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After listening to our teenager and her friends talk about drugs, I recently realized that even with the health class they take in high school, our many conversations about drugs and the information they get from media, they still weren’t clear on some aspects of drug use and abuse. I stopped the conversation they were having to interject a few key points and was glad I happened to be there to help dispel the myths. They all knew that drug use is a significant problem in our society. They hear about it and are sometimes exposed to it at school. They have a close friend who recently moved to Colorado and can’t get over how marijuana is legal there for people over 21 so now she's seeing adults use it regularly. The messages seem unclear and they were mystified as to why anyone would become an addict. One of them whipped out her Health class notes to show us that that according to SMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009, approximately 23.5 million people over the age of 12 needed treatment for a drug or alcohol problem.

I started out by explaining that anyone can be a drug abuser. It’s not necessarily the kid that sits in the back of the class, doesn’t make eye contact and is flunking out. And, you don’t have to come from a family of drug abusers to become one. Many addicts have high paying, high profile jobs, are leaders in a school environment and/or come from good families. Somehow they make it through by hiding it or by the support of enabling family members, friends, bosses or co-workers. The people around them cover up when they are late or hung over, help them complete school or work projects and generally keep them afloat.

It was apparent that they had spent a great deal of time talking about illegal drugs in Health class like marijuana, cocaine, heroine and even PCP, but they weren’t as familiar with everyday prescription drug abuse. They all generally thought that if a doctor prescribes medication for you, then it’s safe to take. I pointed out that as many as 16 million people abuse prescription drugs in the U.S. every year. What happens is that a teenager or adult starts out with an injury of some kind. For example, it could be one of them getting hurt in soccer, volleyball or while competing in track and field. They go to the doctor to find out how to proceed whether it’s a cast or rest, and end up with a prescription like Vicodin or Oxycontin to help the pain go away. In most situations, Ibuprofen should be enough until it heals. Parents may be unaware that drugs like those named are in the same class of drugs as heroin and can be extremely addictive and are often times totally unnecessary so they go ahead and give them the meds. This is where it starts and some find that they can’t or don’t want to stop because it makes them feel high. When they can't get their prescriptions refilled anymore, they start to purchase the "legal" drugs illegally from dealers.

The other question that came up was why anyone would choose to be a drug addict? Why would they keep going back for more if they saw their life was coming apart? It just seems so ridiculous, especially for people like Lindsay Lohan who seem to have so much going for them. This was a key point because I explained that people don’t “choose” to become addicted. What they do is choose to try and use drugs to begin with. They want to fit in, and then find that they like the way it makes them feel and don’t want to stop. With prolonged use, the drugs change body and brain chemistry and they can’t overcome the desire without intervention. So, take some time to talk to your adolescents about drugs and alcohol use. You also might find that they are unsure of what it all means.