Tough Love: Dealing With Addiction in Your Life

RENO, NV - Living in a city with 24-hour entertainment, addicts say it's a struggle to recover.

"You have to really want to stop to live in a city like this because it's so readily available," Cindy Will, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict said.

Will says with no good role models in her life, she started smoking marijuana at the age of 13. It wasn't until she was 53 that she could find the strength to stop.

But addiction doesn't discriminate.

"An addiction hits all people," Kelli Davis, a recovering heroin addict said. "You can grow up in a home like I did with very strong morals and very good parents, or you can grow up homeless in the gutter. I know people who have had a very rough life who don't have the need to do drugs."

Kelli says she counts herself among the lucky ones because her family stood by her side through everything.

Denise Quirk, clinical director at the Reno Problem Gambling Center says the hardest part for addicts is admitting they can't recover on their own.

"We're standard American people, we want to do it our way, she said. "We want to solve our own problems. This is something that's bigger than one person."

The Reno Problem Gambling Center has helped hundreds of Nevadans, like Mark Johnson, recover from gambling addictions. Johnson says he only went there at first because his wife asked him too; not because he thought he had a problem.

"I remember Denise asking me if I thought I had a problem," he said. "I remember telling her, 'Lady they only problem I have is I'm on a bad losing streak."

Johnson had racked up thousands of dollars in debt, all because of gambling. He said it took a while for him to admit he had a problem because he didn't want to feel the shame of being labeled an addict.

But he says there was one thing he learned at the Reno Problem Gambling Center that helped him accept what he had done.

"The biggest thing that got me over the hurdle was, Denise told me, 'We can hate the addiction, we don't hate the addict.'"

Once they accept they are powerless on their own, each addict has his or her own way of working towards recovery.

Will says she turned to religion.

"You have to believe in a higher power," she said. "I say have to because without that higher power, success of living a clean sober life is very slim."

Davis says every morning she wakes up and prays she will stay clean.

"I do a lot of work on the underlying issues," she said. "You take drugs and alcohol out of the picture, and I'm still here. The issues that originally caused me to want to do drugs, they're still there."

Davis, Will, and Johnson all agree each addicts story is different but the one thing that worked for all of them was a 12 step program.


Addictions can put a lot of strain of family relationships, but it can often be overlooked how someone's addiction can affect his or her siblings.

Grant Davis says, looking back on his childhood, he can't remember a time when he wasn't watching his sister and their parents battle over her heroin addiction.

He says as a young boy, he didn't understand the full scope of the problem, but he knew he needed to love her unconditionally.

"I felt like I needed to give her everything that I could," he said. "I had to give her my love. I had to give her my trust. I had to give her my honesty because there were certain places my parents couldn't give her that.

Now that he's grown, there is an inner battle of loving his sister unconditionally, and fear that he might one day follow in her footsteps.

"At 11 years old, I never would have thought that I'd be doing the things that my sister was doing," he said. "But now at 17, with peer pressure and the situations at school the reality of addiction is so much more there."

He says just like his sister, Kelli, makes a decision every day to stay clean, he also makes the daily decision to not live his life in the same manner.

Every addiction story is different, but Grant's hope for all kids watching their sibling deal with an addiction is to know it's out of your control.

"There will be tears, and there will be screaming," he said. "There will be emotional and physical fights, and there will be moments when you just don't want to do it anymore. But it is the reality of your life and learn to just give up control."

He says when things became too much, he found refuge in music. He encourages other kids to find something they love and take refuge in it.

"Separate yourself from the negative environment so you don't follow the footsteps of the addicts in your family."

If a child is struggling with addiction, it can be tempting for parents to focus solely on that child's recovery. But it's also important to spend time with other children to talk to them about what is happening in the home and get a sense of what they feel about the situation. Talking with them can be the first defense in keeping them free from addiction.


One of the biggest struggles for parents trying to help a child fight an addiction is knowing when their child is ready to accept help. For 10 years, Angela Davis tried desperately to help her daughter, Kelli, fight her heroin addiction. But Kelli says it didn't matter how hard her parents tried, if she wasn't ready for help, nothing would have worked.

"I think it's important for families to know, there's only so much you can do for an active addict until they're ready, until that person is ready to make a change.'

But for a parent, Angela says the hardest part is standing on the sidelines watching as a child spins out of control.

"When do we know when it's going to work," she asked. "When is she really ready? The hard part is as a parent, you can't really control that."

Angela says during the ten years they have been fighting the addiction, she has learned if your child is refusing to get help, get help for yourself by finding a support group.

"That way when they're ready, you are ready, emotionally, physically, spiritually," she said.

Angela says she joined a parent's group with Join Together Northern Nevada. There she found the strength to be okay with not trusting her child.

"Trust and love are two separate things," she said. "I think teenagers want to tie those together. Separate those two. Love is over here, trust is over there. It's okay to love and not trust,"

Kelli has been clean for four months, and Angela says right now her daughter is earning her trust, but with 10 years of back and forth, her trust doesn't go far.

"Kelli is doing things now that make it very evident that she's clean," Angela said. "Then I can trust her. For a day, or two. But I don't put myself very far out there."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can find a list of treatment centers here:


Phone:(775) 525-9052

Meeting schedules for pre-teen (8-12) and teen (13-20) support groups

Support groups for individuals with alcohol abuse issues 355-1151

Support groups for individuals with drug abuse issues 322-4811