By Kristen Khalaf and Patricia Gras
Addicts. Addiction. Approximately 30 million people in the United States are addicted to drugs or alcohol. That’s roughly 1 out of 8 people. Yet, when we hear ‘addict’ or ‘addiction,’ we don’t imagine a young child as an addict, specifically a 10 year old.
Derek Steele’s first encounter with an addictive substance began when he was an elementary school child. At 8, Steele had his first taste of tequila. By 10, his first joint. Normally, a 10 year old is busy playing on a bike or a game station–not smoking pot. The rest of his adolescent time line goes like this: 13 years- acid; 14-coke; 15-unknown. Steele meddled with so many drugs and alcohol that there is no way of knowing which substance he was using. Growing up, his life was anything but typical. You can watch this program online on www.houstonpbs.org/livingsmart.
“Imagine the hopelessness of knowing within a year you’d be in jail or dead,” says Steele.
Alcohol takes total control of your brain and spinal cord, both of which virtually control everything. According to www.abovetheinfluence.com, “alcohol actually blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain.” The Web site lists statistics such as 1 in 6 fatal traffic accidents in 2006 involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
“The truth is that people have to get to the point to where they’re ready to change. Sometimes it has to come from that person themselves in the position that they’re in,” says Steele.
Forever will March 17, 1993 be the day that Derek Steele was saved. He checked into a treatment center and managed to change his life. Within a year, he was sober and was a partner in a successful construction company. Steele’s timeline is now a happier one: in 1997, he co-founded a software company that would gross over $5 million dollars a year; 1999: wedding bells rang for him; and at 35, Steele became a multi-millionaire.
Derek is no longer suffering. His story is one of second chances and truly that miracles do happen.
To learn if someone has an addiction, Steele has a few signs to keep out for.
1. Abnormal behavior: “When you see abnormal behaviors, don’t dismiss it. It doesn’t hurt to investigate. Parents get in denial just as much as addicts do.”
2. Change in friends: “performance at school or in certain things is not inline with what you think it should be, then that’s a pretty good indicator that that group is having a negative influence.”
3. Physical and emotional changes: “This one is a little bit harder to see, but, once again, you just have to be in tune with what seems to be within your range of healthy behaviors associated with somebody of that age.”
4. Genetic disposition: “If you know that that is something that runs in the family, then you should be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for it.”
5. Obsession with drug-using culture: “If I’m interested in drugs and alcohol and high risk behaviors, then a lot of times that will be displayed in the things that I’m watching or that I’m focusing on. It’s typically a good indicator of where my interests lie.”
To spread the word of how damaging addiction is, Steele is now a board member and director of a community outreach of Teen and Family Services in Houston and volunteers at Covenant House.
“I’ve asked myself a thousand times, ‘Why me?’ A million guys who were like me are dead or in prison.”
Check out Steele on September 21, 2011 at 11: 30 p.m. on “Living Smart with Patricia Gras,” which airs on Houston PBS, where he will share his story and his novel, Addict at Ten.