Pubdate: Sun, 30 Oct 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Leslie Boyd, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


ASHEVILLE -- Elizabeth Wilson became acquainted with substance abuse 
early in life. Alcoholism runs rampant in her family, she says. She 
left home when she was 14, pregnant and alone.

Wilson married when she was 18, happy a man would have her even 
though she was an unwed mother.

Within a few weeks, she discovered she had married a man who would 
drink heavily and abuse her.

Advertisement "You would think that I would have known better than to 
start drinking myself," says Wilson, now 60 and sober 16 years. "But 
I did." Wilson had five sons in 10 years and lost one to crib death 
when he was 3 months old. She tried to prosecute her husband for 
beating her, but the courts at the time didn't send husbands to jail 
for beating their wives. Fearing for her life, Wilson hopped on a bus 
and fled to California, where she worked as a housekeeper in hotels.

It would take three years for her to get her children back. By then 
she had begun to ease her emotional pain with alcohol. "My boys used 
to tell me I was an alcoholic, and I would tell them that there were 
a lot worse things I could be," she says. "I was a functional 
alcoholic, but it did have an effect on my ability to parent.

Of course it did. I misspent a lot of time. I should have taken them fishing.

They were facing the same problems I was, and they needed me to be 
there more than I was. ... In the end they were taking care of me." 
In fact, substance abuse is a major factor in child abuse and 
neglect, says Donna Beck of the Buncombe County Department of Social 
Services. Many parents who abuse drugs and alcohol can't keep it 
together even as well as Wilson did.

"It's a huge factor in what we do," Beck says. "About 70 percent of 
all (child abuse and neglect) cases we deal with at DSS involve 
substance abuse." Nearly half of the children taken into custody are 
from homes where substance abuse is taking place.

One drug that has experienced alarming growth is methamphetamine. In 
1999, nine meth labs were confirmed in North Carolina; in 2003, 177 
were confirmed, Beck says.

And, according to a report to be released Nov. 18 by Children First 
of Buncombe County, 322 methamphetamine labs were broken up in the 
state in 2004; 23 were in Buncombe County.

Children are found in about one-third of those labs, according to the 
report, "State of the Children in Buncombe County." From a medical 
standpoint, Dr. Susan Mims said she believes alcohol or drugs are a 
factor in more than half of child deaths and perhaps as many as 80 
percent. Mims is a pediatrician and internist, medical director of 
the Buncombe County Health Center and a member of the Buncombe County 
Child Fatality Task force, which investigates every child death. "We 
don't even know the long-term effects being in one of these labs has 
on children," Mims says.

What is known is that substance abuse touches on many aspects of a 
child's life, Mims says. It is a factor in poverty when parents spend 
their money on drugs or alcohol; it is a factor in neglect when 
parents don't supervise young children properly.

"The younger the child, the higher the risk of injury," Mims said. 
Much of the problem, child advocates say, is that parents who are 
substance abusers tend to focus on the thing with which they're most 
enamored: the alcohol or drug.

"By the time they grow to hate the substance because of what it's 
doing to their lives, they're addicted," Beck says. "Their focus is 
on getting and using and not on meeting their children's emotional 
needs -- and too often, their physical needs." "If you're using, it's 
likely having an effect on your ability to parent," says Patrice 
Wishon, a licensed clinical social worker with Perinatal Health 
Partners in Asheville, a program of the Partnership for a Drug-Free 
North Carolina. "It's hard to say exactly what effect it will have on 
any given family, Wishon says. "But even if DSS doesn't come and take 
your child, there will be some effect on your ability to parent." 
Wilson says she always made sure her children were fed and clothed, 
that they attended school and that their homework was done. "I was a 
drill sergeant of a parent," she says. "And my house was always 
clean. I always went to work -- but I was a barmaid, which served my 
purpose well. ... I never got a DUI, although I should have, so it 
was easy to deny I had a problem." Wilson never expected to live to 
age 60, she says. She thought she would be dead from an accident or 
disease brought on by her lifestyle.

She credits her recovery to her faith in God.

Today, Wilson is helping raise four grandchildren -- three girls ages 
13, 12 and 10, and an 11-year-old boy. She cares for them after 
school and is imparting the wisdom learned from hard experience.

"I'm a much better grandparent than I was a parent," she says. "Every 
day is a gift from God."



Even before becoming a parent, a woman can do damage to her child by 
using alcohol or drugs -- including nicotine.

Alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterized by 
abnormal facial features, growth retardation and central nervous 
system problems.

It can occur if a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, and no one 
knows how much -- or how little -- a woman must drink before it harms 
her child, says Patrice Wishon, a licensed clinical social worker 
with Perinatal Health Partners in Asheville, a program of the 
Partnership for a Drug-Free North Carolina. Children with the 
syndrome may have physical disabilities and problems with learning, 
memory, attention, problem solving, and social/behavioral problems. 
Tobacco use is associated with low birth-weight and pre-term birth. 
"Nicotine is one of the biggest frogs in the puddle," Wishon says. 
"Studies show women who use tobacco have smaller babies and it's in 
direct proportion to the number of cigarettes a mother smokes." Women 
who use other drugs also put their babies at risk, says Dr. Susan 
Mims, medical director of the Buncombe County Health Center. 
"Substance abuse is associated with pre-term delivery," she says. 
"Cocaine constricts the blood vessels so the baby doesn't get as much 
oxygen. Anything you take in, you're giving to your baby."
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