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Mental Health Awareness

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Tony's story

Masking the pain with drugs and alcohol

It started for Tony much in the same way it starts for many teenagers: with a life-changing situation. As a freshman in high school, Tony saw a car hit two girls crossing the street.

He started drinking alcohol (“Whatever I could sneak from my parents’ liquor cabinet”) and smoking marijuana. “Many things influence teenage drinking and drug use,” says Tony, who grew up in Williamsville. “TV shows, social media, peer pressure–it’s easy to start and it’s totally accepted.”

After the car accident, drinking was a way for Tony to get back to being happy-go-lucky. Then his parents divorced and Tony went to live with his dad, where he got involved with new friends. “My dad pretty much let me do whatever I wanted to do,” says Tony. “Pretty soon I was smoking more often. I kept up with my schoolwork, for awhile anyway, though I let my extracurriculars go.”

Tony’s friends introduced him to pills, which “were easier to get, gave you a good high and could go undetected.” Soon, Tony was smoking marijuana and popping Xanax, Adderall and Klonopin daily. He dropped out of school, left his job and began selling marijuana. Eventually, he tried hallucinogens.

“I was hanging around people who encouraged drug use and got me whatever I needed,” says Tony. “Then I fractured my ankle and got hooked on Oxycontin.”

His relationship with his dad–who was fighting his own addictions–worsened, resulting in Tony going to live with his mother. Counseling helped, but Tony said nobody asked him why he did drugs. “It amounted to my peeing in a cup and being told to stop using, which was frustrating,” says Tony. He started using again, overdosed a few times and finally entered the Kids Escaping Drugs program.

“That was the first time I talked to mental health counselors,” says Tony. “I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed medication to control it.” Once he knew the root of his problem, Tony was motivated to stop drinking and using drugs. “It was like I’d been walking on a broken leg and just numbing it; when I finally fixed the leg, I could walk again.”

Today, at 21, Tony is a licensed independent contractor who sells health insurance. He has a new car, a great apartment and is in a committed relationship. He’s been sober for two years, but uses his experiences to speak to high school kids, faculty and parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“People tend to write off issues with kids as puberty or teenage rebellion,” says Tony. “But mental health is a huge issue. You can’t just tell kids not to do drugs, you need to ask them why they are doing it. It’s important to make sure kids are fundamentally okay and, if they’re not, get them help before the situation escalates, because it can take them to places you would never expect.”

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