As a youngster, Kim was physically abused by her mother and stepfather. At age 10 she began using alcohol, and she was addicted to drugs at 11.

She drank vodka, snorted cocaine and used acid, speed and marijuana heavily until about two years ago. She's now sober at 17 and facing what will be a lifelong challenge to stay that way.Kim spoke this weekend to a group of mental health professionals gathered for a conference at Brigham Young University, hoping that her insights would help others to avoid her mistakes. But some of what happened to Kim was out of her control.

"For me, child abuse and drug and alcohol abuse went hand-in-hand. I wanted to feel loved more than anything," she said. "I wanted to belong, and when I used drugs, I felt accepted by my friends.

"When the family problems start, that's when your kids will go out and start looking for someone to fill that need. There's nothing more important than a family."

Kim turned to substance abuse in her search for the happiness she couldn't find at home. She kept her addictions a secret from her family for some time, but some of her relatives, including her grandmother and natural father, knew something was wrong. She was doing badly in school and had dramatic mood swings.

"I didn't want anyone to know I was doing drugs. The more I did, the unhappier I got, but I just kept telling myself I was happy. I didn't realize how far I was in," Kim said. "Nothing ever got better with me, because I never thought I was OK."

All of that began to change when she was taken from her mother's home and eventually placed in a drug treatment center. She spent nearly four months there, resisting at first and then realizing there were other ways to find acceptance.

"I learned I didn't deserve to be hit, and I don't deserve it now. I know now I'm OK. No matter what happens to me, I'm OK."

Kim is living with a foster family now. She hopes to graduate from high school this spring. She wants to become a therapist.

"It's so nice to have an honest family and one that's not hurting each other," she said. "I'm starting to see what a real family is like. The whole time I was going through this I was looking for someone to love me, but I never found someone who accepted me until I accepted myself."

Kim says she has to work on maintaining that attitude constantly by doing things like attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"I'm strong now, but I still need help. I still need love. I know I can't change my family but I can change my situation."

Kim says she wishes someone had seen her problem and stepped in to help sooner.

"There's no excuse for child abuse, no way. We've got to do something. We can't just sit around and watch it happen anymore. I was in too deep to get out myself."

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(ADDITIONAL INFORMATION)

Signs of trouble

- Disrupted sleeping and eating patterns - excessive mood swings

- Talking or thinking about suicide

- Falling school grades