By Jenn Proffitt
One of the first memories I have of my brother was when he came home from college at 19 with his mouth wired shut because of a car accident he had gotten into while driving under the influence of alcohol. I was three.
After his second DUI a few months later, his license was suspended and he had to go through extensive counseling.
Whenever he looks for a new job my brother lives under constant stress that his former record will come up.
He’s been lucky and is now a successful VP at a company and has lived many years sober.
Students from Webster Groves High School are offered a chance my brother wasn’t afforded — the chance to get help for substance abuse without a court order.
At WGHS, administrators offer a program for high school students caught drinking or using drugs on campus to get help from several counseling services, including UNITE, offered here at the university, in exchange for a lesser punishment.
I’m not trying to give a soapbox lecture about the horrors of drinking and drugs. I have seen the effects of it all. Bad habits are so much more likely to stick the younger you start them.
Look at smoking. Consider the fact that, according to the American Lung Association, teens that begin smoking before the age of 18 are twice as likely to continue it as a lifelong habit. Those same teens are now much more likely to try alcohol and harder substances at a younger age and stick with those habits.
Not every teen who smokes is going to become a crack addict and not every teenage crack addict gets caught on a school’s campus. But for those “lucky few” there are options.
I don’t like sounding like a Public Service Announcement, but those announcements are around for a reason.
When you look at the statistics, it’s scary to think opportunities such as the one afforded to Webster Groves students are not more widely used and accepted.
Here are just a few facts about drinking and future dependence: 40 percent of teenagers who start drinking at age 13 or younger develop alcohol dependence later on in life, that’s to rival the only 10 percent of teens to develop dependence if they begin drinking after the age of 17.
About two percent of 10th graders have used cocaine in the past year, 3 percent have used opiates, 13 percent have used inhalants, nearly 5 percent have used a club drug (for example, “Ecstasy”), and about 2 percent have used anabolic steroids.
Those percentages seem small but when you consider the entire U.S. population of 10th graders, the numbers can be pretty staggering.
Webster University and Webster Groves High School have the chance to change those statistics. Administrators, staff members, parents and friends have the responsibility to their loved ones to help them if they have a substance problem.
If a kid takes a puff of a joint every so often, in the long run that’s no big deal. Everyone experiments. There’s a fine line between what is experimental and what is addictive and in a lot of ways it’s up to society to determine that. Am I saying everyone should conform to the norms? No. But look to alcoholism as an example, indulging in a drink every once in a while is acceptable but once it begins to controls the addicts life is the time to step away and get some help.
But when drugs become the only way to function, then it’s no longer recreational but habitual and potentially dangerous to that person.
Drugs give a momentary high, but it’s never enough.
The price tag for the UNITE program here is about $100, but when you consider the amount of money saved—on drugs, on alcohol, on your life—then $100 seems like a drop in the bucket.