You’ve been hearing “Just say no!” since you were in kindergarten. Here, we are going to talk to you about alcohol, drug, tobacco and sex addictions in a way that recognizes you’re not a little kid any more.
People sometimes say that trying alcohol, drugs and tobacco are all part of growing up, and that it is no big deal. This may be true for some people, but it leads to addiction for many of us. People are different when it comes to getting addicted. You don’t know if you are one of the people who will get addicted very fast. You might see someone using who doesn’t seem addicted, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t or that they won’t become addicted.
Addiction to alcohol, drugs and tobacco may be remembered easily by the acronym “TRAP.” T = Trial, R = Recreation, A = Abuse, and P = Pinned down (addicted). Let’s look at each stage.
T = Trial and Experimentation. Here you are trying addictive substance for the first time. Almost immediately, your body’s defense and warning systems are damaged. This means your body can’t take care of itself as well as it normally does, and you could hurt yourself more easily than if you weren’t using. Hurting yourself includes making unsafe decisions.
R = Recreational Use. Now you are starting to lose your coping skills. You might not see it at first, because the drug blocks what is going on around you. Also, your social skills are starting to fall apart. Being too drunk, high, or smelling of tobacco doesn’t make you cute or sophisticated; it makes it hard to be around you.
A = Abuse. You are losing what makes life worth living. Your boss has fired you. Your friends don’t want to be around you. Your family doesn’t know what to do with you. Your drug of choice is becoming way more interesting than your life.
P = Pinned Down/Addicted. You’ve lost other people’s respect. You’ve lost self-respect. You’ve lost hope. Maybe you’ll continue to live, maybe you won’t. It all depends on you deciding you want to live more than you want to use the drug.
That won’t happen to me. Want to bet? You may be one of the very few, very lucky ones who can use and never get pinned down. Don’t bet your life when the odds against you are so high.
OK, let’s look at individual addictions:
So what’s the big deal? My parents drink. Everyone I know drinks! Just because every one does it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Here are the simple facts.
If you are drinking:
- The younger you are when you have your first drink, the more likely you are to become addicted to alcohol.
- Beer and wine are not safer than “hard” liquor. One serving of beer or wine has the same amount of alcohol as a “cocktail.”
- If you are under 21, it is illegal to possess or use alcohol. Some states, including Texas, could take away your drivers’ license if you are caught with alcohol and are underage. Other penalties include fines, jail time, and community service.
- Alcohol makes you clumsy and slow.
- Alcohol takes away your ability to make your own decisions. Many people have done things when drinking that they would never do sober. This may result in unsafe sex, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, even HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
- Alcohol hurts your body. It affects every organ in your body. It increases your risk of getting some types of cancer.
- Alcohol makes it more likely that you will be involved in violence, either as the person committing an act of violence, or as the victim.
- Alcohol can kill you. Too much alcohol may put you in a coma or lead to your death (usually by choking to death on your own vomit). One-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol related.
If you aren’t drinking, but are with people who are:
- Alcohol can kill you even if you aren’t the one drinking it. Never get into a car with someone who has been drinking, no matter how much or how little alcohol they have consumed. Everyone has a different metabolism, and you cannot tell a person’s blood alcohol level by the number of drinks he or she has had or by the way he or she is behaving.
- Being with people who are drinking increase the chance you will be involved in some kind of violence.
- You may have to deal with people who are out of control.
- You may have to deal with people who are sick.
- You may have to deal with people who can’t take care of themselves.
Your friends have a drinking problem if:
- They are getting drunk every time you party.
- They are lying about how much they drink.
- They think you have to drink to have fun.
- They are hung over a lot.
- They are depressed or suicidal since they started drinking.
- They are having trouble at home since they started drinking.
- They are having trouble at school since they started drinking.
- They are in trouble with the law since they started drinking.
If you think you or one of your friends has a drinking problem, SAVE A LIFE! Talk to an adult you trust.
People often justify the use of some drugs by thinking “they’re natural.” Well, lots of natural plants can kill you. Think about certain mushrooms (one of the most toxic known poisons is found in a very pretty one), foxglove (contains chemicals that are so effective at changing how your heart beats, one cup of foxglove tea can kill), oleander (people die every year from using an oleander stem to grill hotdogs), etcetera. Just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it is harmless.
So, regardless of the delivery system, that is organic or synthetic, what we are talking about here are chemicals, and the effect those chemicals have on the body.
There are so many different drugs we can’t talk about every one of them here. What we will do is talk about the most common drug classes.
Using inhalants is called by many different names: huffing, bang, glue, kick, sniff, poppers, whippets. All of them mean the same thing: inhaling something so you can get high.
Here are the facts:
- Inhalants can kill you the very first time you use them.
- People using inhalants can die from suffocation, choking on their own vomit, heart attacks, or accidents resulting from being uncoordinated.
- Inhalants “beat up” your brain. They can cause brain damage you just can’t fix before you even know you’ve got a problem.
- Inhalants “beat up” your body. Using them will eventually kill your liver, kidneys and lungs.
- Chronic users of inhalants can permanently lose the muscle control needed to walk, talk and do anything for themselves.
Hallucinogens have many different “flavors”: Lysergic acid diethylamide is called LSD, acid, and blotter, among other things. Psilocybin is known as: magic mushrooms or ‘shrooms. Phencyclidine goes by PCP, angel dust, boat, ozone or wack. Ecstasy goes by E, X and STC. All of them change how you see reality.
Here are the facts:
- Hallucinogens have a major effect on your brain. How you view time, space and everything around you will be affected. You may see, hear and feel things that don’t exist.
- Hallucinogens have a major effect on your emotions. They may make you confused and paranoid. Since your self-control is lowered, you might do violent things.
- Using hallucinogens may result in a “bad trip.” This could put you in the hospital.
- Once you’ve used hallucinogens, you may have “flashbacks.” These are unexpected recurrences of the drugs effects, even if you haven’t taken the drug.
- Hallucinogens may speed up your heart and make your blood pressure go up.
- Hallucinogens may put you in a coma.
Club drugs come in all varieties. Ecstasy, GHB, Ketamine, Rohypnol, and Methamphetamine are just a few. Slang for club drugs includes: E, X, XTC, Liquid Ecstasy, Liquid X, Grievous Bodily Harm, Georgia Home Boy, K, Special K, Ket, Vitamin K, Kit Kat, Roofies, R-2, Tina and on and on.
The reason we didn’t tie the slang names to the real names is to make a point – when you buy club drugs, you don’t know what you are buying. You might think you’re buying one thing when you are buying another. These drugs are often made in illegal laboratories, so you don’t know if you’re getting any drug; you don’t know if you’re getting the drug you think you’re getting, and you have no idea about the strength of the drug.
Here are the facts:
- You don’t know what you are buying when you buy club drugs.
- Club drugs affect your brain. They may damage brain chemistry so that nothing will feel good unless you are high.
- Club drugs affect your body. They affect your body different ways, and none of the ways are good. They damage your brain, heart, lungs and other organs.
- People do things when they are high that they would not otherwise do.
- Club drugs can and do kill people every day.
The many slang names for methamphetamine include: meth, crank, crystal, Tina, ice, glass and speed.
This drug has become way too common in the LGBT community. It steals people’s hopes. It steals people’s dreams. It steals people’s futures. It takes away your life.
Here are the facts:
- Methamphetamine is always made in illegal laboratories. The people who make it are not chemists, and usually don’t know exactly what they are doing.
- Using methamphetamine effects brain chemistry. It can take a recovering meth addict 7 – 10 years before they feel good again.
- You have a much higher risk of acquiring HIV when you are high on methamphetamine. One study found that methamphetamine users are six times less likely to use a condom.
- Methamphetamine can trigger highly sexualized behavior, combined with an urgency for sex that could result in trauma such as chafing, tearing, rawness and sores to the sex organs, rectum and mouth.
- Some methamphetamine users experience an inability to ejaculate or reach orgasm.
- Methamphetamine users quickly become very unattractive; rotten teeth, open sores, and terrible skin are the result of regular use, even short-term use.
- Using methamphetamine can lead to death in many ways: heart attack, stroke, death from dehydration (not enough water), impulsive behavior that results in accidents, aggressive behavior that results in violence.
A lot has been done to make using heroin seem fashionable and glamorous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your average “junkie” (heroin addict) leads a life that often includes homelessness, hunger, prostitution, stealing, and all kinds of violence. Not very glam, huh?
Heroin goes by a lot of street names: smack, horse, China White, Mexican Brown, black tar, junk and skag to name a few.
Beware of a new drug out there, “cheese.” It really is just “starter” heroin. It is marketed to young people very cheaply, and leads to full-blown heroin addiction.
Here are the facts:
- Heroin is very, very addictive because it enters your brain very quickly and goes right to the parts of your brain that make people physically addicted.
- Heroin slows everything down. It slows down your thinking, your reaction time, your life and your future. Too much of it and it’ll slow down your body until it stops.
- Heroin is especially problematic for your body. Most people who use heroin eventually start injecting the drug. Not you? Think again. Most people don’t beat these odds. Drug injection is linked to the spread of HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and a host of other illnesses.
- Heroin is one of the top 3 drugs reported by medical examiners in drug abuse deaths.
Nope, we’re not leaving this off the list. Let us say again, just because it grows in nature doesn’t mean it is good for you! “But my parents smoked weed and they’re just fine.” OK, two things here. One – your parents were lucky. Two – the marijuana sold today is not the same drug sold 20 years ago. Selective breeding, lacing with other drugs, and soaking in chemicals are all relatively new and have made the weed you buy today way more dangerous than that available 20 years ago.
Here are the facts:
- Marijuana is addictive. Many people who have been regular users and try to quit have trouble sleeping, irritability and emotional problems.
- Even a little marijuana reduces your critical thinking skills. So, you won’t be able to “figure it out” for yourself.
- As far as your lungs are concerned, smoking marijuana is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.
- More youth are in rehab for marijuana than for all other drugs combined.
- If you are using marijuana, you are more likely to have unsafe sex.
- If you are using marijuana, you are more likely to have trouble with the law.
- People who use marijuana are four times more likely to be involved in violent behavior.
- If you or someone you know is using drugs, please talk to an adult you can trust! You may save someone’s life. You may save your own life.
Tobacco use will shorten your life. No maybes. We’ve all heard the “grandpa smoked until he was 102” stories. Yes, indeed, maybe one in a million smokers will live that long, but there’s a reason such a fact is remarkable enough to generate a story – it rarely happens.
Spit tobacco, cigars, flavored cigarettes, hookahs, etcetera, are all tobacco! There is no safe way to use tobacco!
Here are the facts:
- Tobacco companies market to youth. If they didn’t they’d be out of business.
- Tobacco companies market to the LGBT community. Sales of a product that can kill you must be carefully tailored if product sales are to continue.
- It doesn’t take tobacco years to hurt you; the health effects are immediate. Your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and blood carbon monoxide levels go up immediately. Your ability to do anything requiring lung power (like sports) goes down immediately.
- The younger you are when you first use tobacco, the more likely you are to become strongly addicted.
- Tobacco use causes cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (can’t breath), and increases the risk of other illnesses.
- OK, but I’ll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.
Here’s what tobacco use does today:
- Your breath, clothes, car and home will stink. Good thing cigarette smoking kills your sense of smell.
- If you smoke a half pack of cigarettes a day, this will cost you more than $900 a year (Texas – 2008). Don’t you have anything better to spend that money on?
- Tobacco use will stain your teeth. And, for some, very quickly causes tooth loss.
- Tobacco use causes bad breath (and who wants to kiss an ashtray?).
- Short-term use of spit tobacco can cause sores and bleeding in your mouth.
Please consider leaving tobacco alone! It not only harms you in the future, it harms you today.
Yes, sex can be an addiction too.
Here are the facts:
- No single behavior defines sex addiction.
- Sex addiction is not normal sex; it is compulsive behavior.
- Sex addiction interferes with your life.
- Sex addiction causes you shame.
- Sex addiction causes stress.
If you think you suffer from sex addiction, get help! Where? There are Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings online and in most major cities, including some that are targeted to people your age.
Gambling is the fastest growing addiction among adolescents in the United States. Right now, more young people gamble that smoke, drink or take drugs combined. Teens with a gambling problem are more likely to do other risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, binge drinking and skipping school.
OK, so what is gambling? Playing cards, betting on sports, betting on games of skill, dice games, bingo, raffles, the lottery, scratch tickets, on-line gambling and on-line betting are all gambling. Placing the bet matters more than what was bet, it doesn't matter if you're playing for pennies or dollars, it is still gambling!
Here are the facts:
- The younger you are when you start gambling, the more likely you will be to have gambling problems when you are older.
- One in every 25 teens already has a gambling problem.
- Problem gambling can cause trouble with you family, your schoolwork, your friends and your job.
- Problem gambling can lead to crime to try to pay off your debts.
- Gambling can lead to depression and suicide.
- You are more than 500 times more likely to be struck by lightening than to win the lottery.
Here are some signs you have a gambling problem:
- You are having problems with your family because of your gambling.
- You are having relationship problems because of your gambling.
- You feel badly about your gambling.
- You can't quit.
- You have no control – you spend more money or time than you committed to gambling.
- You gamble to win back what you lost.
- You gamble to feel better.
- You lie about gambling.
- You gamble in secret.
- Depression because of gambling.
- Suicide attempts because of gambling.
- You steal money so you can gamble.
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a gambling problem. If you think you or a friend have a gambling problem, talk to an adult you can trust. There is also a 12-step program, Gamblers Anonymous, that can help. You can call them directly to talk or find a local meeting. They are also on the web.
You don’t have to be using to be part of the problem. An enabler is someone who keeps the user from experiencing the consequences of their addiction. If you are doing any of the following, you might be an enabler:
- You won’t talk to the person about how drug use is ruining his/her life.
- You won’t ask anyone for help for your friend.
- You won’t see that your friend needs to change his/her behavior.
- You ignore his/her use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco or indiscriminate sex.
- You make excuses for his/her using.
- You give him/her money.
- You make excuses for him/her to help avoid consequences.
If you are doing any of these things, you ARE NOT helping. The best way to help your friend is to talk to an adult you can trust.
Help keep your little brothers and sisters addiction-free.
Your little brothers and sisters look up to you. There’s a lot you can do to help them stay alcohol, drug and tobacco free:
- Know what’s going on with them. Who they’re with. What they’re doing. Where they are. When they are going to be home.
- Make sure you know their friends.
- We know it can be a pain, but spend time with them. Eat a meal together, hang out together, or go to the movies.
- Let them know it’s not OK with you if they use drugs.
- Set a good example; don’t use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.
Addictions steal people’s lives. They become powerless over the desire to have that drink, use that drug or have compulsive sex. Their lives are unmanageable; their drink/drug/sex takes priority over everything else in their life. They feel shame. Their self-esteem is zero. They really, really want to stop the destructive behavior and can’t. Relationships end. Jobs are lost. They go to jail. Families give up. If any of this sounds familiar, please find a 12-step program to help you get your life back.