It took a stint in youth rehab, but a Palmerston North teen says he has turned his life around after beating a psychoactive substances addiction.
The teen, who wished to be known only as Craig, 17, completed an eight-week programme at Te Waireka, an alcohol and drug residential centre for youths aged 14 to 19, in August last year and has stayed off legal highs ever since.
He and his brother, who also did not wish to be named, were among the first siblings to attend the centre in Hawke's Bay, and as they graduated, were credited with helping the other youths in their intake to get through the voluntary course.
Craig said he started smoking legal highs about 12 months before he went into the centre, and by that stage, it was that or jail, he said.
What had started as fairly casual use of the substance, a pack of two or three grams over a period of three days, ended up being four packs in 24 hours.
About two months after he started smoking legal highs, he turned to crime to support his habit, his exploits getting more serious and turning to burglary.
In the end, he couldn't sleep without a hit, he said.
His younger brother was in a similar predicament, and they fed each other's addictions.
Mood swings and rides home in the back of a squad car alerted his father to his son's addiction shortly after it started, but there was little he could do about it without Craig wanting to give up, he said.
It wasn't until it came to a family group conference, after yet another crime, that Te Waireka was suggested to the pair by their Youth One Stop Shop social worker.
Entry is stringent, getting into the programme requires referral, and Craig visited doctors and a psychiatrist to determine that he really did have a problem.
At first, Craig said, he didn't really want to go, but after doing some research at the Highbury Whanau Centre into legal highs, by the time it came to leave, about four weeks later, he was ready.
During that time, they also managed to get his younger brother, 16, on the course.
The programme is free bar a $100 bond, and participation is limited to 12 people per intake.
Days on the programme are structured, with rules and chores to do, as well as daily group counselling and learning how to prevent relapse.
The withdrawal process wasn't as bad as he had heard, and once that was over, it was about learning to say "no".
"I can sit around people smoking it these days, when I see them I just think ‘Is that what I used to look like?'. They look sort of like zombies. They just look lost."
He and his brother have since been the inspiration for another set of Palmerston North brothers of the same ages to attend Te Waireka, and another friend of his quit on his own, now more than 40 days without a puff.
Craig said he would "definitely be in jail", if he hadn't quit smoking, but instead now has a casual job that includes drug testing, and is keeping busy.
- Manawatu Standard
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