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I WAS A TEEN ALCOHOLIC
Number one drug turn-on among teens today is alcohol. Half
of the heavy users among teens are likely to become alcoholics,
and it is estimated that there are already 450,000 teen
alcoholics in the country.
Parent Teachers Association surveys gauge that 75 per cent
of high school youth now drink, and that more than half
of those have serious alcoholic problems.
the past ten years, arrests of girls eighteen and younger
who were intoxicated by liquor have more than tripled. Arrests
of boys in the same age group have jumped almost two and
a half times, according to Dr. Morris Chafetz, director
of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse. Dr Chafetz also
asserts that a third of all high school students state that
they drink with regularity, while only 14 percent of teen-agers
are total abstainers. (Among adults 32 percent don’t
drink at all.)
Anonymous a leading self-help organization, says that they
currently have twenty-five groups oriented to young people.
A year ago there were only twelve such groups, five years
ago none. (Columbus Hospital, in New York City, has just
expanded its alcohol treatment center to offer help to adolescent
alcoholics, the first such program in America.)
young people are turning from hard drugs to alcohol, particularly
beer and wine, states a recent report in the “Christian
Science Monitor.” Sales of “pop” fruit-flavoured
wines are up from three million gallons in 1968 to 33 million
gallons last year, and these wines are consumed almost entirely
by young people.
is the true personal story of one teen-age alcoholic.
name is Cathy C., and I am an alcoholic. I started to drink
when I was fifteen. My first drink was in the park near
my house, where a number of older neighbourhood teen-agers
used to gather regularly, to socialize and drink beer.
day one of the boys offered me a can of beer. I had always
been painfully shy. In the past I'd felt ignored and left
out by this group of older kids. But as soon as I drank
the beer everything seemed wonderful. I was no longer shy;
I couldn't talk to people, dance and sing. Everybody seemed
to like me and find me fun to be with.
was going to be it, I thought. Whenever the opportunity
arose, I was going to drink. The taste meant nothing to
me, though at first I stuck to milder stuff like beer and
wine. It was the effect I was after, and the effect was
wonderful as far as I was concerned!
the beginning it was only weekend drinking. I soon graduated
from beer and wine to screwdrivers (vodka and orange juice)
which tasted better to me and had an even quicker effect
in getting me high.
had always done well in school, and during that first year
of strictly weekend drinking I managed to keep up my usual
good grades. But by my sophomore year my drinking began
to increase, and my marks started to go down drastically.
was part of a whole gang of kids who got together for parties
or just casual drinking in the afternoon. Not all of then
were that interested in alcohol. About half were strictly
marijuana smokers, or were into pills. I tried pot and pills,
but they just weren't my sort of high. Give me a six-pack
or a can of those prepared screwdrivers then just becoming
popular and I was happy. Though my parents weren't heavy
drinkers, they did keep a small supply of liquor on hand
for social occasions. Before long I was into this too.
the time I was sixteen, at the end of my sophomore year,
I was doing so badly at the parochial school I attended
that I was asked to leave. But I was glad to go to the high
school which was much larger, had less supervision, and
was much less strict about attendance. Besides, most of
my new friends attended that school.
got in with what I considered to be the real " in"
crowd, something I felt I could never have done before I
started drinking. None of us really went to school. We would
just check into the home room in the morning; then we'd
get together and find out whose parents would be away that
afternoon and go there and party. I don't think we attended
school more than one third of the time that year.
least 20 percent of the students were involved in this kind
of thing, but I guess my closest friends were the real troublemakers.
None of them wanted to be in school in the first place.
They all wanted to quit, even if they had no plans for the
future. At this point I'd say that at least half of the
gang were still on drugs, but I stayed strictly away from
that, not only because I didn't like it, but because of
the danger with the law. I figured I was being pretty smart
to stay with liquor, which was not only safer from a legal
point of view but also cheaper and easier to get. Age was
no barrier to getting alcohol though most of the taverns
were pretty strict about ID cards. There were always a few
phony ID cards being
passed around, and there was seldom a problem buying the
stuff in supermarkets or liquor stores. If a liquor store
wouldn't sell to us, we could always recruit an older person
to go in and get a bottle for us - just tell him we were
planning a party or something.
was the thing about drinking. People generally approved
of it - they were glad that at least we weren't on drugs.
Alcohol was familiar, something they could understand. Even
the cops weren't too tough if they found us with booze.
Of course, possession of liquor by underage kids is not
the end of my junior year my behavior came to the attention
of school authorities. They sent for my parents and I had
many conferences with the school psychiatrist to find out
why I was skipping so many classes. My father had been aware
that I was in danger of becoming a problem drinker from
the start. A year before, when I, had been out until two
in the morning and had come home obviously tipsy, my father
had been very concerned. When I sobered up he took me aside
and said: "Kathy, you are one of those people who should
never drink. You change drastically when you are drinking.
Your personality is completely different."
remember answering him "Yes, but the change is for
the Better! I don't feel shy. Its terrific!"
day, when I was sixteen, I found out that my mother wasn't
going to be home that afternoon so I had the gang over and
we had a groovy party, swinging on beer, screwdrivers and
wine. But even though I was to some extent the life of the
party, there was one guy there who wouldn't pay any attention
to me. I am not sure what made me do it, maybe something
I had seen in a movie or on TV, but I went into the bathroom,
took a razor blade from my father's medicine chest, and
with two quick movements slit both wrists. I really had
no intention of killing myself. It was just a play for this
boy's attention, and when I reappeared at the party, bleeding
heavily, it certainly got attention.
course that was the end of the party, since I was rushed
to the hospital. I know that I would never have done that
if I had not been drunk out of my mind. When I was drunk,
I didn't even feel the pain. I was sent to a private psychiatric
hospital for two weeks as a result of this incident. When
I returned to school, everyone seemed to know what had happened.
told my father I couldn't go back to school because I was
sure everyone was making fun of me. I went with him to the
guidance counselor, and she agreed that my parents might
as well take me out of school since I was getting nothing
from it. The next season my parents, who had always hoped
I would go to college, enrolled me in a business school.
That was the year I turned seventeen. Now that I was no
longer in high school, my life began to revolve more and
more around bars. But I was still not aware that I had a
problem; I felt I could quit drinking anytime I wanted to.
This was the year I met Peter, my first serious boy friend.
would drink occasionally, but he was not part of my crowd,
and he thought my excess drinking was caused by the people
I associated with. He introduced me to his crowd –
much straighter than the group I went with and drinkers
only on the weekends or special occasions.
business school I was going to encouraged me' to take courses
that would help me get better jobs when I got out, such
as accounting and business English. But in two months I
had dropped all courses except typing. It seemed to be the
only one I could cope with when I had a hangover, which
was often. By now my parents were deeply troubled, but I
still refused to take their advice and even told them that
unless they locked me up and chained me to the bed, there
was nothing they could do about it.
I started to go in for morning drinks. I remember sitting
in a bar one night and saying: "I'm going to have a
beaut of a hangover tomorrow. The noise of those type-writers
is going to drive me crazy!"
of the fellows answered, "Try a drink in the morning.
It'll bring you around."
I figured: "This is marvelous! Now I can drink and
not even feel sick the next day!"
the end of my seventeenth year, I had my first blackouts
- periods when I couldn't remember anything that happened.
I was scared at first but I was still going with Peter,
who was a very dependable guy, so I knew I'd get home all
after I turned eighteen Peter was drafted. I decided I would
be a faithful girl and go out only with my girl friends
or stay home at night and write letters to Pete. So instead
of going to bars to get drunk, I would drink alone in my
got my first job about that time, and it was terrific. I
didn't have to depend on my folks for money or on my boy
friends to but me booze.
I was hurting myself desperately, without realizing it.
I would go out with my girl friends on Wednesday nights,
and the blackouts were getting worse, only now I didn't
have Peter to protect me; often I didn't know how I got
home or who had taken me there. I was still very straight
and religious and I worried what might happen to me some
night during one of those blackouts.
to this point I didn't drink at work. I knew this was different
from school and that if I drank I'd be fired. But one day
I decided I would just have a drink to break up the boredom
at lunchtime. I took a bottle to the office, but I had this
terrific hangover and felt I couldn't wait until lunch.
By five I was in a blackout and couldn't remember anything.
I know that I behaved very foolishly at the office and apparently
fell down a flight of stairs and had to be taken to the
emergency ward at the hospital. When my father came to get
me, he said; “Kathy, You must go to
Anonymous. Nobody drinks the way you do. You shouldn't be
drinking alone or hiding bottles."
then even I began to realize I had a bad problem. But I
hated the idea of A.A. There weren't many young people in
A.A. then and I was sure it would be some kind of Salvation
Army evangelistic crew. I finally agreed to go to my local
chapter meeting, but to do that I had to get drunk.
next day they sent two people over to see me and even arranged
to have a twenty-three year old woman talk to me, as she
was closer to my age. But she was married and had a baby.
I was single. What would happen to my social life if I stopped
drinking? The parties? The bars? I couldn't face giving
next two years were a hazy nightmare. I became a "periodic
drinker," drinking one week out of the month. I lost
my job and drifted into a series of temporary jobs. The
minute I got a paycheck, I was off on a binge. I began to
let everything go - even my dress and appearance. Sometimes
I didn't bathe for days. Peter got out of the army and saw
that his girl had become a full-fledged, full-time drunk.
This romance eventually ended.
then, I didn't consider myself an alcoholic. I felt all
I had to do was learn to drink like a lady and control myself.
I did attend a few more A.A. meetings, but I wasn't impressed.
I got sick and was hospitalized several times. The thought
of suicide crossed my mind, but I was afraid of failing
at it. Besides, I'm a Roman Catholic and my religion was
one of the main things that kept me from going that route.
my family's urging I even went to a psychiatrist. He helped
me with many problems, but not with the drinking, because
I wouldn't let him.
really didn't think much of myself at the time. My self-esteem
was at a low point, and the only way I seemed to be able
to avoid my feelings of self-hatred was to drink. My family
life was miserable. It reached the stage where the family
was ashamed to have guests come to the house when I was
around. I began to wake up in the morning sick and nauseated.
I was throwing up constantly and losing weight.
I collapsed again, at the end of my physical endurance.
This time somebody recommended that I be sent to the Freeport
Hospital, in Freeport, Long Island - one of the few in the
country devoted to the treatment of alcoholics. I was carried
in on a stretcher.
the hospital I was put to bed and given a complete physical
examination. It was determined that I was in a severe state
of malnutrition - my weight had dropped to 85 pounds from
my normal 110, largely because during my drinking bouts
I simply had no interest in eating. I was also suffering
from vitamin deficiencies, particularly of B-12, which is
the first to be destroyed by alcohol. I was put on a high-protein,
high-calorie diet, given massive injections of B-12 until
my bottom was sore, and given high-potency vitamins orally
too. My liver showed signs of damage, but the doctor felt
it would easily recover.
the first few days I was also given a mild tranquilizer
to help me cope with the shakes and withdrawal symptoms.
But this was quickly discontinued.
above all, should avoid any sort of tranquilizer or stimulant.
Their bodies have built up a high tolerance for drugs and
they tend to increase dosage when they are troubled,"
I was told by hospital director Dr. Frank Herzlin. "This
puts them right back into the alcohol habit in short order,"
Patients are usually ambulatory when they are admitted to
Freeport, and all admissions are voluntary - nobody is committed,
as they might be to a mental institution. In my case I was
on my feet in two days and encouraged to take my meals with
the others. I had pictured the patients as being "Bowery
bum" types, but I could not have been more wrong. Most
were attractive and well spoken. Though at twenty-one I
was the youngest at the hospital, a number of patients were
was then entered in the educational program, which consisted
first of orientation lectures to explain what alcoholism
is and what it can do to you. There were three of these
was followed by another series of lectures for an hour and
a half every morning, seven mornings a week. Afternoons
were devoted to group therapy and individual counseling
sessions. I was soon made to realize that I was not like
other people, that I had a severe reaction to alcohol and
could never be a "social drinker."
me alcohol was, in effect, an allergy. I was told that the
only way I would be able to stay sober, once I was discharged,
was to join an A.A. group, and I attended several sessions
which were handled by outside A.A. volunteers. Much time
was spent trying to build up the patients' "self-esteem"
- to convince them that being an alcoholic was not a sign
of a weak or evil character but a condition that could be
treated, like diabetes, though not ever cured.
was started on a family program and my parents, brother
and sister were invited to attend what we called the FOG
sessions (Family Orientation Group). There my family was
given lectures similar to my own orientation course, explaining
what alcoholism is and how I should be treated. They were
encouraged to join Al-Anon, an organization specially for
the families of alcoholics. One of the important points
stressed was that families should not disrupt their entire
lives because one of them was an alcoholic, but must learn
to start living for themselves. Sometimes after hearing
the orientation lectures, other members of the family would
realize that they too were alcoholics and apply for a course
there were twenty-five different programs in one week for
the alcoholic patients, including films, group and private
therapy, rap sessions and lectures. We were also given a
complete physical checkup every day. I know of no case in
which any of the patients tried to smuggle in drinks or
have any alcohol at this period. They had all been too close
at Freeport is usually for one week. This costs $405 and
is allowable on Blue Cross, but since I had no regular job
at the time I was admitted, the cost had to be picked up
by my family.
finally left Freeport after two weeks, restored in physical
and mental health, and convinced I could and must stay sober.
was able, after a few months, to start another relationship
with a boy I had known in high school. He knew of my illness
and was confident we could fight it together. This did much
to help my self-esteem.
it was hard to stay sober. I still couldn't realize that
in my case, I could not drink at all. Shortly after I left
Freeport, I took a bottle of Vodka to my room, just to lift
me out of the blues. I fell off the wagon with a bang, and
within two weeks I was in almost as bad shape as when I'd
first arrived at Freeport. I agreed to return for further
treatment and was reminded of what I had been told so many
times in the hospital and at A-A. meetings. When you go
back to drink, you don’t go back to the beginning;
you return to the point where you last left off.
time I cleared the hospital in one week, convinced that
I would really stay sober forever. I had another scare not
long afterward while I was having some dental work done.
The dentist had given me the usual dose of Novocain and
started confidently to drill, when I let out a shriek of
had forgotten one of the warnings in the lectures at Freeport.
If you are given anesthetics, you must always warn the doctor
or dentist that you are a recovered alcoholic. Alcoholics
often develop such a special chemistry with regard to drugs
that they have been known to come suddenly out of anesthesia
even during surgery!
have finally learned that I can cope with my illness by
facing it day by day, with the help of my family, my boy
friend and Alcoholics Anonymous. I've learned to love waking
up not feeling sick.
took and passed a high school equivalency test and have
now passed entrance exams for a local university, which
I plan to attend next semester.
my new boy friend, loves and understands me. Before, I never
believed anyone would love me sober. Now I don't think anyone
could love me any other way.
give thanks to God, the Freeport Hospital and Alcoholics
Anonymous for giving me back a life that nearly ended before
Seventeen, March 1974)