“Wasted,” New Era, Mar. 1990, 53

Special Issue:
Surviving—and Thriving—in the 90s


You can’t tell an addict by his looks. He could be sitting next to you in church. On these pages five LDS addicts tell their story.

We’d like you to meet five LDS kids—all attractive, well-groomed, and intelligent. We can’t show you their pictures, but every one would look good on the cover of the New Era. Every one comes from a good LDS home. Two are the children of bishops.

All five are drug addicts.

They have all been through treatment programs, and none of them is using drugs right now. Hopefully none of them ever will again, but two went through treatment before and then relapsed.

They are all committed to remaining sober, but even if they do they will be addicts the rest of their lives. Chemical dependency is a disease without a cure.

How It Started

*MICHAEL: I started with alcohol. I started just because of curiosity and a little peer pressure. I was popular and had a lot of friends at school who drank.

SUSAN: I had friends whose parents drank. I was 12 years old. I didn’t really want to get into it. I was just curious. We’d go downstairs to their bar and we’d smell the different kinds of liquor, and we’d do a little bit of tasting.

SHAWN: In elementary school I was diagnosed with learning disabilities, and I had a real hard time with the kids teasing me about it. In the sixth grade I started smoking cigarettes because there was a group of people there I could relate to. They let me into their crowd, and all I had to do was smoke cigarettes.

LORI: I started with some pills that had been prescribed for my brother. I was really curious. I wondered what it felt like.

LISA: When I walked in the door it was quite a different party than I had expected. They were drinking and smoking marijuana. Everybody in the whole place was using drugs. The right thing would have been to turn around and leave. That’s really a hard thing to do, but if I had, I probably would have avoided all the trouble that came later. I didn’t want to use any drugs. I didn’t even want to go to that party. But instead of turning around and going home, I went in. After being there 20 minutes I felt so awkward that I grabbed a beer and pretended to drink it.

As soon as I started pretending to use I was accepted by everybody and was asked out by several guys. I loved that. I wasn’t interested in the drugs and alcohol. It was the crowd, the acceptance.

The Short View

MICHAEL: I felt, “Hey, this isn’t bad.” My parents had put this big warning of doom over alcohol and drugs, like I was going to die or get some weird disease, and I was feeling just fine. I figured they didn’t know what they were talking about.

SHAWN: I remember my parents saying to me: If you use drugs, you’re going to be a freak. You aren’t going to be normal. I used drugs. I felt pretty normal. I decided they had been lying to me.

SUSAN: After that I started drinking occasionally. I didn’t feel guilty. (Actually, I did deep down, but I blocked it out.) I don’t ever remember right after doing it saying, Oh no, what did I do? I was surrounded by friends and was not thinking about religion right then. I felt some guilt when I was sitting in church the next Sunday, but Sunday only came once a week. Sunday was for religion, and the rest of the week was for “real” life.

The Long View

MICHAEL: I continued to use, and as time went on, I found that I started looking at things differently. My priorities changed. I was using more and more alcohol and running around with people I previously wouldn’t have hung out with. At age 16 I dropped out of school. I had really been into sports, but I stopped all that. I’d started smoking marijuana and had gone on to cocaine.

My parents put me into a drug treatment center. When I got out I went back to using and got heavy into cocaine, crank, and crack.

My Mormon values had gone right out the door. I kept running away, and I was stealing money. I was in trouble with the law. My relationship with my parents had gone downhill. They couldn’t trust me, and I was belligerent.

I’m lucky to be alive. I had friends who died.

LISA: I started smoking pot, and I tried LSD. A lot of the pot I smoked was laced with even worse things. I have no idea what I smoked.

Through my use, my family life completely deteriorated. I tried to avoid my family as much as possible. I wasn’t going to school. I’d make maybe two classes a day if I was lucky.

LORI: My self-esteem wasn’t all that great before I started using, but drugs changed it to basically nothing. I was just kind of numb. I didn’t even have a personality. The only way I knew to have fun was to go to a party and get high. In the ninth grade I was smoking marijuana and doing speed. I’d steal all the time from my mom. I lied a lot. I didn’t feel that anything mattered anymore except drugs.

By the end of tenth grade I’d passed two of my seven classes, and I got D’s in those two.

In the eleventh grade I started not even going to school, and I was arrested for drinking.

SUSAN: Sometime after ninth grade I started smoking marijuana, just every now and then, and into my sophomore year it was the same. This summer there were more parties, so I was doing it a lot more often, and drinking the whole time too. You get to the point where your values are totally shot. You’ll lie to anybody; you’ll say anything. I would get into arguments with my family and just pack up and move out. My grades started to go down, and I would sluff a lot.

SHAWN: In the seventh grade I started using alcohol, and in the ninth grade I added marijuana and speed. Before I started using drugs, and for a while afterward, I danced, I sang, I played baseball, I wrestled. As the drug use progressed, I stopped dancing. I quit baseball. I backed out of everything. In the ninth grade I started backing away from the Church, even though I was the teachers quorum president. I slipped right off the deep end into devil worship. It was a frightening experience, but I was too numb to realize it at the time. I didn’t feel anything. I got more and more depressed. I had my first suicide attempt about the middle of my ninth grade year. At the end of that year I was arrested for possession.

I really started fighting hard with my parents. Every single day when I woke up it was a fight. Lying became a way of life. I lied so that I could keep using.

I went on to LSD. On a bad trip I beat myself up and stabbed holes in the wall. I remember seeing the walls in the house literally eating the flesh off my friends.

I started needing drugs many times each day just to survive. I still looked like a straight, clean-cut kid, but I was taking anything I could get my hands on, just to see if it would get me high. Once I overdosed and almost died.

In tenth grade I quit school and started looking really different. I wasn’t Shawn anymore. I was drugs. If I talked it was drugs. If I walked it was with drugs. Everything I did was drugs.

When I finally was forced into treatment I weighed 97 pounds. After being hospitalized for three weeks I weighed 130. That’s what drugs do to your body, and they injure your mind and spirit even more.

I wasted five years of my life that I’ll never have back. It’s gone, just gone.


LORI: I didn’t ever think I was an addict. I didn’t realize that this was going to affect me for the rest of my entire life. When I got busted I just thought, “I’ve got to hide this better.”

SHAWN: I had totally lost control of my own life, but I still didn’t think I had a problem. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong with me. I just blamed it all on my parents for being so strict.

When you’re using, there’s a gut feeling, a pain like someone’s just drilled a hole right through you, and you want to fill it up. It seems as if the only way you can do that is by denying everything to yourself and using more and more.

SUSAN: I would say to myself, “I’ll just party through high school because it’s the thing to do, but when I get into college I’ll straighten up. I’m going to start working, I’ll get back into the Church and be married in the temple, and everything’s going to be hunky dory. But that simply does not happen when you’re an addict. You don’t understand that you need help and that it’s going to be a problem for the rest of your life.


LISA: When drugs let me feel anything, I felt really guilty about what I had done. I felt worthless. I didn’t understand justice and mercy and repentance. I thought that I was bad forever. I didn’t know how to be forgiven. I just felt that I was lost.

I had heard the lessons about forgiveness, but I didn’t think it could apply to me. I thought, That’s okay for little Mary Jo over there who swore yesterday, but for me who’s been doing this and this it doesn’t work. I felt there was a certain amount of time I had to spend repenting, a certain amount of suffering I had to do, and I knew that my life wouldn’t be long enough to do it all. So why try?

On the other hand, when I got into a rehabilitation program and was taught what the Atonement means and what repentance is all about, my Father in Heaven became my greatest strength. He helped me make the painful changes that had to be made. I know that I have been forgiven, and I’ve learned how to forgive myself. Now when I look back it’s like watching a movie of someone else. The weight has been lifted, and I am a different person.

SHAWN: The hardest part of my treatment was when they said, “You’ve got to find God.” They called it “a higher power,” because not everybody has a religious background. I thought, There’s no way; He’ll never forgive me after what I’ve done. I can’t even forgive myself. I had been in the program two or three months before I finally understood that he forgives everyone who repents. You’ve just got to give him the chance and be willing to change. Changing is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone.


LISA: When I was using drugs I couldn’t pray. I felt that I was such an awful person that I would just be wasting my time. So I tried to push God out of my mind. I tried to tell myself that he didn’t exist. I tried to forget him because I didn’t want to feel the guilt.

I look back on what has kept me straight and why I’m sober today, and it’s because I learned how to talk to God. I didn’t know how to before. I was used to saying a kind of set prayer—“Bless us to get home in safety …” The same old stuff.

So I had to establish a relationship. Now I can come home and tell him, “Look what I did today. I was so rude.” I’m talking to him as I would talk to a friend. I really feel that he is my friend. I can just sit and talk about something that concerns me today. I sit in my bedroom with my eyes open and just talk to him. That really helped turn me around.

If I had had that relationship when I first started using, I might have gotten out in time.

SUSAN: Even when I was using, I always believed there was a god, but I’d try to push the thought out of my mind. When I wanted to pray and ask for something I’d think, I can’t ask. I don’t deserve any help.

Now I talk to God all the time. I know that he is my friend. I don’t even open it up with “Our dear Heavenly Father.” I just talk as if I were talking to someone in the room. And I get answers. Some times they come through somebody else, and sometimes they just come into my own mind. It’s I because I’m being open to it. I’m listening.

Helping a Friend Who Is Using

LISA: If your friend is using, he really won’t listen to anything you say. The only way you can help him is by telling his parents. They are the only ones who can do anything about it.

SHAWN: You show tough love by turning him in. You don’t stand there and watch him die. Trying to love him out of it isn’t going to work. He needs treatment. Show your love by making sure he gets treatment as soon as possible.

How to Avoid Using

SUSAN: Don’t be where people are using in the first place.

SHAWN: It isn’t enough to just say no. You don’t sit there with that crowd and say no while they’re doing it. You say no and then you turn around and walk away and say, “Hey, if you want to be my friend, you come to me next time because I refuse to be in your area while you’re using.” If you stay around them long enough, you will eventually start using.

Also, improve your self-esteem. When I was in treatment, the first thing that helped raise my self-esteem was knowing that no matter what I do down here, my Heavenly Father loves me. Also, I don’t focus anymore on what I can’t do, but on what I can do. I may not learn schoolwork easily, but my feet are like fine-tuned machines. I skate and dance and all that stuff like crazy.

Most teenagers look for self-esteem from their friends. They judge themselves by what other people think of them, but self-esteem comes from within yourself and from your Father in Heaven.

LISA: Stay close to your family and maintain high self-esteem. Low self-esteem makes a person more vulnerable. In the ninth grade I had a 3.5 GPA. I modeled professionally. I was in ballet, but my self-esteem was low. I felt that whatever I did wasn’t good enough. I felt that a 3.5 GPA should be a 4.0, that I wasn’t skinny enough, that I wasn’t pretty enough. I never had the exact right clothes. I never did things exactly right. I guess I was quite self-critical.

MICHAEL: Pray a lot. It’s the only thing that’s secure.

The Recovering Addict

SHAWN: Even after treatment, staying sober is a day-to-day struggle. You wake up every morning and the first thing you say is, “God, help me make it through the day.” And for the rest of the day you’re working on it. It gets easier, but you never forget that you’re an addict.

I’ve been sober for a year and a half, and I still wake up in the morning and think, “Go get some speed; you need something to pump you up.” It almost breaks me in two sometimes.

Survival Tips

  • Avoid addiction: Never start.

  • Develop strong friendships with nonusers.

  • Tell users’ parents about their problem.

  • Don’t go where drugs are used or sold.


  1. There is only one surefire way to avoid addiction: NEVER USE ILLEGAL DRUGS OR ALCOHOL EVEN ONCE!

    In fact, stay away from drugs in general except when prescribed. Leave the family medicine chest alone. Don’t try any of the strange things your friends say can get you high. Remember that alcohol and nicotine are habit-forming drugs.

  2. Stay away from places where “druggies” hang out. Don’t go to parties where alcohol and drugs are consumed.

  3. Choose your friends carefully. If your friends don’t use, you probably won’t. If they do, you probably will. Remember that most kids don’t get their first drugs from some sinister “pusher” but from their friends.

  4. Stay close to your Heavenly Father. Pray often. Talk to him about your problems and listen for answers. Try to keep in touch with him seven days a week, not just on Sunday.

  5. Stay close to your family. Your parents aren’t perfect, but they love you more than anyone else on earth. Share your concerns with them. And give them the benefit of the doubt sometimes when they seem too strict. Remember that drug use can destroy your family.

  6. Learn to love yourself. If you feel good about yourself you’ll be less likely to do something stupid to win the friendship of others.

  7. Try to take the long view. Drugs offer immediate gratification, but cost you long-range happiness.

  8. Stay involved. Develop your talents. Learn, grow. Don’t leave room in your life for drugs.

  9. If you have a friend who is using drugs, tell his or her parents! Do it today. It’s probably the only thing you can do that will make any difference. Do it anonymously if you prefer. Parents are often the last people to know about drug use, and your friend needs professional help now!

  10. If you are using drugs, please believe that your Father in Heaven still loves you, regardless of what you have done. You can be forgiven if you repent. The Atonement was not only for little sins. It was for YOUR sins! But you will need help. Giving up substance abuse is not a do-it-yourself project. Go to your parents and your bishop. They will assist you in getting the help you need.

    And don’t ever think that your actions have cost you the right to pray. This right CANNOT be lost. Your Father ALWAYS wants to hear from you.

Photography by Welden Andersen