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A First-Person Perspective : They Fell Off the 'Social Drinking' Cliff

March 26, 1988|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

Sean is 12. He is an alcoholic, struggling through his 11th day without a drink.

Darcy is 17, a senior at an all-girl Roman Catholic high school. She is an alcoholic too, sober now for six months.

"You know, you'd never expect nothing (like alcoholism) from me," Sean said. "I'm well dressed. I've always had anything I wanted. The one more thing that I wanted . . . was alcohol."

Darcy says she didn't get lectures against drug abuse at school because the teachers and administration "get the idea we're a Catholic school and pretty well off and angels."

Sean and Darcy are among a dozen youths, ages 12 to 19, interviewed who are in or have completed in-patient alcohol treatment programs at two county hospitals.

Nearly all 12 reported having an alcoholic parent, grandparent or other relative. Two were in the same treatment programs for alcohol abuse that their mothers had completed.

All have picked up the buzzwords of substance abuse programs: "in denial," "dysfunctional family," "bottomed out" and others. They gave various reasons for starting to drink regularly and frequently: peer pressure, loneliness, curiosity, trouble at home.

For whatever reason--genetics, personality disorders, outside forces--all slipped past the "social drinking" of adolescents and into alcoholism. All were heavy drinkers in high school, junior high--or even earlier.

When patients are discharged, counselors order them to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Some report regularly attending three meetings a day after leaving the hospital, seeking support in the quest to stay sober.

Michael Dean, assistant director of the Positive Action Center at the Health Care Medical Center at Tustin, warns that it is often more difficult for a teen-ager to get and stay sober than for an adult.

"They have a lot more limited choices," Dean said. "Adults can change where they live, their job, their social circle, they can change virtually anything they want to change. . . . A kid very often is returning to the same family in the same house in the same neighborhood in the same school."

Each of the 12 young people interviewed had an individual story to tell, of course. Here are two of them:

Sean: "Hard liquor I drank when I was 10 1/2. I started drinking when I was 6, beer, coolers, wine, cheap wine mostly. . . . The beer was there, so I could always have whatever I wanted. And beer was what I chose. . . . Two beers maybe would get me drunk. . . . It justkeeps me going, calms me down, hypes me up.

"(At age 10 1/2, I drank) hard, hard liquor. Thunderbird, 151, Night Train, Strawberry Field, things like that, vodka and orange juice, anything I could get my hands on. . . . (Before school) I'd have probably a bottle of Thunderbird or some wine or something, and it'd get me way up there. And I'd have probably a bottle of 151 (151-proof rum) after school. Or plain Bacardi or something like that. . . .

"(At school) I got in a lot of fights with my teachers, things like that, cuss 'em out, throwing oranges at them, throwing oranges at cars. I got suspended three or four times. . . . I was known as the drunk of the school . . . big and bad. You think (that way) until you really look at it. It's pretty dumb. . . .

"We were having a psychiatrist's meeting, and I told my mom that I was an alcoholic. Me and my mom both were in the psychiatrist's meeting because a lot of bad things had been going on for the last two years, like parties on weekdays in the afternoon, ditching school, letting people have sex in my mom's bedroom, letting people go through my mom's room, just everything, letting people in the house when I'm not there, letting them have parties in the house when I'm not there. . . .

"(My mother) knew I had a problem, and she wanted to get it over with. And she said that she didn't want me just to go to meetings. She put me in here. And it helps. A lot. In a lot of ways. They don't tie you down or nothing. Three meals a day. . . . You tell what you're feeling. It feels good to let out all your feelings. And you know these are people you can trust. . . . I barely trusted myself, let alone trust anyone else. . . .

"I never wanted to come here. I wanted to, in my own way, but, you know, I didn't want the fact I had to be in PJs two days, detox. When I got out I was really moody, and then after about my fourth day you just let it go. You start crying, you do whatever. And it feels real good."

Darcy: "My sophomore year in high school, I started drinking a lot, excessively . . . probably because of all the pressure I was under. And I liked the feeling of getting drunk, not worrying about anything for a while. School pressure, mainly, grades, boyfriend pressure; I didn't want to do things, and I thought if I drank it would be easier. And then after I started, then it wasn't so much for pressure anymore, it was because I needed a drink. And I was pressuring other people to do what I did. . . .

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