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Don't drink from a polluted lake

By Jim BencivengaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 3, 1980

Albany, N.Y.

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

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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.

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.