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Taking ACTION against addiction

Health: ACTION Family Counseling helps adolescent, teen and adult addicts and alcoholics to recover

Posted: September 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Lauren (no last name given), a recovering heroin addict, overlooks her shared bedroom at the Saugus recovery home.

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With his short-cropped blonde-brown hair and bright blue eyes, it’s hard to believe 20-year-old Steven Cummings was a practicing junkie just 27 days before.

“I just couldn’t go on. I tried to quit a thousand times on my own,” he said. “I lost all my friends, and I hated how I felt. I needed to get help.”

Cummings’ family reached out to ACTION Family Counseling, which offers intensive outpatient and resident treatment programs for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Today, Cummings is recovering at the ACTION Family Counseling Adult Ranch in Saugus.

The sprawling residential facility, a large home set in a picturesque canyon, offers a regimented daily structure to about a dozen addicts and alcoholics 18 and older.

At ACTION, there are regular 12-step meetings led by certified addiction counselors, three square meals a day prepared by a chef (and former ACTION client), a nurse for medical needs and regular psychiatric sessions.

Coming up on a month of sobriety, Cummings smiles easily. After six years of using drugs, starting with smoking pot at age 14 and ending with using heroin on a daily basis, he’s feeling better these days, and not just physically.

“I’ve learned a lot — how to stop thinking ahead and worry, that it’s all just for today,” Cummings said. “I’m not perfect, and I’m not cured, but I feel like I have a good head on my shoulders now, that I know how to do the right thing. I just want to get a job and be a normal person after this.”

The ranch in Saugus is one of 13 inpatient and outpatient ACTION facilities across Southern California, including adolescent centers that treat children as young as 12.

Taking ACTION

Started by Cary Quashen 28 years ago, ACTION has continuously grown to accommodate the need for such services in the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond.

“We’ve been busier than ever, not just in Santa Clarita, but everywhere. It’s a reflection of the times. Drugs today are stronger and more serious, even marijuana,” said Quashen, who has 30 years of sobriety from drug addiction. Statistics bear this out.

According to a 2010 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, daily marijuana use has increased amongst eighth-, 10th and 12th-graders to a high of 6.1 percent.

Marijuana use is now ahead of cigarette smoking by some measures.

This doesn’t surprise Quashen.

“With medical marijuana clinics in places like Venice, so-called doctors stand outside and offer to write prescriptions for $60,” he said.

The study went on to note that after marijuana, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications stood out as the drugs of choice for American teenagers.

“So many people are strung out on OxyContin and Vicodin,” Quashen said. “The stigma of heroin users being hypes in a dark corner has completely changed, too. Kids have found out they can smoke it, so they don’t feel like junkies, but it’s just as addictive and just as deadly. Half of the phone calls we get are about heroin.”

A family disease

Family counseling is a strong component of the ACTION recovery model, taking place at least once a week for its clients.

ACTION also hosts a free weekly Parent/Teen Support Group every Tuesday at Canyon High School from 7 to 9 p.m. and a 24/7 emergency hotline.

Free drug tests are also available through ACTION.

Signs of drug use can be pretty apparent — change of friends, change of interests, isolation, a drop in grades, decreased hygiene and increased sleep — yet many parents still find themselves in denial.

“A parent’s big fear is not only that they don’t want to see it, but that they don’t want to piss off their kids. They have to remember they are parents, not friends. Parents need to make sure their kids are safe and protected more than worrying about being a buddy,” Quashen said.

Lack of communication is something that affects most American families and can be a distraction from facing addiction in the home, as Quashen illustrated.

“There’s a statistic that parents and teens only talk for two to 10 minutes a day,” he said. “I was at a restaurant the other day and watched a family. Everyone at the table was either on their cellphone, chatting or texting.”

When he meets with young addicts and alcoholics, Quashen can make inroads parents can't because he speaks their language.

Especially when he talks about how it all gets started.

“Everyone says, when I grow up, I want to be this, and I won’t ever do that — like smoke cigarettes or drink — but somewhere along the line, we break contracts with ourselves,” he said. “It could be peer pressure or learned behavior at home, but one day, a kid will try pot, being told it’s natural and not even a drug.”

That makes it easier to try a harder drug, such as crystal meth or painkillers, with often disastrous results.

“When kids feel different or better than they ever did before, how do you tell them what’s good is bad?” he said. “If a parent even suspects that their child is doing drugs, they need to reach out to a professional.”

Taylor’s tale

Taylor (who declined to give her last name) wasn’t unhappy at home. She just really liked getting drunk and high.

At 13, she and her best friend raided a parent’s liquor cabinet, the start of a run that led Taylor to use pot, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms and acid.

At 21, she was shooting heroin, ending a contract she had made with herself as a youngster.

“I always said I would never do heroin or use needles,” Taylor said. “But when I was told I shouldn’t smoke OxyContin anymore, I got so frustrated, I just gave in.”

It took the death of her best friend and her best friend’s fiance in a car accident to set Taylor straight.

“All she ever wanted was for me to get off drugs. I just decided I couldn’t do it anymore,” Taylor said.

Like Cummings, Taylor founder her way to the ACTION ranch in Saugus, where she has spent 20 drug-free days.

The platinum blonde looked sad as she smoked a cigarette and talked about the things she’d done as an addict.

“I became a person I never thought I’d be. I lost a lot of good people and screwed over a lot of good people,” Taylor said.

She sighed and gave a wistful smile.

Life at the ranch was helping Taylor work on dealing with the past, and even gave her hope for the future, including the possibility of become an aesthetician someday.

“I can be happy without drugs. I forgot about that. I was fine before I started using and I will be fine now,” she said.

For more information on ACTION Family Counseling, call (661) 297-8691 or visit www.actionfamily.org. For ACTION’s 24/7 Hotline, call (800) 367-8336.

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