Recognizing teen addiction
Mother shares story of drug-addict son
By Angie Landsverk
Sandi Lybert tells parents to trust their guts.
“You know when your kids are off,” she said.
Lybert speaks from experience.
Her 30-year-old son, Tyler, is a recovering heroin addict.
He started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes when he was in sixth grade.
A year later, he began smoking marijuana.
That was followed by abusing prescription medications.
He was addicted to heroin by the time he was 17 and received three citations for driving under the influence.
“It almost tore our family apart,” Lybert said.
Today, he is married and a father.
He also has precancerous cells all the way down his throat and stomach issues, she said.
Lybert never thought it would happen to her family.
“I’m standing here so thankful I didn’t lose my son,” she said. “I’m so thankful he didn’t kill a child, someone or himself.”
Lybert shared her story during a May 9 presentation at Weyauwega-Fremont High School.
The school district, a church and local individuals and businesses sponsored the program.
Shani Appleby, Sandy Dykes and Kelly Mathwig brought the idea forward after being part of the 2015-16 Leadership Waupaca County program.
Lybert is the founder of Your Choice Prevention Education.
The nonprofit, located in Hartland, offers alcohol and drug awareness programs.
About 90 people attended the Wake Up Call evening presentation, in the high school auditorium.
It included a lifesize exhibit of a teen’s bedroom.
Lybert said half of the room was meant to look like a male’s room and the other half like a female’s bedroom.
There were between 30 and 40 signs of drug or alcohol use in that bedroom.
School administrators and police officers share such information with Your Choice Prevention Education.
“We keep changing the bedroom to change with the culture of the kids,” she said.
One by one, Lybert called attention to the items signaling alcohol or drug use.
Fruity smells mask the smell of drugs, she said.
Grape soda is the No. 1 masker of alcohol, Lybert said.
She said everyday items like water bottles and even boxes of tampons may be used to hide alcohol.
“If you see something in their room for a few days, like a bottle, and it hasn’t moved, check it out,” Lybert said.
A can that looks like it has iced tea in it may actually be a weighted can for drugs.
Teens hide drugs in their stuffed animals and inside the Bibles sitting in their bedrooms, Lybert said.
Items meant to look like key chains or cellphones are actually for hiding drugs, and she said these items may be purchased online or at novelty stores.
She also said if a parent notices eye drops or cough medicine in the home and did not buy either product, that is a red flag.
Lybert told parents to have zero tolerance for drugs in their homes.
She said they should count the pills in their prescription bottles and keep track of their own cash and the checks in their checkbooks.
Other recommendations included purchasing a breathalyzer and drug tests and making it known to the children so they have a reason to say no when pressured to use drugs or alcohol.
“All kids are exposed,” she said. “Not all kids are going to use.”
Her daughter, Ashleigh Nowakowski, stayed away from drugs in high school.
Earlier in the day, she was among those who talked to the district’s middle school and high school students.
“There’s a reason why the drinking age is 21,” said the 33-year-old mother of three children.
Nowakowski said those who start drinking before age 14 have a 40 percent chance of becoming addicted to alcohol, while those who start drinking after age 20 have a 10 percent chance.
“My advice working with kids is really to be a role model. Tell them what you expect of them. Be united,” said Nowakowski.
Mathwig said the speakers during that presentation stressed the importance of making the right choices now.
“They each talked about how their choice affected not only themselves, but how their choice affected those around them, especially their loved ones,” she said. “Ashleigh talked about how she would use her mom as an ‘out’ when faced with the choice of going to a party where she knew everyone would be drinking or how she would make up an excuse of why she couldn’t attend the party. Ashleigh also talked about what it was like to be a sister of an addicted brother.”
A mother who had to make the decision of what outfit her daughter would wear at her funeral and what organs to donate also spoke in front of the students.
“We heard from a community member who recently lost her brother to an overdose,” Matwhig said. “She shared her beautifully written eulogy she read at her brother’s funeral.”
The students heard how drugs can kill them the first time they try them, she said.
Last week’s presentation also included a program after school for the district’s teachers and staff.
Mathwig said about 40 staff members attended it.
Appleby said the program was well received by the youth, staff, police officers and community.
Lybert said parents should trust but verify and let their children know that.
Those who attended the evening presentation also learned about the signs and symptoms of adolescent substance abuse.
That includes unexplained mood swings, dilated pupils and bloodshot eyes, a withdrawal from family activities, the use of air fresheners or breath mints to cover scents, reduced grades in school and a change in friends.
Katie Westerman, a mother of three teens, told parents they are the first line of defense.
“Be consistent. This is where we fall short as parents,” she said. “The consequence has to match whatever expectation they’re not meeting.”
Parents should be good role models and think about their own use of alcohol and their attitude toward it.
“Know the parents of your child’s friends,” Westerman said.
She said conversations about drugs and alcohol need to be ongoing.
“Help them develop refusal skills,” Westerman said. “There’s no magical answer to this. With the information and resources available, we can fight this epidemic.”