How I have created drug addicts and psych patients: A psychiatrist nurse’s account of the system

Working as a nurse with disturbed children, guest writer Joe Kamm has a very unique perspective on how many people end up addicted to drugs. A provokative account on the system of psychiatric care that can really only come from an insider here.

minute read
By Joe Kamm

The psychiatric system: Creating addicts?

As a nurse working in a residential treatment facility, I would say that I have turned at least twenty children into drug addicts and/or lifelong psych patients. I’m not saying this because I’m proud of it; I’m saying it because it’s true. When you see a mentally ill person on the street, begging for money to buy drugs or alcohol, you might stop and wonder how their story began. Why they ended up that way. For a good portion of these people, the answer is; because of people like me.

Most of these people were born into circumstances that you can’t even imagine, nor would you ever care to. The parents are almost always addicts, criminals, or deceased. The children see violence and death and desperation from the moment they come home from the hospital. They are extremely damaged.

Now, I am of the opinion that, if a person is constantly sad or angry or delusional for no reason, he might have a chemical imbalance. However, if a person is sad, angry, or delusional because he has a very good reason for being that way, he is simply a human being responding to his environment. So this “damaged” or “emotionally disturbed” child enters the system because he can’t live at home.

This is where I come in.

Psychiatric drugs are not an option.

When a child first enters the system, most of the time, he hates drugs. He has seen the horrible things that they have done to his family and friends and wants no part of them. The child then talks with doctors who convince him that his sadness and his anger are not normal. That they are symptoms of an underlying illness that he will have to live with his entire life.

The child is skeptical; he still doesn’t buy it.

Then, something happens. He gets into a fight or has an outburst of anger. Suddenly the drugs are no longer an option. The doctor is protecting him and those around him by forcing the drugs on him. It becomes my job, as a nurse, to see to it that he takes the drugs as prescribed and to inform behavioral staff when he is non-compliant. The drugs weaken his resolve.

After taking the drugs, he thinks less about his home life. He becomes more apathetic. More docile. He gets fatter and slower but much less angry and depressed.

Then, something else happens.

A family member dies. Maybe the only family member that the child has. He starts having emotions again. The child who once hated the thought of numbing himself with drugs goes running to the doctor for more. And when those stop being effective, he asks for new drugs.

I watch the pile of meds grow larger and larger with each passing week. I watch the child become less and less animated. Instead of being angry with me for giving him the drugs, he is now angry with me when I am late passing them out.

Then, it’s time for him to be discharged.

He leaves the facility and steps into a world where he has no means of getting the drugs that he is now physically, mentally, and emotionally dependent on. If there weren’t any chemical imbalances when he began all of this, there most certainly are now. His young brain is forever altered and, worst of all, he has learned the most dangerous lesson that people like me can teach young children. That emotions are bad and can be alleviated with substances.

Street drugs help kids cope.

He turns to street drugs to stop the thoughts and emotions that are now flooding his brain. The emotions and thoughts that he was never given the opportunity to process and deal with in a healthy and productive way. He smokes. He drinks. He snorts. He shoots. He loses interest in the way he looks or whether or not he has a job or even a place to live.

Then, one day he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and breaks down. He knows that it’s too late. He steps back onto the sidewalk and as you walk past him he reaches out his hand hoping to get some money to support his habit.

You look the other way.


About the author: Joe Kamm is a registered nurse, recovering addict, and author of the psych-fiction ebook series Ellum which is available now on Kindle and will be available on iBooks, Nook and all other e-readers in March. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son. For more info go to, “Like” his Facebook author page, or check out his updates on Goodreads and Amazon.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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