By LANDON WOODROOF
Holy Family Catholic Church will be hosting a forum this Sunday dedicated to the issue of youth substance abuse.
“Breaking the Silence: Addressing Youth Substance Abuse” is a joint effort of Holy Family Catholic Church, East Brentwood Presbyterian Church and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The forum will feature professionals in the field as well as individuals whose lives have been affected by the issue.
The event is scheduled to last from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 at Holy Family. It will also be live-streamed. You can register for the forum here.
Liz Beatty is one of those people whose lives have forever been changed because of the scourge of substance abuse.
In 2016, Beatty lost her 24-year-old son, Alex, to an accidental overdose of Oxycontin and Xanax, just weeks before he was set to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University.
Alex had been struggling with addiction for about a decade. Beatty first learned of her son’s problem when she got a call from a school nurse at Ravenwood High School, where Alex was a student. Alex had collapsed after drinking a water bottle full of vodka.
Beatty’s experience with Alex has made her passionate about helping others deal with substance abuse before it is too late. The forum is intended to help not just teenagers and their parents, but also others who play a large role in kids’ lives.
“It could be pastors, counselors, teachers anybody that comes in contact with youth and wants to know what do I do if there’s a youth that is struggling,” Beatty said.
One of the largest obstacles to confronting and overcoming the problem, Beatty believes, is stigma.
“People will tell you my child has a peanut allergy, my child has epilepsy, but there are not a whole lot of parents who will say that my child has a problem with drugs or alcohol,” she said. The forum is intended to take away some of that stigma and promote the idea that addiction can be talked about just like any other disease.
That sort of transparency is especially important when it comes to kids and substance abuse. That is because a vast majority of adults with addiction problems started abusing substances before they were 15 years old.
“Which means we have to get at this at a much earlier time because once those seeds start getting planted in the young brains as they are developing, you have a much more difficult time changing that as they get older,” Beatty said.
Another major area of focus is support. Alex always had problems with transitions. They were a major source of anxiety for him. Beatty believes that he turned to substances as a way to deal with his anxieties.
She thinks it is the same for many kids. Kids with problems at home or at school may feel hopelessness or despair and then turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape. Ultimately that impulse can be destructive as kids try to regain a feeling of control either by hurting themselves or others.
Rather than just telling kids just to stay away from drugs, Beatty believes adults need to emphasize to addicted kids that they are loved and are an important part of the community.
“We need to support families. We need to support churches. We need schools involved in this,” Beatty said. She still has a problem with the way Alex was suspended from school following the incident with the vodka. She feels that sort of approach only serves to further alienate kids from their teachers and friends.
Beatty said the forum would teach teens and adults important lessons that may come in handy even if they are not currently confronted with a substance abuse problem.
“It’s like learning first aid or the Heimlich maneuver,” she said. You hope you’ll never need it, but maybe you will.
The forum consists of a variety of speakers talking about the issue of youth substance abuse. Attendees will hear from professionals in the field as well as youth and parents who will share their stories on the topic. The forum will then split into smaller groups for discussions.
“It’s a lot packed into a fairly short amount of time,” Beatty said.
Holy Family Catholic Church is located at 9100 Crocket Road in Brentwood.