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Default 09-30-2005, 04:12 PM

By Joe Burns/ [email protected]
Thursday, September 29, 2005

The slide was fast and easy. First came marijuana, then prescription drugs and before Alice knew it, she was a high school junior with a $300 a week cocaine habit.

"It pretty much went down from there. I got a reputation. Everybody knew I was a druggie and they'd come to me when they wanted drugs. They called me the dealer," Alice (not her real name) says. But any money she made went to coke.

"I completely gutted my bank account. I would try to steal money wherever I could. It just got a lot worse than I thought it would be," says the 18 year old.

Snorting in school, stealing from her family, she'd lost friends, weight and direction. Her slide began as a 15-year-old freshman at a Cape Cod high school, where she was introduced to marijuana by her new-found friends. From there she quickly moved on to prescription drugs.

"My friends gave me valium and asked me to snort it. Of course, having the marijuana ruined my brain. I said 'alright, I liked the feeling,'" says Alice, who turned to anti-depressants, which were readily available. In her junior year she started dating a young man who was in his 20s.

"All of his friends were doing a lot of coke. I tried it one day and I just got hooked. I [still] smoked a little weed every once in a while, but for me it was cocaine," Alice says. "I'd just stay at my boyfriend's house and do drugs."

For six months Alice's life revolved around snorting cocaine.

"I had very big bags under my eyes. I lost 30 pounds," says Alice, a slim young woman.

Alice's story is not uncommon, says Paul Bender, a counselor for Gosnold on Cape Cod, a substance abuse treatment facility.

"I'm seeing more and more [narcotic use] in the high school age," says Bender, who says the use of gateway drugs such as marijuana sometimes begins as young as 12 or 13.

"A lot of times they'll begin with over the counter drugs like Robitussin ... I think it's because they don't have access to something like marijuana," Bender says. "Then they'll go to marijuana and other things once they can get them."

Alice says drugs are readily available and widely used.

"If you ever wanted to try it you could get it anywhere [on the Cape]," she says. "A lot of kids would go on field trips and do it. Anywhere you could go where there wasn't a teacher around."

Bender says the easy access to drugs is clearly part of the problem.

"It is out there and available in every high school," Bender says. "I have students at the high school tell me that even 'the good kids' try it."

Alice says that at her school drug use was seen as a sign of popularity.

"[Some kids] thought I was one of the popular ones because I was doing coke and they were still smoking weed," Alice says. Her friends however thought that doing coke was taking things too far.

"A lot of my friends didn't want me doing coke. They thought it was just ruining my life," says Alice. Her friends eventually informed school authorities that Alice was snorting cocaine in school.

Although she resented their intervention, it got her into a program that, after six months of habitual cocaine use, enabled her to turn her life around.

Home environment plays an important role the use of drugs. Bender says adolescents are often living in an atmosphere where drug use and drug abuse are present.

"I know of people who say their parents know they use or that their parents use marijuana also. They talk about even smoking with parents of their friends." Bender says. "We did a study at one of the local high schools three years in a row and consistently we've come up with about 60 percent of the students saying that they have a member of their family who has problems with alcohol or drugs."

Another factor in drugs is the economic pressures that many families face.

"I think part is that we do have two workers in most families now. And I think that we do have a lot more single parent families, where parents are working and they're not able to keep an eye on their children," Bender says. "The more nosy you are about their business, the less likely they are to get seriously involved with drugs.

"Kids push the limit because they need to know the limits are there," Bender continues. "When they don't find limits, they push them until they do find limits. And if there aren't limits in place, the law is the limits they come up against."

Alice says her family didn't know of her drug use and that her home environment was a factor in her turning to drugs.

"I was using drugs to get rid of the stress from home," Alice says "I did not get along with my stepfather. It kind of ruined the relationship between me and my mother. I was never home. I didn't want to talk to her about any of my feelings. She didn't know who I was anymore," adding that dulling the senses is a defense that a lot of adolescents use.

"Anything that would get you high and make you not feel like yourself. That's what kids wanted."

Bender says that if we want to see a change in the direction our children are going, we have to make a change.

"I think that if we want to see things different with our kids we need to invest in them. That means an investment in time and resources."

After going into drug counseling, Alice transferred to another school and though she fell in with another drug crowd, she abstained from using drugs, made the student honor roll and graduated. She is now living away from her family but working on improving her relationship with her mother. She has a job, attends Cape Cod Community College, continues with drug counseling and has been drug free for more than a year. But it's still a struggle.

"When I get depressed, I still think about going back and doing drugs. But there's something that just keeps me from doing it," Alice says. "I try to tell myself that I don't want to end up the way I did."
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