AIan had his first drink at the age of 13 during
one of his parents' Saturday prefootball parties. His parents
were horrified when he acted slightly intoxicated. Other guests
thought it was "cute."
He took the next step toward becoming a problem
drinker when he moved, at 15, to a large metropolitan area
1,000 miles from his lifelong smalltown home. Anxious about
finding new friends and scared he wouldn't be accepted, Alan
followed along when a new acquaintance invited him to an after-school
beer party. Soon these beer parties became routine in his
By 17, Alan was losing interest in his schoolwork
and the extracurricular activities he used to enjoy. His once-outstanding
grades were slipping. Alarmed about her son's behavior, Alan's
mother consulted the high school guidance counselor. Their
joint efforts met resistance from Alan, who insisted, "Nothing's
wrong. Leave me alone."
As the year proceeded, Alan's behavior became
increasingly unpredictable. Following his friend's example,
Alan began to skip school, using the excuse that he was "too
tired" to get up in the morning. It was a long time before
Alan's mother realized the real reason-he was "too hung
over" to get up in the morning. He talked about dropping
out of school altogether because it was "too boring."
Sometimes Alan's parents smelled alcohol on
their son's breath or found empty bottles in the wastebasket.
But Alan always downplayed their concern. "Don't worry
about me. I'm O.K., Mom," he said again and again.
The situation reached a crisis when Alan's parents
received a phone call from the police station early one morning
saying that Alan had been arrested for driving while drunk.
The officer added that he had resisted arrest, which would
count against him in the courtroom. During the weeks and months
following that phone call, Alan and his parents went through
a lot of soul-searching. Finally, with the help of family
counselors and prodded by the juvenile court system, his parents
were able to make an honest appraisal of what really was going
on with their son and how they could cooperate to help him.
Is Alcohol Really That Much of a Problem?
Slowly and painfully over the next year and
a half, Alan made some important changes. A family counselor
helped him work on such crucial issues as self-worth and personal
identity. As he began to understand himself better, Alan was
able to put his dependence on alcohol and on his drinking
buddies in perspective.
To gain perspective on the situation yourself,
the following statistics may prove helpful:
According to a study released in June
1991 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
eight million U.S. junior and senior high school students
are weekly users of alcohol.
According to the New York State Catholic
Conference 1989 policy statement on chemical dependency, more
than 30 percent of child and adolescent suicides can be directly
linked to depression caused by drug and alcohol abuse.
According to a 1981 Department of Health,
Education and Welfare report, three million youths have problems
at home, in school or on the highways because of alcohol.
To bring those statistics home, look around
you. How do you and your friends handle the question of alcohol
and other drugs? When you go to parties and to school events,
what's the drink of choice? Is it soft drinks or juices or
punch? Or is beer an expected part of partying?
How often at school-sponsored sports events
do you see people drinking, sipping from thermos jugs that
could contain coffee or hot cocoa but really hold wine coolers
or rum and Coke? Their behavior blows their cover.
One teen, commenting on the amount of drinking
among her high school friends, says that drinking is routine
at parties. "Some kids get totally drunk every week,"
I interviewed several alcohol abuse counselors
for Youth Update. All agree that alcohol abuse is reaching
epidemic proportions, affecting every family, every parish
and every neighborhood in the United States.
Yes, the Problem Is Greater Than You Think
Addiction counselors report that getting teens
to recognize a problem with alcohol or other drugs often is
the hardest part. Especially in the case of alcohol abuse,
people tend to conspire in denying that there is a problem.
A pattern of denial about alcohol abuse in the home may already
exist. How often have you heard an adult-your mother, a favorite
aunt or uncle perhaps-say, "Thank God my kid just drinks!
At least I don't have to worry about drugs."
Even when people are willing to admit there
is a problem, they want to think it is someone else's problem.
The typical attitude is: My neighbor is fine. This doesn't
happen in my neighborhood. For you, too, the problem is complicated
by your desire to fit in and follow along with what your friends
and others your age consider acceptable.
Perhaps you have been a witness to the following
scenario or one like it: It's Friday night at the school homecoming
dance. You are there with your friends, dancing and eating
pizza. Though there are strict rules forbidding drinking on
school premises and no alcohol is brought into the gym, you
see some people you know disappear at intervals during the
evening. It's common knowledge they are going out to their
cars for alcohol.
You see your friend Jessica get more and more
flushed and high-spirited as the evening passes. Soon the
word goes around that she is getting out of control. But she
also is the center of attention, dancing with one football
player after another and seemingly having a wonderful time.
Monday morning, you hear another friend say
to Jessica, grinning broadly, "Boy, Jessica, you really
got plastered last night!"
Too often, getting drunk is greeted with admiration,
not disapproval. This admiration makes it mighty difficult
for you to admit that you or a friend might have a problem
with alcohol. Few of you seek help on your own initiative,
counselors say. Often some sort of intervention or crisis
is needed before the addict will confront his or her abuse.
Usually you agree to seek help only when a family
member, friend or employer puts on pressure. Then, with your
back against the wall, you might agree to got help just to
stop that person from pressuring you.
That's what happened, finally, to Maria. Drinking
was becoming for her the only way to party. Her personal worst
came the night her high school won the basketball regional
title against all odds. Hysterical with joy at their team's
victory, Maria and her friends went to her home to celebrate.
They drank shots of vodka followed by beer chasers.
When Maria's parents returned home, the party
was all over. Most of her friends had left the house. Only
Maria and her friend Peter were home: Maria standing outside
the bathroom door pounding on it, yelling at Peter to unlock
the door; Peter, ill inside the bathroom, refusing. Confronted
by her parents, Maria began to cry and begged her parents
to do something to help Peter.
The next day, Maria's parents came down hard
on her. Maria says they grounded her and took away car privileges
for a month. They also insisted that she go with them to talk
with a counselor who specialized in addictions. This proved
to be the start to her recovery.
Where to Find Help
The campaign against alcohol abuse has been
stepped up. Most communities in the United States provide
several places to turn for help.
A quick resource for finding help is
the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory. Alcohol abuse
hotline phone numbers often are staffed 24 hours a day. You
can call the hotline number and find a competent volunteer
who is trained to respond knowledgeably and sympathetically
to your questions. If you are worried that you might have
a problem with alcohol or are worried about a close friend,
you can get information from hotline volunteers on how to
recognize the signs of alcohol abuse. You also can get the
volunteer to give you phone num. bers of treatment centers
and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.).
Remember: The volunteers are nonjudgmental
and compassionate. They only want to help you. You can remain
anonymous throughout the conversation, and you can call as
often you like.
Often high school counselors are specially
trained in helping you to cope with alcohol or drug abuse.
Pick out someone in your school or parish whom you feel comfortable
in approaching. This person could be your favorite teacher
or coach or your parish youth minister. Stop in to see this
person, saying something like "I wonder if I could talk
to you for a few minutes."
One way to introduce the topic is to say something
generic like, "I feel badly aboutor or "I'm really
concerned about-." The adult will take the ball from
there and help you begin to talk about what's bothering you.
As a next step, this person may suggest that you talk with
a counselor or that you attend an A.A. meeting. Such a person,
while protecting your confidentiality, can steer you toward
Parishes and dioceses frequently are
equipped to help fight alcohol abuse. People in parishes are
being trained to help, learning how and where to refer people
in need. Catholic Charities is one source of assistance available
throughout the country. At the least, a parish staff member
can listen and offer suggestions on what you might do next.
Often an important part of diocesan programs
is prevention or keeping alcohol from becoming a problem in
the first place. The Archdiocese of New York, for instance,
has a program called "Youth Dare to Care" that works
to educate youth on substance abuse and peer pressure and
coping skills. Teens like you go through the archdiocesan
education program and then are sent out to work with slightly
younger youths in junior high school or grade school.
Andrea, now in her 20's, recalls the time some
years ago when her closest friends began to get on her case
about her drinking. Like a lot of teenagers, she had started
drinking by sipping grasshoppers and other drinks that seemed
more like dessert. Then she switched to beer and gin.
Andrea says her three closest friends each came
to her separately, very concerned about how much and how often
she was drinking. They told her they thought she was getting
out of control. They pushed her to quit drinking. Though Andrea
resisted their urgings for several months, they kept after
her. She finally decided that there might be something to
what they were saying, and she was able to quit.
If you are faced with an alcohol problem, what
can you do? The first step is to raise the topic with a friend
or an adult you trust. This will not be easy, but the stakes
are high. What happens in many instances, however, is that
the decision is taken out of your hands. For instance, if
your grades have been slipping or your behavior is getting
out of hand, your parents may recognize something is wrong
and ask you to see a counselor with them.
Other times, a school adviser, perhaps sensing
that something is wrong, might question you about how things
are going. If this happens, respond as openly and honestly
as you can. It can help a lot to unburden yourself.
The adult in whom you confide might suggest
a trained counselor. That professional will listen to what
you have to say and then make an evaluation of what sort of
help is most appropriate in your particular circumstances.
Often the counselor will suggest one-onone counseling.
Other times, the advice might be to join an A.A. group. At
other times, inpatient treatment in a hospital or clinic may
seem best. Under the best circumstances, your parents will
be involved, especially if inpatient treatment is needed.
Parents can be a good line of defense in helping you fight
Self-help groups sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous
include A.A. groups for the person in recovery, Alateen for
brothers and sisters of alcoholics or children of alcoholics
and Al-Anon for spouses and parents of alcoholics. Self-help
groups such as A.A. can provide you with invaluable assistance
as you start the long journey toward recovery, one day at
a time. Groups provide a place where you can share your pain
and anxieties with others who understand what you are going
Often A.A. and other self-help groups have their
regular meetings in Church-donated space. Catholic dioceses
around the United States often make rooms available for these
All A.A. groups operate under the same rules:
All meetings are free of charge. Nominal
fees are charged for literature.
You are free to join and stay for as
long, or as short, a time as you wish.
No last names are used. Confidentiality
is required. You are told that what you say at the meetings
will be respected and is not to be repeated outside the meeting.
You are listened to respectfully.
You are encouraged to speak at each meeting,
but you may sit in silence if you so choose.
Meetings are friendly. Often everyone
sits in a circle to encourage talking. One reason groups can
prove so helpful to you is because they operate on the self-help
principle: You heal yourselfwhile you help others to heal,
they are helping you. Joining A.A. or a similar group for
addictions can give you much welcome support r you struggle
to make changes in your life.
Belief in God Can Help
Addiction counselors point out that spirituality
and religious belief can play an invaluable role in helping
you to overcome problems with alcohol. A.A. groups from the
very beginning recognized the need to base recovery on spiritual
principles. These groups start from a spiritual basis which
recognizes that people need help in learning to live without
A.A. promotes spiritual growth through the Twelve
Step program. Steps Two and Three focus on spirituality directly.
Step Two says that abusers have come to recognize that "a
Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
Step Three says that we have made a decision
"to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God
as we understood him." A nondenominational group, A.A.
is careful not to promote or endorse any particular religion
Belonging to the Catholic Church can be a bonus
in struggling against addiction. The Church's spiritual tradition
has much to say about respect for individual life. This includes
having a healthy respect for your body and an understanding
that you have no right to abuse your body. The Church also
has a strong tradition of supporting people through difficult
moments and times in their lives.
This Youth Update has dealt with facts about
drinking and recovering from alcohol abuse. In our society,
teenagers aren't the only ones who must address this issue.
But you cannot ignore the dangers to you, your health, your
character. This is "news you can use"-to help yourself
and your friends live well into the 21stcentury.
Youth Update advisers who previewed
this issue, suggested changes and asked questions of the author
are Dana Cooper, Kim Landrum, Jeremy Landrum, Lori Schrinner,
Rob Schrinner and Kim Smith. All are members of St. Louis
Parish in Owensville, Ohio, where Ginny and Gary Landrum are
volunteer- youth ministers.