Laurie and Keegan Wicks, a mother and son duo, visited our class to discuss how addiction has impacted their family. Keegan, who works with The Rase Project, is a person in long-term recovery. Laurie works as a recovery advocate for Pennsylvania Parent Panel Advisory Council.

Listening to the duo showed me the huge difference it makes for a person with an addiction to have the support of his family. It was incredible to see the love and support Laurie has shown to her son throughout his struggle with addiction.

Keegan said that when he was young he didn’t think he met the criteria of someone with an addiction because he didn’t look like the stereotype people often think of. But he said he felt like there was always something missing, like he was alone in a crowd of people. Drugs & alcohol filled that void for him for awhile, until it stopped working.

Laurie said that their family unit was blindsided overnight by addiction. Keegan had visited his pediatrician 10 days before he went into treatment and even his physicians were unaware that he was suffering from a very strong opioid addiction. It made it clear that we need to seriously re-evaluate physician training when it comes to young people struggling with addictions.

Laurie stressed that we need to seriously revamp the way we talk about people with addictions. We can’t use words like “addict,” “clean,” and “dirty.” It’s easy to use a certain, more appropriate vocabulary when you’re in a room of people discussing addiction issues, but it’s so important that we continue to speak with this non-stigmatizing vocabulary when we’re out and about in the world.

Laurie also touched on how physicians treated her completely different when she was taking care of her mother who suffered from cancer. Physicians kept her constantly updated and allowed her to stay in the hospital with her mom whenever she wanted. But in Keegan’s case, she was completely kept in the dark. She couldn’t see her son during the standard “blackout period” that separated people with addictions from their families when they begin inpatient treatment. Laurie said “it felt wrong” and that it didn’t feel like Keegan or the family unit was being embraced during the recovery process. Instead, it felt punitive

The two also experienced with the Pennsylvania school system when Keegan completed his inpatient recovery during his senior year of high school. His high school required him to come back and spend the final two weeks of his senior year physically at the high school in order to graduate, despite how he finished all of his degree requirements while in treatment. This punitive measure was exceedingly dangerous for a person in such a vulnerable time.  It’s possible that if Keegan had less family support, like some people often do, this could have been a severe setback in his recovery.