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Teen Talk: Finding ways to not get hooked

My relative passed away a few years ago from lung cancer. She had been a heavy smoker for years and was diagnosed shortlybefore her death. Yet, even though losing her was foreseeable, that didn’t make it any less devastating for my family.

My relative and her spouse met right out of high school, marrying in their early 20s. Both were avid smokers and drinkers, living for the rush of dopamine and serotonin that came with drugs and alcohol. Not long after they met, they both suffered severe injuries - one was hit by a tractor-trailer while driving her car, the other endured chronic back pain from his years of hard manual work - and were prescribed medicine for their pain. Given their predisposition for addiction, it wasn’t long until they both became dependent on prescription drugs.

Their addictions had unwelcome repercussions on their personal and professional lives. My relative, for example, managed to climb her way up the corporate ladder and land a managerial position at an established company but lost her job because of her addiction. She was the breadwinner. She carried the health insurance. Eventually, their family fell into a state of financial instability as their addiction increased. I hear becoming an addict after being prescribed an addictive drug is all too common a story. That doesn’t make the pain and the toll it takes on family any easier.

Just seven months after my relative was first diagnosed with lung cancer, she died, leaving behind her husband, their two children, and an entire community of people who missed her.

My relative’s death and the reckless abandon I witness some adults display when drinking are part of the reason I have resolved to permanently abstain from drugs and alcohol. I have witnessed firsthand how quickly substance abuse can regress a person from health to sickness, from independence to dependence, from living life to the fullest to not even living at all.

Half of all teens have misused a drug at least once. Engaging in recreational drug use is viewed as a rite of passage for many teens, and factors such as peer pressure, stress, easy accessibility, and underdeveloped decision-making skills contribute to the growing rate of teen substance abuse.

The rapidly evolving teenage brain, which doesn’t fully develop until age 25, causes teens to develop drug addictions more quickly than adults. It takes 10 years for a 30-year-old adult to become chronically addicted to alcohol while a teenager can reach that same level of dependence in just 15 months.

Given this short span of time, it is crucial for us teens to be aware of the warning signs of addiction so we can prevent serious harm from befalling our friends or ourselves.

Preaching abstinence from drugs until reaching the legal age of use is just like instructing chastity until marriage; ideal but unrealistic for most teens. In both situations, we teens need to learn about safe ways to indulge in addition to being told about avoidance. Rather than hearing clear exaggerations from adults that fail to make any real impact (If you try alcohol, your life will begin a downward spiral and you’ll be homeless on the streets! If you have sex, you will contract AIDS and die!), they should teach us how to mitigate the worst possible outcome (for example, helping teens identify indicators of addiction or teaching us about different forms of protection to avoid pregnancy).

Though drug addiction is a common problem among us teens, it doesn’t have to be this way. The earlier substance abuse and dependence are treated, the more successful treatment is likely to be. Knowing the warning signs of drug abuse and addiction and having the courage to discuss the habit with others can help prevent you or other teens from losing your independence to drugs.

Maria Proulx of Ledyard is a junior at St. Bernard School.

 

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