Teenagers like you are killing themselves in record numbers. And they're using alcohol and other drugs to do it. Traffic accidents, other accidental deaths, suicides, and homicides--many of which are alcohol and drug-related--kill 75 percent of the young people who die in the U.S. Drugs are all around us. America has the worst drug problem in the industrialized world. In fact, we spend more on illegal drugs than on food.
A chief concern is for your health and well-being. Drugs are a genuine threat on your life and you need to know the facts better to protect yourself.
What drugs do young people use and why are they dangerous?
Most young people who use drugs begin by trying alcohol or tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana usually comes next. Then cocaine use may start. Recently, an inexpensive form of cocaine called crack has become readily available to teens. Because crack is new and inexpensive, adolescents are beginning to use this powerful drug. They don't understand how easy it is to become dependent on it or how hard it is to give it up.
In the U.S., many youngsters begin using drugs as early as 6th or 7th grades. By the time they are 17, nearly half the boys who tried alcohol are problem drinkers. Four percent of all high school seniors don't get through the day without marijuana. These teenagers are not only drug dependent, they are also risking their health and placing themselves in grave danger of accidental death or injury. If you have any doubts about the effects of drug abuse, consider these facts:
What else can drugs do?
Regular use of drugs affects your appearance, your behaviour, your school work, and your performance in sports and other activities.
Cigarettes, for example, can stain your teeth and cause bad breath. Marijuana and alcohol make it hard to remember information and to learn new material. Both drugs also affect co-ordination. When under the influence of drugs, you don't drive as well, paint as well, or do your best at any other task requiring skill, attention, or good reflexes.
Cocaine and amphetamines (dexies, uppers) are stimulants. At first, they make you feel more energetic, later they can make you jittery, nervous, hyped-up, and unpleasant to be around. Frequent users of stimulants often become paranoid and violent.
When a person becomes dependent or "hooked" on marijuana, alcohol, or cocaine, he or she tends to lose interest in how they look and behave. Personal cleanliness suffers and so do personal relationships. Drug users become apathetic. They tire easily, are often irritable, and just don't care enough to make an effort with friends or family. School work usually suffers, absences from school and other activities increase, isolation from family is common.
Because drug users are so involved with obtaining and using drugs, they tend to prefer the company of other "druggies" over old friends. Drugs affect judgment and, once a young person becomes involved in one illegal activity, drug use, they often become involved in other risky activities. Stealing, forging notes, lying, fighting, and driving while intoxicated are not uncommon.
Aids is another enormous risk related to the use of injectable drugs (heroin and cocaine, for example). There is no known cure for aids and it results in a painful and certain death. Addicts spread the disease to one another by sharing the dirty needles they use to inject heroin or cocaine into their veins.
How does drug abuse start?
Drug abuse starts with friends offering drugs to friends. Even though most young people refuse drugs the first several times they are offered, they may ultimately give in because of curiosity, their friend's persistence, and the expectation of a terrific experience. Despite the fact that the first experience with tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana may be very unpleasant, some may use it again because friends urge them to or because they feel it is the "in thing" to do. Virtually no one begins using any drug, including cigarettes, with the idea of becoming dependent on them or of being intoxicated or "being caught" at the wrong time and place. But, unfortunately, that is exactly what happens. The user loses control and finds he or she must continue smoking or drinking in order to feel good or to cope with life. The drug takes control of a person's life. Usually, unless help is obtained, dependency leads to very serious problems, such as school failure, expulsion, involvement with the police, loss of family and friends.
What should I do if I think a friend has a drug problem?
The most important step you can take for a good friend is to tell a responsible person about your concern. Remember, most drug users will deny that they have a problem. You can talk to them at length but still make little or no impression. Even if you do talk enough to them, they may need ongoing help in overcoming their problem. This help is best provided by an adult.
You may correctly feel that, if you help "your drug-using friend," you will lose their friendship. But remember, it is better to lose a friend than to lose a life.
What can I do if someone offers drugs to me?
Refuse. Then tell your parents or some other responsible adult what happened.
Often, if you tell someone you don't "do drugs," they will respect your decision at the moment, but will offer them to you again at a later date. It's best to be prepared with your reasons in advance and to know your own stand so you won't be tempted. If friends who care about you are aware of what's going on, they can not only support your efforts to remain drug-free, but also prevent the problem from spreading to your friends.
The foregoing presentation is taken from the booklet titled "teens and drugs" by the American council for drug education, Maryland (1987).