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The Drug Scene

Finding the Courage to Help a Friend

December 01, 1985|SUE RUSCHE

Question: I am 14 years old and in the ninth grade. Recently I saw a friend trading marijuana with some people. I know the only reason he would use drugs is because he is trying to be in the popular crowd and they think drugs are cool.

I have known him since kindergarten. Even though we are not as close as we used to be, we are still friends and I am worried about him.

Should I just leave the situation alone? Or should I try to talk to him? If so, what should I say?

Also, can smoking marijuana lead to other drugs?

Answer: Your friend is lucky to have someone who cares about him as much as you do.

I would certainly encourage you to talk to him. Tell him just what you've told me--you know he's using drugs, you're worried about what they will do to him and you care enough about him to tell him so.

Since he thinks drugs are cool he may think you feel that way too. By telling him you don't, you'll be giving him some ammunition to reverse the peer pressure he's fallen for.

If that doesn't work, you may want to do something that takes a lot of courage: Talk to his parents. Ask your parents to help you do this. Your motive is not to tattletale on your friend but to let his parents know that he is in trouble and needs their help. I can almost guarantee they don't know about his drug use--most parents don't find out until a crisis occurs. Then they almost always ask, "Why didn't anybody tell me?"

From what we know now, there is nothing in marijuana that compels people to use other drugs. What does happen, though, is that users can become preoccupied with getting high and then try anything that will get them there.

Good luck with your friend. Let me know how it works out.

Q: I am doing research for a college course. I need some information on teen-age alcoholism, its cause, effects and cost to society. Do you have any information about this topic that I can obtain?

A: Recent research indicates that children of alcoholics are several times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. A number of parents condone adolescent drinking. Children today are exposed to a greater amount of alcohol advertising and marketing than ever before. Teen-agers have easy access to alcohol thanks to stores, bars and restaurants that are willing to sell it to them in violation of the law. Add these up and you begin to see the cause of teen-age alcoholism.

Its effects and cost to society include lost potential, health problems, cost of treatment, law enforcement and court costs associated with drunk driving, costs borne by victims injured in accidents, and sometimes death.

For more information call your local branch of the National Council on Alcohol (listed in your phone book) or write the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, Md. 20852 or your state agency on drug and alcohol abuse.

Q: I am the mother of three teen-agers (13-year-old twins and a 15-year-old who will soon start driving). We live in a suburban community where a lot of adolescents are using drugs and a lot of adults are pretending the kids aren't using.

Our children are in trouble, and a few of us are trying to do something about it. We keep being told that we're exaggerating, that only a few kids use drugs and that those do it because their parents set a bad example by drinking or using drugs themselves.

Do you think a child's drug use is the parent's fault?

A: With a few exceptions, I do not. I can't deny that some parents do have drinking and drug problems and that this is going to influence their children. But blaming parents for their youngsters' drug and alcohol use is a convenient way to ignore the problem instead of recognizing and dealing with it.

A survey of 12- to 17-year-old children who call the (800) COC-AINE Helpline shows that 29% of the callers surveyed report that their parents use drugs or drink heavily. This means that 71% of the callers' parents are not so involved, which raises the question, "So why are these kids using drugs?" I think it's a question we have to ask, and then answer.

The youngsters in your community are probably not very different from the youngsters in the survey. And the survey shows they are in desperate trouble.

Nine out of 10 (89%) use three or more drugs at the same time. Polydrug abuse has doubled in just one year among adolescents who call the toll-free number for help.

"Easy availability of drugs in school is escalating the problem," says Dr. Mark S. Gold, founder of the help line and director of research at Fair Oaks Hospital in Summit, N.J. The help line has answered calls from over a million people since it was founded in May, 1983. The survey involved 100 adolescent callers who agreed to answer questions about their drug use.

Fifty-seven percent say they buy their drugs in school. However, most (82%) say their parents and teachers are unaware that they use drugs.

Nearly all (92%) say they have health problems as a result of combining drugs.

"Based on our survey, polydrug abuse adds to teen-age depression and appears to be linked to suicide, something that has not been fully appreciated in the past," Gold says. Forty-six percent say they have had suicidal thoughts, and 18% have attempted suicide.

Over one-third (36%) say they have suffered brain seizures with loss of consciousness. Sixty-four percent admit to stealing, 32% to dealing drugs, 43% to having discipline problems, 69% to having lower grades and 75% to absenteeism.

The drugs these teen-agers use are cocaine, 89%; marijuana, 89%; alcohol, 82%; amphetamine, 43%; heroin, 25%; ecstasy (MDMA), 11%, and phencyclidine (PCP), 11%.

Seventy-nine percent of the teen-age callers surveyed were white and 21% were black or Hispanic. Only 11% came from poor families (family income of less than $10,000). Forty-seven percent came from families with incomes of between $10,000 and $25,000, while 42% came from families with incomes of more than $25,000.

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