By Sara Hahn, 16, Mayfield Senior School
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When you think of drug rehab, what do you think of? I always thought of rehabilitation centers as hospitals, with white walls, lots of nurses and doctors, the same required dress for all the patients. It always sounded like a prison to me, a place where criminals were kept. But after meeting two drug rehab patients and seeing a center for myself, I realized that my perception could not be further from the truth.

I had never met a drug rehabilitation patient before interviewing Danny and Ruben for L.A. Youth. I’ve never perceived people who do drugs as criminals, but rehabilitation has such a taboo.

I guess the basic question I had never understood was: is it really that hard to stop? Both Danny and Ruben had experienced some very hard and trying issues. Both of them found themselves turning to drugs and alcohol as their situations in life became more difficult.

Getting off drugs takes a lot of inner strength

I also didn’t know anything about the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, where they were residents. We came to the rehab center to interview Ruben further and were greeted by the outreach programmer, Erick Perkins. We talked about the difficulties of overcoming each stage of the rehabilitation process, and I realized something I hadn’t thought about before: the rehab patient must have an extraordinary amount of will power and strength. Without these qualities, it is impossible to proceed. Dealing with a substance craving as well as your personal dilemmas is never an easy task.

Having already heard Ruben and Danny speak, I wondered what it was like living at the rehab facility. Here’s what I found out: There are four phases to the AADAP program. The first includes writing, where the patients are given an opportunity to delve into their feelings and emotions; it also includes reading, writing reports and doing household chores.

During the second phase, the patients have the opportunity to work, going to group counseling at night. The residency is like a dorm. Residents can watch TV, listen to the radio, play videos. There are pool tables, a gym and a dartboard.

In the third phase, more responsibility is assigned to the patients at "the house" (the unit in the back of the building). They can get a job, leave for work and also take on responsibilities in the building such as working on the kitchen crew. The patients must pay rent so that "they understand that recovery’s not free," Erick said.

Finally, during the fourth phase, the patients can move away and live by themselves. After three months, they return for graduation.

It doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Just a lot of chores to do. But remember these patients are addicts. They must go through very emotional counseling in order to reconcile their dependencies. They must confront their difficulties, which often stem from childhood. This requires much introspection, and the patient must learn to understand and appreciate themselves. The staff helps these patients move on in life, using intense therapy and creative projects that emphasize their abilities. They focus on feelings and behavior, because, as Erick said, "even if the drug wasn’t there, it’s about the feelings that you have."

So how do people end up in rehab?

"Nine times out of 10, what spurs a lot of people towards drugs is rejection," Erick said. Often young people think they can’t vocalize their feelings or affect situations, and they use something to cover it up. Turning to drugs then becomes a resource, the only alternative, the only solace for some and that’s where addiction kicks in. More often than not addicts find themselves going to desperate measures to obtain drugs and then acting rashly as a result of them.

I learned not to judge others

It’s easy for me to say to myself, I’ll never do drugs. I don’t need drugs to solve my problems. But after talking with Erick, I had to stop and think. What I realized is that when you have to handle numerous pressures, drugs can be very attractive. It’s easy for me to say that I can turn to other alternatives. But my mom didn’t die when I was eight like Danny’s mom did. It’s easy to say that I can handle peer pressure. But I didn’t grow up in a family where drinking was a normal event during family get-togethers, like Ruben did. What I learned from visiting the drug rehab center and speaking to Danny and Ruben is that it’s unfair to make quick assumptions, and that it’s all too easy to say, "Well, I’ll never do that." Even after learning about the rehab process, I still don’t think I have a right to judge their situation.