Don't drink from a polluted lake

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

People are talking about you. They say you are drinking too much, being rowdy. In fact, your own friends admit you drink too much, and then get rowdy in ways you never would if you weren't under the influence of alcohol.m

Around the country among students, teachers, parents, and police officers, a new type of pollution is being discussed. In many people's thought the pollution is as big as the Great Lakes, as bad as the condition of Lake Erie.

The pollution is the widespread abuse of alcohol by teen-agers, at earlier and earlier ages. Some people see a teen-age "alcoholic" as being like the sorry state of Lake Erie.

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But lakes don't talk much about the pollution that flows into them, nor can they do much about it: it just happens, until they are polluted. In much the same way this is what happens to teen-agers who become habitual substance abusers. Their values aren't strong enough to say no to the self-pollution from too much drinking.

It is almost impossible for someone young to grow up and not be expected by some people to drink, and to drink a lot.

As a teen-ager, from the time you can first remember, TV's Madison Avenue hard-sell has given you the picture of a world where good times come hand in hand with a pop-top, with something to drink. (Unless, of course, you have seen alcoholism firsthand in your own family. Then you know it as your own problem, because you have had to live with it.A sobering fact -- more than 60 percent of teen-agers in alcohol-abuse programs come from a family where one or both of their parents are alcoholics.)

In American society it is as if the mature were teaching you, the maturing, that the only way to have a good time is to drink. And then after you have learned this lesson all too well, you are criticized for your behavior. Just what does abusing alcohol mean?

For starters, it means that people, family, friends, teachers, talk about your drinking too much. Your reputation as a self-reliant, independent person is questioned. You have a bad image.

People won't date you because they don't want to be with someone who is "drunk all the time"; or the only reason someone does date you is because he wants to get drunk with you.

It most likely means most of the people you hang around with drink a lot, and talk about drinking a lot.

It means that one of the principal ways you deal with boredom or free time is by drinking -- as if free time was a mental vacuum and could be filled somehow by a liquid.

Or it means a failure to abide by your own internal resolution not to get drunk this weekend. No one else notices, because people know you always do. It's the first real scare for you caused by drinking, because you know you didn't want to, but did.

Experts, and that includes teen-agers who were healed of a drinking problem, say silence is the ungolden rule.

"I never talk with my parents. They don't care about me and I don't care about them." If social workers who work with substance abusers had a dime for everytime they heard comments like this they'd be rich.

(P.S. to parents: Teens know what "substances" are meant. Aspirin in cola; Pam, what you spray onto pots to keep food from sticking but what kids spary into cellophane bags to inhale; marijuana; glue; PCP (angel dust); and of course , booze, either from the supermarket or the family bar.)

As you get older -- and older is 16, 17, 18 -- it means that long periods of silence are one of the things you least want to deal with, and so you drink. The fact that the most common inner failure kids in alcohol rehab programs talk about -- their inability to talk with their parents on any meaningful level -- points out how hard silence is for a problem drinker.

Breaking the silence is one of the most important first steps that can be taken by an alcohol abuser. If you have had any contact whatever with other teen-agers who have been substance abusers and aren't anymore, you will find they will talk your ear off on the need for talking about the problem.

They all say you have to talk with your parents. One 16-year-old girl who cured her drinking problem says about parents:

"Demand care from yourself for them -- and from them for you." When do teens know they're polluted?

It starts slowly.

If you are 14, the "real" talk is about how to get the beer and then where to go to drink it. At this age, almost always you drink in groups, just getting high and not thinking about it. Everyone does it and alcoholism is a problem for older people, not you.

Anyplace where adults aren't is a good place to drink. Woods, empty fields, abandoned buildings, old shacks, clubhouses, home when your parents are out.

If you are 17, the talk is about how much you can consume and still be standing. And when quantity isn't one of the standards to judge your drinking by, it's the fact that you've graduated to hard stuff and the amount no longer compares with all that beer chugging of the teeny-boppers; or that you can drive regardless of what you have had to drink.

But if you are at all honest with yourself, it is at this stage of your drinking that you are starting to realize that the way you cope with stress, with yourself, is to drink. You are running from the fact that you no longer just get high on booze, you get by on booze.

You need it to get through the day.

And if you are 19 to 21 and have been drinking steadily for a few years, you know you are a problem drinker if the only real reason that you get out of bed is to get up and have a drink. And then the only reason to get back into bed is because you passed out at the end of a day's drinking.

Or more likely, there are no longer occasions, private or social, where you do not look forward to consuming beverages, in increasing quantities.

Once the dependency starts, you need someone to help you out of it. Talking about it, especially to people who know about dependency problems, starts the necessary change. You need to trust someone else to help you, because at this point in your life you can't trust yourself to deal with your drinking problem. Lake Erie can be cleaned up -- by you!

Let me share with you some words by peers of yours who have become dependent on alcohol to get through their day. They admit to the pollution that alcohol has caused in their lives. Only unlike lakes, they are able to talk about it, and unlike Lake Erie, they are cleaning up their pollution themselves. What they have to say is how they first honestly recognized that "I," not someone else, had the drinking problem.

Dependency starts:

"When you no longer use booze, or any drug, to get high on, but to make it through the weekend, and then the day, and then your life."

"When I knew I couldn't get up in the morning without drinking before I went to school, instead of just meeting the guys there and drinking."

"I drank because I had a problem with drinking too much and I was terrified of facing the problem, so I ran away from it by doing it."

"My old man drinks. Who cares if I drink too much anyway. [pause] But I knew I did, because you have to care about yourself."m

Each one of these four teen-agers stopped drinking. Cold turkey!

They have witnessed the dredging of the lak and cherish its purity now. For them, lakes are for swimming in. Most of all, they are willing to talk about how pure the water really is.

Editor's note: The Monitor asked staff writer jim Bencivenga to talk with junior and senior high students, to visit teen-age alcohol rehabilitation centers, to ride on Friday night in a police patrol car whose assignment was to pick up under-age drinkers, to visit with in-school and out-of-school youth counselors, and then to write his report to youngsters already caught up in drinking and drug abuse.

If you know such a youngster, won't you see that he gets to read this article , and won't you talk with him and help him gain back his self-respect? Cynthia Parsons

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