Chesterton Tribune

Saying No to drugs: How the other half lives

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By KEVIN NEVERS

One might be tempted to think, given the recent coverage of the drug problem in area newspapers, that every kid in Porter County has experimented with an illicit drug at one time or another.

In fact, the numbers tell a different story. Not every kid has used. Only slightly more than half of them.

According to a survey coordinated by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University, in 1999 50.7 percent of seniors at Chesterton High School reported the use of marijuana at least once in their lifetime; 25.2 percent, psychedelics; 24.4 percent, tranquilizers; 23.2 percent, inhalants; 21.2 percent, narcotics; 19.9 percent, amphetamines; 9.6 percent, cocaine; and 4.6 percent, heroin. In every category those numbers are higher—and sometimes significantly higher—than the state average for that year.

Parents may debate if they wish the accuracy of self-reporting, the harm of experimenting once in a lifetime with marijuana, or the criminal penalties attached to such experimentation. But the existence of a drug subculture at CHS seems obvious enough. In the meantime, the parents of grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers might begin to consider now how comfortable they are with the likelihood—all things being equal—that of their child’s 20 friends roughly five will try LSD before they graduate from high school, four will try amphetamines, two will try cocaine, and one will try heroin.

The press naturally focuses on hard-core abusers. Their horror stories make good copy, and certainly addicts and their parents have cautionary tales worth the telling and reading. Yet the extent of the drug problem should not obscure the fact that nearly a majority of the kids will never use before they graduate. And those kids have their own tale to tell.

In a recent round-table six young men and women—aged 16 to 24, all of them employed at a Valparaiso firm with a mandatory drug-testing policy—agreed to speak with the Chesterton Tribune about their reasons for saying No.

They are not, by and large, overachievers. Only two identify themselves as honor-roll students. One identifies himself as a “slacker.” Two are being raised in single-parent households. One is the daughter of an alcoholic, another the daughter of a recovering addict. Three attend church regularly or occasionally. They appear to have little in common beyond their choice never to experiment with illicit drugs.

Why?

Parenting

In almost every case the six cited effective parenting, although they were sometimes unclear themselves on what exactly their folks did right.

Brad, 16, a student at VHS, learned the most—of whatever he learned—when still a tot. “Probably at that most vulnerable place in childhood, when the kid’s 6 or 7 or 8, that’s when you get the most from your parents. What I’m not going to do and what I’m going to do. That’s probably where I got it from, from my mom, when I was that age.”

Got what? Brad was unsure.

Jessica, 24, a graduate of Valparaiso High School, tried, unsuccessfully at first, to feel her way to an answer. “I think it’s different for everybody,” she said. “I think that there are hundreds of different reasons that people do drugs. But I think it does go back to the parents. I don’t want to say that it’s the parents’ responsibility, and I don’t know what it is that the parents teach that make you not do it. But there’s something that they instilled in their kids.”

A moment later Jessica took a second stab at it. “I don’t think it’s a matter of saying, Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” she said. “I think it’s a matter of teaching them to be responsible and teaching them that it’s okay to talk to them no matter what.”

Few of them remember, in fact, ever having had a formal sit-down talk with their parents about drugs. But they do remember talking with their folks, about anything, about everything, from their earliest years, sharing secrets, learning candor. Above all they have a profound sense of their parents’ accessibility and of an accountability owed them in return.

“I can tell them anything,” Jessica said. “They know about first kisses. They know about the first time I drank. They know about everything. Really open lines of communication.”

One after another the six spoke of their parents’ trust in them and their commitment never to lose it. The consensus: drugs are like the snake in the garden. They force users to deceive and betray loved ones, to conceal movements and peddle fictions. Indeed, the lie seems to be as much in the use itself as in the cover-up later.

Why don’t you use?

Penny, 16, a student at CHS: “It was a lot not wanting to break my mom’s trust. I think that if your parents trust you, that’s really important.”

Kase, 16, a student at VHS: “Probably my mom, not wanting to disappoint her. My mom’s approval and trust are really a big thing for me.”

Erin, 23, a graduate of VHS and also a mother: “I don’t like liars. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my mom. I hate people lying.”

Brad: “I’d feel real guilty about lying to my mom.”

Jessica: “Because my mother’s opinion means very much to me and I didn’t want to disappoint her. Also I’m a bad liar, so if I were to lie to her she would know and then she’d be disappointed anyway.”

Only one, Amanda, 24, a graduate of Elston High School in Michigan City and also a mom, was evidently undeterred by the fear of disappointing her mother, who was herself an addict when her daughter was in high school. “I didn’t want to end up like her,” she said. But Amanda did fear disappointing others. “I have a younger sister and she looks up to me and I didn’t want to let her down.”

Drug use is not a victimless crime, these six believe, and no one uses in a vacuum because no one lives in a vacuum. Drugs may impair a user’s health. They may lead to expulsion or arrest. But they will absolutely corrode and corrupt relationships.

Their Peers

To a person they laughed when asked whether they would know where to score, were they suddenly inclined to take the plunge. In their world drugs are plentiful and various. And the users are everywhere, this guy, that girl, people they know around school or have met at parties. But none of the six counts a user as an actual friend. Nor would they.

“I had a best friend that did it for a couple of years,” Amanda said. “She doesn’t do it now. But she did it. And I cut her off. Was it wrong? Yeah. But it’s just a big pet peeve.”

Brad shares that peeve. “If my best friend starting doing drugs,” he said, “I’d probably stop hanging out with him.”

Erin was more sympathetic, but only to a point. “I think I would try to help them,” she said. “Like my boyfriend in high school. He used drugs. And I did try to help him. But I finally realized that I couldn’t. So I broke off with him. And it was for that reason.”

In short, the six are immune to peer pressure at least in part because they rarely expose themselves to it. When a peer does make an overture, on the other hand, the pressure is more calculated than coercive. “Just try it once,” Penny recalled. “See if you like it.” Call it a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy or a seduction. “It’s more like I’m going to get you,” Brad said. “That’s my goal in life.”

“I think that of course they know doing drugs is wrong,” Jessica said. “But I think that by getting other people to do it, it makes it seem like the norm. The more people you get to do it, then that’s the new norm.”

“Some of them don’t even think it’s wrong,” Brad countered. “They don’t really care that it’s legally wrong. As far as they’re concerned, they have much more knowledge than our legal system. I know people who think it’s healthy to do all that. I don’t know if they fell asleep in health class or what.”

In a world as saturated as theirs by drugs—where some kids measure their popularity by the frequency and intensity of their highs—one might expect these six to live inconspicuously below the users’ radar screen. They don’t. Peers know. And amid the pressure to impose a new norm, they are perfectly happy with the old one.

“I respect the people who don’t do it,” Brad said. “Maybe that’s why I don’t do it, because I have more respect for the people who don’t. I think they stand for something.”

“I personally think that doing drugs is stupid,” Kase said. “It makes you not cool.”

 

Posted 6/11/2002