Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Alcohol A Teen's Problem


Recovering alcoholic at 19 recalls the fall.

By the time she went outside to smoke that early November morning in 2001, Katie had already downed about five or six shots of mixed liquor.

"I fell on my face, and that’s the last thing I remember. They said after that, I kept drinking and that I drank a half a bottle of vodka. My friend and I drank the bottle of vodka between us."

The 15-year-old Columbia junior high student was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 105 pounds. Her blood alcohol limit soared to 0.2 percent - two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

She’d been drinking every weekend for more than a year. Had it not been for a trip to the emergency room, the night would have been just like any other Friday night for Katie and her friends.

Binge drinking among teens is a tricky problem, said Becky Markt, coordinator of the Youth Community Coalition in Columbia. Many see getting drunk as a rite of passage.

But binge drinking isn’t confined to college campuses, she said. Every year, the age of the drinker goes down and the amount of alcohol consumed goes up. "It’s never safe for kids to use alcohol, but they’re drinking enough to be harmful to their bodies, possibly leading to alcohol poisoning."

A drug and alcohol survey of students last year in Columbia Public Schools indicated 20 percent had tried binge drinking at least once - consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting.

Markt urges parents to attend a town hall meeting on binge drinking Wednesday night at Gentry Middle School. The program features Chris and Toren Volkmann, a mother and son from Olympia, Wash., who authored a book about their battle with teen alcoholism.

You don’t have to look beyond Columbia’s boundaries to find similar stories. Katie, a recovering alcoholic at age 19, and her mother shared their story on the condition of anonymity in hopes of helping other teens recognize and conquer self-destructive behavior. Their names have been changed for this report.

Katie’s substance abuse problem started at 13, when a friend pressured her to smoke marijuana. Aching from her parents’ divorce, the promise of a good time outweighed the fear of drugs that Katie’s elementary school D.A.R.E. class had instilled in her.

"At first I didn’t really feel anything. Then I tried again," she recalled. "And one time, it hit me. There was no real reality. It was a completely different world where I didn’t have to worry about anything."

Then an eighth-grader at Oakland Junior High School, Katie continued to get high on weekends and added alcohol to the mix shortly thereafter.

Katie’s mom, Susan, was well-versed in alcoholism. Her ex-husband’s drinking problem prompted her to join Al-Anon support classes when Katie was just 4. But she didn’t know that her only child was following her father’s footsteps until Katie’s binge caught up with her.

Susan gets emotional when she thinks of that Saturday in November, when she got a call at 2 a.m. to drive Katie to the emergency room. She remembers her daughter’s promise to seek help.

By Sunday, Katie was in an Alcoholics Anonymous session. By the following weekend, she was drunk again. And by the time she started attending Hickman High School, Katie was smoking pot daily, using her allowance and lunch money to buy it.

"It became an obsession. If I wasn’t doing it, all I could think about was when I could do it next, how would I get the money, how would I get away with it," she said. "I would get suicidal if I thought I couldn’t do it anymore."

To help cover her tracks, Katie would shoplift at the mall, picking up lip balm and T-shirts to show her mom what her allowance was being spent on. She got caught just before summer of her sophomore year.

The trip to the Columbia Police Department was a breaking point for Susan. "You want to believe your child when they tell you, ‘I quit.’ But then you find out they’re lying. That’s tough."

She immediately enrolled Katie in Crossroads, an outpatient drug treatment program in St. Louis. Seven weeks after starting the program, Katie was ready to stay clean.

Mostly, Katie said, the program worked because the counselors were recovering addicts who could relate to her struggles. They knew she relied on drugs whenever faced with a problem, and they provided alternative ways to cope. She also found a support network and continues to meet weekly with other recovering teens.

When she returned from the Crossroads program, Katie transferred to Rock Bridge High School to avoid the old crowd. Although Rock Bridge had its share of addicts, she opted to seek out friends who didn’t use drugs or alcohol. Katie focused on schoolwork and became an honor roll student.

As she pursues a degree in computer science at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Katie knows her limits. Drinking isn’t unusual on the MU campus, but Katie knows she can’t enjoy a social drink without potentially plummeting back into addiction.

On the other hand, when she thinks of the path she might have traveled, "I’m grateful. I got to start over."

source: Columbia Daily Tribune
author: JANESE HEAVIN

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