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Understanding and Preventing
Adolescent Drug Use

By Elizabeth Ruth Skoglund, M.A.
and Bruce Narramore, Ph.D.

One afternoon Mike drank several bottles of beer and swallowed a couple of aspirin and Librium. Later in the day he took his girl friend Sue to a park where they both smoked marijuana. Then rather suddenly, Mike started to get high.

He saw his girl friend become a strange, grotesque creature, distorted and ugly. He began to panic. He was even afraid of Sue! “Help me!” he pleaded with her, while at the same time he warned her to “stay away.” Then in his eyes the portable CD player he

Understanding and Preventing Adolescent Drug Use

had gotten for Christmas began to dance across the lawn and his peripheral vision was gone.

By this time Sue was thoroughly confused. At first she did not believe Mike. Yet there he was, claiming to be hallucinating. “Come on, stop messing with me,” she said. And then, “I’m frightened, maybe we should get help.”

After about four days of alternating between feelings of near normalcy and near insanity, Mike called me because a friend had said I might be able to help.

Actually there was little I could do immediately. I was not even sure what was wrong. I knew that marijuana alone didn’t produce the severe reaction Mike was experiencing. I wondered if some PCP, a synthetic animal tranquilizer, had been added. Or perhaps he had also ingested LSD.

The first step was to get Mike with a responsible person for the night. Since he lived with his father who was an alcoholic and drunk much of the time, there was no help from that source. His mother might have cared, but she had remarried and was living in another state. But one thing was certain; no one even suspected of being on LSD should be left alone. Finally we arranged for Mike to spend the night at the home of one of his friends whose parents were willing to help. Then with the help of several friends he went to a clinic the next day.

The doctors at the clinic felt that the combination of marijuana, possibly laced with an hallucinogenic substance, like PCP or LSD, and the alcohol and pills Mike had taken earlier, caused his terrible psychological reactions.

Teenagers, of course, hide
their drug usage. They become
incredibly deceitful.

Sue, who had taken almost everything Mike had taken, did not experience any immediate adverse side effects. But weeks later, with different psychological stresses, she also had a bad reaction to a drug.

A World Within a World

Sue and Mike are just two young people who represent a larger segment of today’s teenagers than we would like to think. They are part of an adolescent drug culture—a world within a world. This subculture has its own unique language, boundaries and social rules. Within short periods of time, teens in this drug subculture change their choice of drugs, and even their language. Certain drugs like alcohol and marijuana always seem to remain “in.” Others, like cocaine, have moved from hard to get and very expensive, to more accessible. And always there seems to be something which for a given period of time is really in, like the drug ecstasy and the rave parties which are connected with it. Some teens combine drugs with sex, alcohol, bright lights or the occult in order to enhance their temporary drug reaction.

Drugs Are Still With Us

For all the money and programs used to eliminate or even control teenage drug use, kids still use drugs in epidemic proportions. Today’s teenager is more calculating than twenty years ago, but according to the White House drug czar in 2001, the use of drugs in America today is still “abysmally high.”

Before I became a therapist, in my teaching days, I was literally thrown “cold turkey” into working with groups of teenagers who were into drug abuse. I had some psychological training but absolutely no training or first-hand experience in street drugs. For six months or so I read books and listened to kids talk. When I wasn’t sure about something, which was a good deal of the time, I listened. I listened until I began to understand what these kids were feeling and what different drugs did for them. When they would say over and over again, each with his or her unique experience, how LSD made them feel like they could fly or made them have a sensation of merging with the furniture in a room, gradually I began to understand a little of what they were feeling. Repetition made it all familiar, and that repetition, added to some basic information, helped me get into these teenagers’ shoes and understand why they were susceptible and the kind of help they needed.

It is often difficult for teachers, parents, pastors and others who work with teenagers to keep informed about teenage drug usage. Many times through no fault of their own they are isolated. Teenagers, of course, hide their drug usage. They become incredibly deceitful. And parents, educators, and pastors do not have the professional training mandated for psychotherapists. But you can learn enough about teenage drug usage, its causes and treatment, to identify the problem and help these struggling adolescents get the help they need. Parents of younger children can also do a great deal to prevent potential drug use by their sons and daughters. A little knowledge, sensitive parenting skills, some heavy listening, and a lot of prayer can go a long way.

Continued on Page Two

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