For Terry Schamberger, 51, a lifelong addiction to alcohol began when he was 13, triggered by emotional trauma caused by the death of his sister in a car accident and an unsettled family life.
For Jacob Rhoades, 17, a dependence on marijuana started when he didn’t make the eighth-grade basketball team. He lost a sense of belonging and began to withdraw from family.
And like many others using alcohol or marijuana to help them cope, they also were dealing with mental health challenges, such as depression.
This week, Colorado Community Media’s ongoing Time to Talk series, about the state of mental health in Douglas County, explores the relationship between mental health and substances, particularly alcohol and marijuana, among adults and youths in our community.
Several families, including the Schambergers and Rhoadeses, have graciously shared their journeys with the goal of helping readers understand the realities of substance abuse around us, the personal costs of such addictions and the emotional endurance required to overcome the challenges. Their stories also reflect the hope that treatment and recovery brings.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of individuals who experience a substance abuse disorder also are struggling with a mental illness, or vice-versa.
This is a national issue — the rising numbers of young and old who are facing the interlocked challenge of mental health and substance abuse.
And the numbers reflect a scary reality:
• Nearly half of Americans in 2017 had a family member or close friend with a current or past drug addiction, Pew Research Center reports.
• In 2016, 65.3 million Americans ages 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month and 16.3 million reported heavy alcohol use, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The same survey noted that illicit drug use among 28.6 million people 12 and older was driven by marijuana and prescription pain relievers.
It might be easy to believe that reality doesn’t happen in Douglas County, which has high graduation rates, low unemployment and one of the highest median household incomes in the country.
But Terry and Jacob’s stories show us we are not immune. And data points out problems exist: Consider that between 2012 and 2014, nearly 16 percent of all adults in Douglas County and nearly 20 percent of adults with children under 18 reported binge drinking, according to a Tri-County Health Department community-needs assessment.
And consider that 90 percent of child welfare cases in Douglas County that require repeated visits and oversight from the county’s department of human services are linked to mental health, substance abuse or both, county officials say.
The county has led the way in creating and supporting mental health programs for its residents. The Douglas County Mental Health Initiative, established by the county government, has formed a partnership of more than 30 organizations representing all facets of the community to identify and fill the gaps.
One of its initiatives was the creation of the Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, a network of partners whose work reflects its name.
As a community — and as a society — we need to continue that kind of work, that builds bridges, pools best resources, listens, then develops programs that provide a supporting village.
For Terry and Jacob, help came in the form of unwavering family support, community intervention and programs that addressed their needs.
Terry is 11 years sober. Jacob has been clean since December.
Their courage and the efforts of loved ones and professionals who helped them are to be commended. Moreover, their stories are examples of the help and hope that exist for others who haven’t yet started down the road to recovery.