Teenager and Drugs:

How I handled “The Talk”

Taking a walk around town with my teenager, I thought it was the perfect time for (drum roll, please) The Drug Talk. I’d been thinking about it for a while now, not because I’m worried, or think she might do something stupid (she’s actually a pretty sensible girl, all things considered), but because I want her to hear it from me; as close to The Truth as possible. “Capital letter truth?” you ask. “Yes,” I reply. Truth is hard to find, hard to know when you see it, and is glossed over and ignored by many in society, the media and politics. I want my daughter to have as much information to go on as possible — to make decisions with — which has not been tainted with political correctness, or too many points of view. Bottom line: I want her starting point to be MY point of view. She’ll have to feel her way from there into what SHE thinks. That in and of itself will be a life-long project. I’m still refining what I think, still listening to what others have to say, and accepting or rejecting ideas, thoughts, opinions. In fact, if I’ve talked with you recently, chances are you’ve influenced my thinking to some degree. Okay, off of philosophy, back on drugs….in a manner of speaking….

First point to clarify: What is a drug? Answer: Any substance that changes your body’s chemistry. Second point to clarify: All drugs have effects. They change the way your body feels certain things, like Tylenol for a headache, or codeine for pain, or insulin for diabetes. But the key kids need to understand is that they all have side effects. Kids need to understand this VERY well.

True story: The Ex is a doctor. Once upon a time we went into the hospital for a few minutes on our way out to a date (this happened often, sometimes the trip to the hospital was the date, the cafeteria has a pretty nice fireplace and reasonable food — price and taste-wise). The Ex had to check in on the resident-on-call to make sure all was calm before we went to our movie. The resident tells us that a 16-year-old kid is on the hospital service for taking his grandfather’s oxycodone pain medication. He was rushed to the ER, and was quickly admitted. They were doing everything they could for him, but the bottom line was that he was already dead, even though he was still breathing. The drugs were in his system, killing him, and the doctors couldn’t do anything but watch. There was no cure; there was no help. I was horrified! We are trained by movies and society to think that anything is fixable, but its not. Kids die, and this is a stupid way for it to happen. Talking with The Ex on the way to the theatre, I insisted; surely there was something that could be done! No, he replied, the process was inexorable, and by the next morning this bright young high school boy would be dead. Writing about it now, I still get tears blurring my vision. I didn’t know the kid, and it happen almost five years ago, but it still wrenches my heart. I ache for those parents and the loss they must still feel.

That’s a terrible story, you say, your eyes filling, your hand going to your mouth. And it is. It’s sickening and horrifying…and preventable.

Three kinds of drugs, I tell Katie: Over the counter like Tylenol or Nyquil or that nasal spray for stuffy noses. And in general the side effects are minimal enough that the general public can dose themselves without harm. But, as an aside, I make it clear that too much Tylenol can damage your liver — potentially to the point of liver failure and death, and too much Advil can cause ulcers and kidney damage, and too much nasal spray will cause rebound and an even stuffier nose. So, I tell her, treat OTC meds with respect.

Prescription meds. These are potentially more serious, with harsher side effects. No matter what a so-called friend says at school, its never harmless, and never wise to take anything that was prescribed for someone else. Believe it or not, doctors know what they’re doing the vast majority of the time. The rules and regulations are there for our protection.

And lastly street drugs, also called illegal drugs, or just plain “drugs.” These are the ones that get the most attention, and get reported on by the press, and have the potential to ruin you life forever even if you only take them once. If you buy, beg, borrow or steal these drugs you have no idea what you are getting. No idea if the little white powder you are about to put in your system is really what they say it is or not. You are trusting your life to a drug dealer. But assuming its not cut with rat poison, you reach the next problem. Your body may react in any one of a hundred ways to this substance. You don’t know if this one use will set up a craving in your body or mind that will never go away. Or if it will kill you. One use can mean it will eat at you day and night, always a physical craving from which there is no escape. It can offer a way to dull pain from everyday life, from the fears and hopes and difficulties of living — which we all have. But it will also take away the drive to push through these difficulties to pursue dreams and overcome fear. It will change your perspective and undermine the drive you need to work hard to achieve those things you want. Remember — any drug changes your body’s chemistry. Just at the point when you are supposed to be maturing, growing into a young adult, making decisions that will set the direction of your entire adult life — drugs take you back to the level of a 3 year old. Instant gratification becomes king. You make stupid decisions like unsafe sex or stealing from your parents (or others) in order to get what you want right now.

So I tell my sweet, wide-eyed, beautiful teenager the secret of life. The way to avoid the steep slope into poverty and pain. “Don’t do drugs…..don’t get pregnant.” Short, easy to remember. “Don’t do drugs……don’t get pregnant.” The world is your oyster if you can stick to this. She rolls her eyes at me, but maybe she’s heard me too. (since I say it to her at least once a week). So I’m telling you too: Don’t do drugs….don’t get pregnant. We’ll talk about the whole pregnancy thing another time….

Cecily Whiteside is the single mom of five teenagers and soon-to-be-teenagers. She loves life, laughter, and embarrassing her kids. Not necessarily in that order.