Spotlight: Young People in Recovery

Photo Courtesy of Young People in Recovery

Sarah Nerad, 22, is in recovery. To her, recovery means she hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since 2007.

She grew up in Houston, TX, and everything was good. Sarah had a normal childhood, and grew up in a normal neighborhood. Her background wasn’t the stereotypical one that necessarily pointed towards a future of drugs and alcohol.

But when she got into high school, bad habits started forming.

“I started drinking at age 15 and by the time I was 16, I had already gone through one treatment facility,” Sarah says.

In just a couple of years, everything in Sarah’s life spun out of control.

“I crossed this line of no return. It was tough,” she says. “I was 17 years old, living a life of recovery with new principles, and I had to change everything about me, including my friends, the way I talked, and how I dressed. I felt out of place and alone a lot of times.”

Stopping the Spin Cycle

The pressure to continue down that road was strong but she continued in recovery, as difficult as it was sometimes.

“As I was stopping, all my peers were just beginning,” she says. “There were some tough times that first year, but then everything started to fall into place, things got better and better. I moved away from being the scared little girl I was into a strong young woman.”

Sarah was part of a meeting sponsored by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In December of 2010, she attended this meeting where she met a group of people like herself—young and in recovery. There they realized how much they had in common, and took it upon themselves to keep in touch via email, texting, and Skype after the meeting.

Photo Courtesy of Young People in Recovery

The group was brought together again the following summer, and that’s when they brewed the idea for Young People in Recovery. They had one primary reason for creating this movement.

“We didn’t want to lose any more of our friends due to drugs and alcohol,” Sarah says. “In conversation, we asked each other to count how many of our friends have died due to substance abuse disorders. Among the 10 of us, we’ve seen over 100 die. At 22 years old, I’ve had over 10 friends die of this.”

“That’s not ok. At all.”

Not Taking It Lying Down

So Sarah and her peers got to work. They formed a steering committee, scheduled monthly conference calls, and split themselves into committees to brainstorm how to organize what they wanted to do.

Regardless of their inexperience, this group of young people didn’t skip a beat because they knew they had something special and unique they could offer other youth battling with drugs and alcohol.

“I am a young person. I have sat in that detox facility, and in that support group,” Sarah says. “I can tell you exactly what we need. I have been in those shoes.”

Young People in Recovery is only made up of volunteers, all of which are youth in recovery. And YPR has helped each of them find a purpose, a place to get involved, learn professional skills, and network with other young people around the country.

“We’re young people using our voice for a cause for young people, by young people, for young people,” Sarah says. “We’re out there advocating for the rights of young people, so they can have the same opportunities at life that we did.”

Giving Others the Chance to Live

With the help of professional counselors, flexibility of her teachers, and support of her family, Sarah was able to knock out the addiction and turn her life around.

Sarah Nerad, Young People in Recovery

“I did two years at a community college, then went to do my undergrad, and this summer, I was interning in DC,” she says. “And now I’m in Boston getting my Masters in Public Policy.”

She doesn’t know anyone in Boston, but she’s excited to be starting her first semester this month.

That is what Young People in Recovery is about: giving youth the peer-to-peer support they need when making big decisions that will break with their old life and start a new one. That is more rewarding than anything they could have imagined. That’s the power of recovery!