Chelsea Carter, like most grade schoolers, was often asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“When they go around the room and ask that question, no one ever says, ‘I want to be a drug addict,’” Carter said. “You lose your entire life to addiction. It’s not a path you’d ever choose.”

Chelsea Carter is a counselor and program manager at Appalachian Health Services in Logan, WV.

So, when her friend invited her over a couple of years later to “smoke and drink and try some pills,” it never crossed Carter’s mind that her future was at stake. After all, she was only 12 at the time.

“From when I was 12 until about 15, I pretty much just drank and smoked pot,” Carter said. “But when I was 15 my grandma died, and on the day of her funeral my best friend died. I always say the day of his fun
eral was the day I found my new best friend—OxyContin. It took away every pain and every emotion.”

A high school cheerleader and gymnast, Carter felt like she had things under control, despite being suspended once for having pills at school. At 19, she began dating a drug dealer twice her age.

“I couldn’t afford my habit anymore, so we worked out a deal,” she said. “I did whatever he told me to, and he got me dope. The fear of losing him was huge, not because I loved him but because he had what I needed—and I was willing to do anything to get it.”

When they broke up, she began dating another dealer, who got her involved in a theft ring to support her addiction. When Carter eventually was caught, she was sentenced to two to 20 years in prison.

“It took a two- to 20-year sentence for me to get clean,” she said. “If I could’ve used for the rest of my life and never gotten in trouble, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Honestly, I’d probably be dead.”

Carter has been sober since Sept. 29, 2008, the day her prison sentence was diverted to a drug court program.

“There’s something about hearing a jail cell slam behind you,” she said. “I was finally ready to work for it. When it came down to getting treatment or going to prison, I was ready to get treatment.”

After intense inpatient and outpatient therapy, Carter passed drug court. She graduated from cosmetology school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from WVU. In 2016, she earned a master’s degree in social work and joined Appalachian Health Services, where she is a substance abuse counselor and oversees the medication-assisted treatment program in Logan, West Virginia.

Asked as an elementary schooler what she wanted to be when she grew up, Carter didn’t know her answer would include nine years of drug addiction. But she also didn’t know it would include changing countless lives. She said there’s nothing more rewarding now than showing others that recovery is possible.

“Appalachian Health Services changes lives every day,” she said. “People come in with nothing, no hope, no dreams, and we help them get those things back. If you’re suffering from addiction, if you’re believing the lies that addiction is telling you, just know this: There’s hope. As long as you’re alive, there’s still hope.”