says drug use among teens more dangerous today
Feb 9 2003
By Kenneth Partridge, Staff Reporter
Carol Falkowski, director of research communications at the
Minnesota-based Hazelden Foundation, the main reasons kids
turn to drugs and alcohol are simple: To feel good, and to
Speaking to a group of about 50 parents at Greenwich Country
Day School last Friday morning in a program sponsored by the
Greenwich Coalition to Combat Underage Drinking, Ms.
Falkowski said that while these impulses have always been
present in young people, the drug use they cause has become
far more dangerous for today’s teens.
“Drug abuse is a topic nobody wants to hear about or talk
about, but it’s something that’s pervasive in our world
today,” she said, thanking the parents who took the
initiative to attend the lecture, her second in as many
Ms. Falkowski said she spends a good deal of her time
monitoring drug trends across the United States, and as
such, she’s had an opportunity to learn firsthand about
increased usage rates among teens, particularly with respect
Drinking to get drunk
“If there’s a trend in drinking, it’s to drink as much as
possible, as quickly as possible,” she said.
Siting the widespread usage of “beer bongs” — funnel-like
devices that allow kids to drink entire pitchers of beer in
short periods of time — and popularity of “power hours,”
which involve young people downing 21 shots in rapid
succession on their 21st birthdays, Ms. Falkowski said
things have gotten out of control.
She said 80% of high school students will try alcohol before
they graduate high school, a troubling statistic, since
studies show those who begin drinking before the age of 15
have a 40% chance of developing alcoholism later in life.
For people who wait until 21 or 22, Ms. Falkowski added,
there is only a 10% chance of becoming addicted to alcohol.
Part of the problem, she said, is access.
“It’s not that difficult for kids to get alcohol,” she said,
attributing this to unlocked liquor cabinets and older
Moreover, she said, kids grow up equating alcohol with fun
and sex. By the time kids reach driving age, she said,
they’ve seen an average of 75,000 ads for beer, liquor and
wine. About 20 times more money is spent advertising alcohol
than milk each year, she added.
Costing as little as $5 per joint, marijuana is another
attractive starter drug for teenagers, Ms. Falkowski said.
She said half of all kids try the drug before they graduate
high school, many with the belief that pot usage isn’t a
particularly big deal, since popular culture has largely
downplayed its addictiveness and potential dangers.
“This marijuana is stronger in potency than the marijuana of
20 or 30 years ago,” she said. “More than one person can
feel the effects of a joint of marijuana — it’s that
What’s even more dangerous about a drug like marijuana, she
said, is that it impairs memory, judgment and development.
“If kids are always using drugs or alcohol, they’re not
advancing,” she said. “They’re just not growing up.”
She said that at some of the drug-support programs her
foundation runs in Minnesota, kids who have been smoking
marijuana since their early teens arrive in their 20s
severely stunted, some functioning emotionally as if they
were still adolescents.
Despite popular belief, she said, people can develop
“It’s clearly a drug that can be addicting,” she said,
reporting that 283,000 people enter drug-treatment programs
each year to kick their marijuana habits.
While alcohol and marijuana may be the most common drugs
with which young people experiment, a number of others have
gained popularity over the years, Ms. Falkowski reported.
In the ’90s, she said, heroine experienced a mainstream
resurgence, as many young people — particularly girls — were
drawn in by the skinny, waifish look that comes with regular
Similarly popular was ecstasy — also known as “X” or “E” —
which flourished as rave parties became in vogue in the
middle and latter parts of the ’90s.
Ms. Falkowski told of one youth she’d heard about who died
after taking ecstasy and drinking three gallons of water,
which caused water poisoning. Apparently, his friends had
read on the Internet that ingesting large quantities of
water with the drug made it safe.
The Internet, Ms. Falkowski said, is another modern
phenomenon that has made drugs more dangerous. She called it
“a major source for information and misinformation about
drugs,” adding that many teens are also using the web to
meet other users and arrange parties.
“What kids used to learn on the street corner about drugs
they can now learn on cyber street corners,” she said.
So-called date-rape drugs have become another problem, she
said, as a substance called GHB is sometimes used by sexual
predators who take advantage of the short-term amnesia
caused by the drug.
In 2000, President Clinton passed a law attaching sentences
of up to 20 years for the crime of intentional drugging. The
law was named for Samantha Reid and Hillory Farias, a pair
of teenage girls who were killed in GHB attacks.
Many teens are also turning to over-the-counter pills and
prescription drugs, Ms. Falkowski said, trends that can be
hard to combat, since many of the oft-used drugs are
commonly found in most people’s homes.
Ms. Falkowski said many kids take the attitude, “If it’s a
pill, it must be safe,” a view she says tends to be
reinforced by our culture, since an estimated 85% of all
Americans take a pill for something each day.
The meth boom
The Northeast may not have been affected yet, but Ms.
Falkowski said many other parts of the country have been in
the grips of a methamphetamine — meth, for short— epidemic
in recent years.
The high-power stimulant attracts young people because it
gives them energy and confidence, she said, allowing them to
continue functioning in their day-to-day lives, unlike
alcohol, which leaves them unable to drive or go to work.
Kids aren’t the only ones smoking meth, though. Ms.
Falkowski said it’s a drug that might appeal to anyone with
“too much to do and too little time.” She mentioned cases in
which soccer moms have begun taking the drug trying to keep
up with their kids.
It can also help with weight loss, Ms. Falkowski said, which
is one reason it’s usage has increased among teenage girls.
As much as parents like to think programs such as DARE (Drug
Abuse Resistance Education) are doing the job, Ms. Falkowski
said more needs to be done, particularly outside of the
“What research finds about prevention is that it’s effective
only when it happens not just in schools, but also in homes
and entire communities,” she said.
The key, she added, is stressing the same message through
Ms. Falkowski also spoke about warning signs, cautioning
that young people using drugs or alcohol may steal, act
secretive or defensive, exhibit mood swings, change friends
unexpectedly and lose interest in things they used to care
The trouble is, she said, these are common things that all
kids go through, even the ones who are playing by the rules
and staying sober. She said it’s important to watch for the
onset of all of these things at once, however, since that
can be the signal something is going wrong.
Another way parents can stop drug use before it starts, Ms.
Falkowski said, is to “talk early and talk often,” even if
these types of conversations can be difficult.
“I think when it comes to talking about the dangers of drugs
and alcohol, a lot of parents are so unsure of what to say
they just don’t go there,” she said.
Making matters worse, she said, parents often refuse to
believe their kids could have serious drug problems.
“It’s human nature to be blinded by love, and it’s human
nature for kids to never admit when they’re doing something
wrong,” she said, describing a dynamic that often prevents
young people from getting the help they need.
The role of parents
“It could be the parents who need to be here, aren’t here,”
said Ms. Falkowski, bringing to light one of the biggest
challenges those in her field face: Reaching parents who
either don’t see the importance of educating their kids
about drugs, or who feel it will never happen to their own
Bill Howland, a parent who attended the lecture, said that
feelings of “it won’t happen to me” exist for parents and
children alike. He said that while talks like the one Ms.
Falkowski gave are beneficial for parents, other approaches
are needed to reach youngsters.
“What means something to students is someone who’s been
through it and can say, ‘This is how I felt and how I was
lost,’” Mr. Howland said.
He added that parents have to realize that they have the
right to talk to their kids about drugs, even if they’re
sometimes met with resistance in the process.
“That’s our job,” he said.
Caroline Cuffe, a parent who recently moved to Greenwich
from London, said she believes the Unites States is far
ahead of countries like England in terms of getting the
anti-drug message out to kids.
“The difference here is that we talk about it all the time,”
She said that in her experience, binge drinking is a major
problem in England, though it’s not as prevalent in places
like France, where young people learn to drink wine in
moderation from an early age.
Earlier in the presentation, Ms. Falkowski said no
conclusive data exists showing that rates of alcoholism are
any lower in Europe, where there are generally lower
drinking ages and more liberal attitudes toward alcohol.
Ms. Falkowski said she encourages her children to be
law-abiding citizens, and that parents who hold drinking
parties in their homes with the attitude of, “Well, at least
they’re doing it under our roof” are only making things
She called the process of trying to figure out how to get
the message to these parents “the million-dollar question.”
“You’d like to think it doesn’t take deaths,” she said.