The road to recovery from addiction isn’t always straight or smooth. It can be a long one. Danny believes he will be on it the rest of his life. 

It has been a year since he became sober, he said over coffee on a recent late Sunday afternoon. “I’ve owned and accepted who I am. My first drink was when I was 15. I didn’t have any idea that I had the desire or mental obsession to drink more and more.”

His drinking started when he found there was easy access to beer at family parties. He would sneak some and put it under his bed for later. In the beginning, it was only a few beers. The drinking helped his “inhibitions go away,” he said. 

Now 24, Danny looks back and realizes what he didn’t know about himself at 15. “I don’t think I was aware of the anxiety and self-esteem and insecurities I had. I definitely had them, but I only realized that later on.”

By his sophomore year at OPRF, Danny had moved on from beer. That’s when he started “smoking weed.” It was easy to obtain. “Weed is everywhere,” he said. “That’s definitely something you can easily find.” By junior year, he was selling it. 

The weed, he said, started affecting his school work. “More often than not, I was high.”

His mom caught on, discovering a couple of ounces of marijuana and “a bunch of money” in his backpack.

In time Danny went on to use harder substances, a whole gamut: vodka, pain pills, Xanax. In plain terms, he had an addiction problem. And it was a serious one.

There’s a lot more to Danny’s saga, but suffice it to say that it illustrates what many who study issues around substance abuse know too well: Alcohol is the real gateway drug.

“Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use,” concluded researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida who examined data from 2,800 U.S. high school seniors for an annual federal survey of teen drug use in 2016.

In Danny’s case, alcohol initiated his nine-year struggle. “In a nutshell,” he said, “I was lost for a long time and drugs and alcohol kept me lost.”

Then in February 2017, after having sought help from other institutions like Hazelden in Minnesota, Danny found his way to The Way Back Inn, a Maywood-based rehabilitation center with a primary focus on substance abuse treatment.

“What Way Back Inn did was provide me an environment where I would be held accountable. I’d be drug tested. I’d be held accountable.”

The help he has gotten has given him confidence, too, that he can help others.

Of the recovery program, he said, “It’s an opportunity to learn, be honest and to help others, which in turn helps myself.”

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY). 

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