Survivor of Drug Abuse Credits Hospital Treatment


At 16, Carissa McCombs was out of control: drinking heavily, on cocaine and injecting methamphetamines. She overdosed and nearly died.

“You don’t want to stop what you’re doing, but you know it’s got to end,” said Carissa, whose parents committed her to several psychiatric hospitals. “You just don’t know how to make it stop.”

It took four tries, but Carissa eventually got the help she needed. Today, at 19, she is married and attending college with an eye toward a teaching degree. The passage was painful, she says, but hospitalization was necessary.

“Treatment isn’t something to be enjoyed,” Carissa said from Bedford, Tex. “You don’t go to play volleyball, but if you can go through a hard time for 30 days, it might make your life easier in the long run. In the long run, it might save your life.”


Carissa grew up amid fighting. Her mother and father fought with each other, then divorced and fought over her. She was shuttled among her mom, dad, stepparents and, finally, her grandparents.

“You grow up thinking you’re supposed to have the Brady Bunch family, but life isn’t like that,” she said. “A lot of parents focus on the kids, but it involves something in the wider family circle.”

Carissa’s father, Charles Parks, agreed. A veteran of battles with alcohol and drug abuse, he and his ex-wife were forced to confront themselves as people and as parents.

“I am not going to tell you that hospitals are the solution,” said Parks, who went on to counsel other families and referred many to one of six private psychiatric hospitals for which he works.


“There are issues to sort out, a lot of hard work to do,” he said. “Hospitalization is just a step in the process.”

Often, a whole family needs to learn how better to cope with stresses such as divorce, financial problems, drinking binges and physical abuse.

“A lot of people feel overwhelmed and overstimulated today,” said Dr. John Meeks, director of the Psychiatric Institute of Montgomery County, Md.

“Increasingly, people have looked to mental health experts to assist them because when the adolescent doesn’t receive the support they need, then emergency-type symptoms come up.”


Many experts say that adolescent inpatient treatment has run amok, that too many children are being committed for the wrong reasons.

Carissa McCombs, who gave birth to a daughter in June, said she understands why parents might prefer to risk erring on the side of caution.

“If my child were to die from drug (abuse), I’d have to wonder: Did I do everything in my power?” she said. “Hospitalizing a kid is a last resort, a real tough step for parents. But usually, if they take that step, it’s for a reason.”