SOBERING SITUATION: Drugs and alcohol far too easy for young people to find

By Curtis Wildfong • Last Updated 11:47 am on Friday, December 27, 2013

Marijuana confiscated by the Greenville Public Safety Department is shown. Along with alcohol and prescription drugs, marijuana is one of the more heavily used substances among teenagers. — Photo courtesy of Greenville Department of Public Safety

Fifteen-year-old Heidi had no idea what it was when her mother opened her palm and told the teenager to “try this.” But as the drug reached her bloodstream, she didn’t really care what it was.

She was hooked and she spent the next two years struggling with methamphetamine addiction.

“I liked it,” said Heidi, a Montcalm County resident, now 20. “I liked seeing the look of my body, because I was a little overweight as a child, and I liked how it made me feel.”

Up until that point she had never tried drugs, other than a few attempts at cigarettes. But after that, she delved deep into the world of meth.

She dropped out of school to live with her mother out of state and drifted further away from her Michigan father, who had raised her.

“It changed me a lot,” Heidi said.

Now three years sober and back in Michigan, Heidi said it was far too easy to fall into a drug addiction as a young teenager, something law enforcement officials say is a harsh reality.

Although Heidi’s experience was with a more heavy drug, teenagers are more likely to abuse the more readily available substances, officials said. The things that can be found at home in the cupboard or medicine cabinet.

“The thing that is easy and we see a lot of is alcohol,” said Amy Buckingham, coordinator of YOUTHINK Montcalm Coalition, formerly known as Drug Free Montcalm. “Alcohol is still the overall leading cause of harm and it’s so engrained in our society.

“What’s easy to take? Alcohol is everywhere.”

According to a 2012 Michigan Program for Healthy Youth (MiPHY) survey of anonymous students in Montcalm County, 24 percent of high school juniors admitted to using alcohol within the past month. Twenty-six percent of ninth graders and more than five percent of seventh graders said the same.

And officials said they believe the number to be higher, based on the thought that despite the survey is anonymous, some students don’t admit use.

Why is it so prevalent?

Whether it comes from an older sibling, a friend with a fake ID or even a parent, “it’s one phone call, one Facebook message or one text (from being obtained),” said Edmore Police Chief Luke Sawyer.

For Montcalm County resident Charlotte, who began drinking and smoking marijuana at 13, it was never a problem finding a way to get alcohol, most often from an older friend.

At such a young age, she said she began drinking socially, before it turned into a vice.

“A lot of my friends were doing it. It got pretty bad. I was pretty much constantly doing it,” Charlotte said. “As soon as I got home from school I would start drinking and smoking. On the weekends, I was pretty much constantly under the influence.”

She got into it as a way to have fun, but after the divorce of her parents and multiple other life events, the then teenager began to need the alcohol.

“It all started with experimenting, trying something new. I was always super shy and it helped me not be so shy. Then I struggled with depression and it became a self medication,” said Charlotte, now 22 and sober.

She began experimenting with marijuana and then large doses of dextromethorpan, an ingredient found in cough and cold medicine.

Buckingham said it’s common for youth, and even adults, to resort to substances to self medicate, because that’s what our society has led them to do.

“Even just caffeine, we have no energy so we take caffeine. Then we get a headache from the caffeine and take medicine for the headache,” she said. “The problem is, ‘I hurt so I need to take something.’ We like to demonize the drug, but the real problem is the gateway attitude, in that we solve our issues by taking a drug.”

Another issue, according to Buckingham and Sawyer, is adults have become desensitized to the effects of alcohol, especially on teenagers, whose brains are still developing. She said some parents feel they are protecting their children by allowing them to drink, but only at home under their supervision. But the physical affects as well as the message it sends, she said, are still a cause of concern.

“Alcohol itself isn’t an evil thing, it’s what we do with it,” Buckingham said. “You’re setting a kid up for a lifetime of problems if you let them drink.”

Sawyer agreed.

“I think as adults we kind of keep our heads in the sand in regards to substances and substance abuse,” he said. “Part of it is changing the perception we have of it’s not in our community. It really is going to require a big shift in our thought process as adults and parents.”

For Heidi and Charlotte it took the self realization of their problems for them to make a change. Heidi said it was her faltering relationship with her father, which stemmed from the anger she had while taking meth, for her to strive to become clean.

Charlotte said it was finding out she was going to be a mother.

“As soon as I found out I was pregnant I changed my friends and I changed everything. I stopped cold turkey,” she said, noting it saved her life. “I have no idea where I’d be if I didn’t stop … no idea where I would be.”

Editor’s note: Both Heidi and Charlotte are fictitious names as both women preferred to remain anonymous in telling their stories.

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