Case Study 2 – A 16-Year-Old Girl’s Story of Multiple Drug Use

Sixteen-year-old Shelley is from a white, working class family. Her mother works in a restaurant kitchen, and her father, recently released from prison where he spent time for forging checks, is unemployed. Shelley’s older brother introduced her to smoking pot and drinking alcohol when she was 12. When she was 13, two of her brother’s friends sexually assaulted her. Shelley kept this experience to herself, but the secret plagued her, leading to anxiety and depression. Substance misuse became abuse, as Shelley increasingly attempted to manage her feelings with stronger and more powerful substances, including cocaine, crystal meth, and eventually heroin.

Shelley’s actions and behavior became confusing to her parents and to her teachers. By age 15, Shelley was living on the street, often exchanging sex for drugs with older males.

Shelley’s mother and father were integral in helping Shelley resist heroin and its influence over her life. Their relationship to Shelley was always strong. They could stay connected to her even when she was on the streets, and eventually were able to persuade her to go to counseling. Fortunately, her alcohol and drug counselor refused to judge her or to make assumptions regarding her substance-directed behavior. In fact, it was to this woman that Shelley finally told her secret of sexual abuse.

As Shelley’s parents kept present their memories of her prior to the sexual assault and to the substance abuse, Shelley began to see that she was a young woman with promise and potential. She began to imagine that she could do what she wanted with her life, in a drug-free way. With each day of drug-free experience, Shelley’s clear thinking allowed her to recognize that substances such as heroin and cocaine were both spiritually and physically killing her.

Recently, Shelley wrote a letter to her counselor saying that her family has relocated to another city, where they thought they would have a better opportunity of starting over again. Both parents have found employment, and Shelley is working two part-time jobs, having just completed 12th grade. Shelley intends to take community college courses in social work in the fall. She remains drug-free.

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