Our son started using a substance called “lean” at age 13 …


Our son is one of 3 children, with twin sisters 5 years older than him. I have been a stay-at-home Dad for more than 20 years. I, like other parents at home, have been integrally involved in many aspects of my children’s lives; and especially focused on my son during the period described because our daughters were away at university during most of that time.

An active governor of his primary school, and involved in the management of many of his sports teams outside school, I have been present through most of his daily activities. Our approach as parents would, I believe, be described by others as marginally more ‘disciplined’ than ‘light touch’. I include this, not to in any way absolve myself but to make clear that our family set up and interactions would look very normal to most looking in from the outside. Until…..

Our son started using a substance called “lean” at age 13 a little over a year after starting at a state secondary day school in London. This progressed to regularly smoking weed, while trying various other substances, when he was 14. By the end of this, his 3rd year, we was involving himself in instances of petty crime, and buying weed off the street and selling it to his friends at school to fund his habits. As he approached his 15th birthday, he pleaded to be allowed to go to boarding school, insisting on it being remote, full (not weekly) boarding, and outside a major urban area; wanting a fresh start to get away from what he recognised as a dangerous downward spiral in his life. He claimed to us at the time to detest his school, and wanted to make a fresh, focused start with this studies, which he had just begun to show signs of struggling with.

With anything drug-related being expellable offences at the new school, our son was quickly involved with a more senior group who were able to access alcohol, and very soon became heavily dependent on it. Just 6 weeks after starting at boarding school, however, Covid struck and he spent most of the rest of that 4th school year at home.

On the final day of that 4th year, still at home, he consumed a litre of vodka that a friend had brought over, and went on a rampage around the house, culminating with breaking bones in his hand while smashing a hole in a plasterboard wall, and shouting about wanting to kill himself. Some readers may not be surprised that this episode was the first meaningful indication to us of any of the above substance use/abuse.

We floundered around looking for help, and having investigated the hugely overstretched and little-recommended CAMS system in our area, as well as the equally little-recommended school support provision, we eventually found a therapist privately. After 6 weeks, our son stopped wanting to continue the sessions after the therapist had pointed out the likely future need for some form of rehabilitation. Shortly after that, we discovered, that he was regularly ‘using’ aerosol propellant to get high, and one term into his 5th year, our son was depressed, and contemplating suicide. He asked to be sent to rehab, and we decided upon YWC together.

YWC was a godsend and, we believe, literally saved our son’s life.

Shortly after leaving YWC, our son was belatedly diagnosed with ADHD. Helped by a mentor/coach recommended by YWC (Dave Noble), and starting his recovery with regular AA meetings, our son has scraped through his GCSE’s and started 6th form at his boarding school. He very recently achieved his first full year of being sober/clean, and home is no longer a battleground, but somewhere he genuinely feels safe and, for the most part, happy.

But having missed most of his secondary education, school lessons have been an uphill struggle. Then a relationship with a girl from school that had lasted through his rehab and subsequent recovery, came to an end just before Christmas, sending him once again into a depressive state, cutting himself off from everyone. We are all encouraging him to re-engage with the recovery process, and we are currently trying to get further support (therapy and pharmacological), while also looking at alternatives to the ‘A Levels’ that he has been studying, to remove some of the pressure he feels.

Like his own battle, our own challenge as parents stretches out for years ahead of us, with possible highs and lows around every blind corner. I am sure that most in our position would benefit from sharing some portion of our experience with others who find themselves similarly affected, and from listening to theirs.

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