through. Parents are encouraged to follow the same practice as they would for any other family policies that are broken. It is paramount there is an opportunity to talk and use this real life experience as a teachable moment. The key is to talk with your child and not at. One of the risk factors is when parents actually give permission or make it easy for their kids to come home drunk.
For some parents, this advice wasn’t enough, came too late or never came at all. Laube has listened to several families who lost a child to addiction tell their stories over the years. She hopes the openness saves lives.
In some ways we are beginning to chip away at the stigma of substance abuse disorder. There are many family members that have lost kids to substance abuse disorder who are coming out and talking about it. For a long time, recovery was very anonymous. Now, I see more people wearing it like a badge. In presentations now, I say I am a person in long-term recovery and that helps put a face on it. It opens up a door for folks to see individuals living a very healthy life where they are in contribution to society. This is a better direction for us to be moving in. We want to make a change because we are losing a generation of young people and that is just not acceptable.
The opioid crisis continues to claim lives on Long Island. Tomorrow, Pulse takes an in-depth look at fentanyl, the drug killing more people than heroin, and why the death toll is rising.