From the outside looking in, 24-year-old Chance Ward is living the life of successful, young adult. But what many don’t know is the road it took to get there was filled with obstacles, loss, and growth along the way.
“Addiction completely took over my life,” says Chance. “But today I strive to be a better person than yesterday, and I constantly remind myself to never look back. One step at a time—I will get myself exactly where I want to be in life.”
In Families, Addiction Runs Deep
Chance’s story begins in childhood. In middle school, Chance was a social, active youth who enjoyed life. She attended sleepovers with friends, was active in band, and even got straight A’s in school.
While she thrived in school and her friendships flourished, substance use was a normal part of Chance’s life at home. Her father used drugs throughout her childhood, and an environment of enablement allowed Chance to experiment at an early age, too.
Around age 7, Chance started smoking cigarettes. She’d steal them from her parents or convince her older siblings to give her some in exchange for secrecy about their own cigarette use.
At age 9, Chance had moved on to marijuana. Instantly, she felt hooked.
“I was at my aunt’s house the first time I ever smoked marijuana,” says Chance. “We always used to smoke rolled cigarettes out there. My cousins tricked me and told me [the joint] was a cigarette —so I hit it and instantly fell in love with the way it made me feel.”
“I was instantly hooked after I tried each drug, every single time.”
By middle school, Chance used marijuana regularly. Then began a slippery slope into the world of other dangerous, more addictive substances.
“I tried methamphetamine, also known as ‘ice,’ when I was just 13 years old,” says Chance. “And by the time I was 14 this became an everyday thing, along with K2. I began to use every day.”
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that stimulates the body’s central nervous system. Even in small doses, meth can cause sleeplessness, decreased appetite, and euphoria. Taken in combination with K2—a synthetic drug manufactured to resemble marijuana—the effects can be toxic and, in some cases, deadly.
Chance recalls feeling a near instant addiction with each new drug she tried. With addiction running in her family, her risk for developing a substance use disorder was at an all time high.
“I believe some people are just born with an addictive personality,” she says. “I was instantly hooked after I tried each drug, every single time. No matter how much I had, I always wanted more and more.”
Once addiction took hold, Chance’s life became about chasing the next high.
“I was skipping school, hanging out with the older kids,” says Chance. “And before I knew it, I was so wrapped up in the chaos I was being sent off for truancy.”
During her freshman year of high school, Chance had missed 120 days of school. And while her education, friendships, and life opportunities crumbled, the drug use presented an opportunity for Chance to share common ground with her father. Her blooming addiction allowed her to feel close with her father for the first time in her life.
“At Christmastime when I was about 14, I had some weed I had gotten from a relative. I came home and told my dad that I had it and told him I wanted to smoke it with him. And so we did,” recalls Chance. “After that, I finally found a way I could bond with my father. We would use together for years to come until my addiction came to an end.”
As Chance’s addiction took a dark turn, the friendships she had from childhood fizzled away.
“At this point I had lost all my friends for the most part, the good ones anyways,” says Chance. “And I replaced them with the “sick” ones, just like me.”
“Before I knew it, I was right back to my old ways with the same people.”
Shortly after, Chance came face to face with the consequences of missing school. When a court judge ruled she would need to be sent away for evaluation and treatment, she felt what she describes as sheer “heartbreak”.
“I got high until the day that I left,” says Chance.
Chance spent 90 days at a treatment center for evaluation. After a brief visit home for her 15th birthday, she was off again to a youth crisis center and an academy program to address the root issues of her addiction.
After more than a year of being away from home, Chance completed what she thought would be her last program. Finally, she could come home.
“When I came home, I was happy and my head was on straight,” remembers Chance. “I’m almost completely caught up in school from failing my first freshman year, I have straight As again and, most of all, I’m clean.”
As part of her probation, Chance had regular drug tests and weekly check-ins. For three months, she used the tools she’d learned in her programs to navigate a successful recovery period.
But as she readjusted to the same environment—and with the same friends she had before she left—Chance fell back into familiar ways.
“Before I knew it, I was right back to my old ways with the same people,” says Chance. “I started missing school, fighting with my mom, and sneaking out at night just like before.”
This time, Chance was sent to a military boot camp where she learned if she got her GED (general educational development—a high school credential equivalent), she’d be able to return home. During this time, Chance unearthed a determination, resilience, and discipline that had laid dormant for years before.
“So that’s exactly what I did,” says Chance. “I studied every day, learned respect, and pushed myself to be the best version of myself.”
Chance earned her GED. A month before she turned 18, she came home.
“I remember being so excited,” says Chance. “I came home and got my first job at Wendy’s.”
The excitement was short lived. Once Chance received her first paycheck, she spent it all on drugs. This time, she incorporated even more substances into her lifestyle.
“Nothing felt more important than feeding the ‘monster’ I had inside me.”
“I started off exactly where I left and added more into the mix,” says Chance. “I started doing heroin and pills along with meth.”
Heroin, an illicit drug made from morphine, causes feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and what many describe as “a rush” (1). The drug is known to be addictive and lethal on its own. But used in combination with other opioids and amphetamines, it can greatly increase the risk for serious health problems or overdose (2).
Chance’s main priority shifted quickly to getting high. Now an adult, Chance had fewer opportunities for redemption. Instead, she faced legal punishment for every decision she made from then on.
“Nothing felt more important to me than the drug use and feeding the ‘monster’ I had inside me,” said Chance. “I was completely free and had to answer to no one until I started getting into legal trouble as an adult. That’s when my world completely flipped upside down.”
Chance recalls painful memories she experienced as she wavered between jail visits. At her lowest, she wished for her life to end.
“At one point in time, I was living in a trailer with all the utilities shut off,” she remembers vividly. “I was alone, cold and sick from not having any drugs. It was dark and quiet in the house. I had no food, no electric, and no running water. No one checked on me, no one showed up. And I remember laying there begging God to take my life. Telling him I was ready to come home. And I cried myself to sleep, withdrawing, so sick I was puking all over myself and didn’t even have the energy to clean myself up.“
It didn’t take long for Chance to rack up state and federal charges. She went to jail for possessions charge and was arrested at 19 for conspiracy, possession, and intent-to-deliver methamphetamine.
After she was released on bond, she tried to run from the fate she would eventually face.
“I was clean for two days and went on the run,” says Chance. “I had no idea that I had federal charges that were about to come down on me.”
At 19, Chance had multiple warrants that led to an arrest by US Marshalls. She faced up to 121 months in federal prison for selling drugs, as well as the physical effects addiction.
“I literally thought there were worms living inside of me. It’s humiliating today to talk about.”
“I was completely broken and lost at this point,” recalls Chance. “I developed a condition from drug use that caused me to pull my hair out, so I had no hair. I was so scared and lost.”
Chance was suffering from the effects of long-term methamphetamine use. Affecting close to a million people each year, the illness mimics that of schizophrenia. Individuals may suffer bouts of psychosis which include hallucinations, delusions, or a combination of the two (3).
“I literally thought there were worms living inside of me,” she says. “It’s humiliating today to talk about. But it’s a huge part of my story. I had to shave my head three times just to try to cover up what I had done to myself. That was so traumatic to me.”
Finally, Chance set forth on a path for permanent change. After spending time in jail, she entered rehab.
“This was a very lonely time in my life, but ended up being the best years,” said Chance. “I got the help that I needed and was given a chance to really change my life around—I took it.”
Chance leaned on her inner strength to successfully navigate rehab, sober living, and federal drug court. As she sobered up, she began to look back at all that addiction cost her.
“All I thought about was how much I had missed,’ she says. “I missed out on family dinners, holidays, watching my younger siblings, nieces and nephews grow. I had missed so much. And I knew that I really needed to take this opportunity to change my life around because if I didn’t, I was going to go away for a very long time, miss out on having kids of my own and watching the family I abandoned for years grow.”
Reflecting on her life, Chance knew she was ready for change. She recalls how it felt the first time she discovered self-love.
“I decided to give it my all and that’s exactly what I did,” said Chance. “It took months of being able to actually look at myself in the mirror, as I watched my hair grow back out. I started to like the person I was seeing and slowly began to love her for the first time.”
Today, Chance has been clean for over four years. She is a certified nurse assistant with goals to become a pediatric nurse in the future. She’s built healthy friendships, a successful career, and rekindled relationships with family. Her resilience even inspired her own father to seek sobriety, too.
“From me getting sober, my father decided to follow in my footsteps,” says Chance. “We now go to conventions and meetings together rather than use together. My boyfriend is also in recovery, he has eight years clean himself. Had I never got clean, I would have never met him. He has kids that I’m grateful to have in my life as well.”
“All it takes is a little faith, guidance and someone believing in you when you don’t believe in yourself.”
Chance speaks fondly of those who believed in her and for the help she received along the way. She pays it forward by speaking to youths and teens about the role of substance abuse in her life, and how they can prevent it in theirs.
“I wish I would have had someone like me in my life who came in and spoke to me about drugs and told me what the raw truth and reality of addiction is,” she says. “I was taught in grade school to ‘say no to drugs’ and ‘drugs are bad’. But sometimes that’s not enough. I believe raising awareness comes from the truth. Being showed evidence, and not holding anything back. There is no sugar coating when it comes to addiction.”
She says programs like GameChanger are a necessary part of substance use prevention and outreach.
“Raising awareness is so crucial for young minds,” she says adamantly. “It’s important to show there is a way out if you find yourself being sucked in. There is hope after dope. Change is possible for every single person. All it takes is a little faith, guidance and someone believing in you when you don’t believe in yourself. Having a program like GameChanger would have benefited me in my youth. It would have been helpful for me to see the truth of addiction early on before I had to learn for myself the hard way.”
For those navigating childhood or adolescence, she reiterates all that addiction cost her. She encourages youths and teens to avoid opioids and other substances, knowing firsthand what it cost her.
“Stick with the winners, the kids who play sports, show up to school and study,” she says. “Those friends are the ones who really love you and care for you. Those are the ones who have your best interest in heart, not the ones who get you high on the weekends or skip school with you. Stick with the winners to be a winner. Go to that football game instead of going out drinking, go to the school dance even ifyou don’t have a date. Show up and be present.”
Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.
- What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use? National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2018. Accessed from: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
- Savard, Hannah. American Addiction Centers. 26 September 2022. Accessed from: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/heroin-treatment/combination
- Bapat, Mona. Here’s How Meth Use Can Affect the Brain and Lead to Mental Health Issues. 22 December 2021. Accessed from: https://www.goodrx.com/methamphetamine/how-meth-affects-brain-lead-to-paranoia-schizophrenia