Students Reflect on Their Substance Misuse Journeys During National Recovery Month


September is National Recovery Month. During this time, we celebrate the progress of those in recovery from substance use disorders (SUD), promote evidence-based treatments for SUD, and acknowledge the hard work of dedicated professionals who support people in their recovery journeys every day. In honor of the occasion, Talk it Out NC spoke with two students at Wake Monarch Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina.  

Helping Teens Stay Sober

Wake Monarch Academy is a non-profit, private high school that offers a community of acceptance and support among peers so students can make recovery a priority as they complete their high school education and prepare for the future. Students Graeme and Christian described a typical day at the school. Besides doing their regular coursework, all students participate in a Life Skills class, and a portion of every day is focused on recovery. In addition, students can visit the school’s Recovery Coach anytime they need extra support. 

Christian and Graeme spoke candidly with us about their past misuse of alcohol and other substances and explained the benefits they’ve received from attending a recovery high school. They shared advice for tweens and teens who may be dealing with SUD and offered some suggestions for parents whose children are misusing substances. 

Their experimentation with alcohol started early.

As the Talk it Out NC 2023 State of Underage Drinking survey demonstrates, students who try alcohol usually do so by age 14. This held true for both students. Graeme started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana “occasionally” when he was around 12 or 13. From there, he says, “It kept escalating to using alcohol more, smoking more, to harder stuff. I dug myself into a really deep hole.” However, since he started at WMA five months ago, he says, “I’ve done so much better. My family noticed it. Overall, everything’s been going a lot better than it used to.” Graeme is now looking forward to completing high school and attending college as a pre-med major. 

Christian has been at WMA for about a year and a half. He started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in 6th grade because he wanted to “fit in.” He says, “It started off really small” until he realized that when he was using, he “didn’t have to worry about anything.” He began misusing alcohol and other substances more frequently as a coping mechanism. Christian explains, “I didn’t even know that’s what I was using it for until I got sober.” He describes his experience at WMA as “amazing” and will graduate at the end of this year. He’s already taking college courses through dual enrollment and looks forward to “helping people” in his future career.  

Support and accountability are key ingredients to their recovery.

Christian and Graeme have worked hard to stay sober, and they credit much of their success to the support they receive from the faculty and staff at WMA. Besides celebrating each step of a student’s recovery, Christian says, faculty members offer “complete understanding” if a student is “going through something.” He likes “all the small things” they do to help students stay on track. 

Graeme appreciates the individual attention students receive at WMA and believes the accountability the school insists upon is “a big thing.” Students undergo random drug screening. They’re also required to attend AA meetings outside of school, keep a log of their attendance, and discuss meetings in school. Graeme feels these practices “promote honesty.”  

They encourage other teens to seek help.

Graeme believes it’s important for any teen experimenting with alcohol or drugs to be honest. When he began misusing substances, he rationalized his behavior by telling himself, “It’s fine — everyone else is doing it — this is normal.” He didn’t realize he had a problem until it became evident from the severity of his use. He recommends other teens tell someone about their substance use: “I think talking to someone about it, or multiple people, can help you realize this isn’t normal and you do have a problem.” 

Christian thinks teens who are misusing substances have to look at the reasons they started using them in the first place. When his recovery journey began, he says, “I didn’t know I wanted to be sober, but I knew I wanted my life to look better and change.” He realized how much alcohol and drugs had “messed up” his life. He believes once teens acknowledge how “horribly” alcohol and drugs have affected their lives, they can begin a new way of thinking and “take the initiative” to change. 

They encourage parents to be understanding and persistent.

Christian recognizes that “it’s pretty hard when you’re a parent and your child is in the midst of [substance misuse].” He thinks parents must try and understand what caused their child to start drinking alcohol or using drugs. Though he admits some teens may be reluctant to talk with their parents, he feels parents need to look at their child’s behavior and actions and try to “see what they want and need and how to compromise.” 

When talking about how parents can support their children, Graeme says, “Don’t come in with an iron fist. Don’t put the hammer down. Ease your way into it and introduce them to better solutions.” He continues, “The parent has to try to feel what the kid is feeling, try to do what’s best for them. If you think they’re drinking too much or have a problem, try to mention new solutions to them, try to get them out more, keep them away from [alcohol] in a subtle way.” 

Learn More From Talk it Out NC

National Recovery Month was started in 1989 to share resources, spread awareness, and reduce the stigma around seeking recovery. Talk it Out NC encourages parents to talk to their children about the dangers of underage drinking by having open and judgment-fee conversations. We have suggestions on how to start a conversation about the dangers of teenage alcohol misuse, tips for recognizing signs of underage drinking, resources for finding appropriate treatment, and much more on our website.