Keeping Teens Safe During Prom Night

bc-web-liquor0107It’s Prom season again and teenagers across the country are getting ready for the big night, spending lots of money on dresses, hair, make up and alcohol.

Yes, alcohol.

The other day I happened to glimpse at one of my 17 year old client’s cell phone screen and saw that she was in the middle of texting someone about Prom. The last message read, “Are you sure your cousin is going to be able to get us the alcohol?”

I wasn’t shocked, but disappointed. After all, this client is one of my “good” kids who generally doesn’t give me any trouble at all, but I was disappointed that she was planning on drinking on Prom night, just as thousands of other students will be doing.

Teens and alcohol simply don’t mix, they never have, and Prom and alcohol definitely don’t mix.

Teens want to party and celebrate, to be “grown” for a night which includes partying and celebrating the way they see or think grown people do, with alcohol which is why Prom and Graduation season are so deadly for teens when it comes to alcohol related accidents and deaths.

For example, in 2005 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 676 high school students were killed in alcohol related traffic accidents.  One third of all alcohol related traffic accidents involving students happen between the months of April, May and June.

Drinking alcohol can cause adults to make poor decisions, imagine the poor decisions involved with underage drinking.

Young drivers are less likely to wear their seat belts when they have been drinking.  In 2005, 64% of young drivers involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were not wearing a seat belt (NHTSA).

Teens who have been drinking or aren’t thinking about possible consequences, are also more likely to get into a car with someone who has been drinking, which of course puts their lives at risk even if they avoided alcohol themselves.

According to a 2005 report by the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, in the last 30 days, nearly 30 percent of high school students reported getting in a car driven by someone they knew had been drinking alcohol.

Other than drinking and driving, there are the other issues that come along with being intoxicated, such as leaving oneself vulnerable to sexual assaults, theft, violence and a host of other reckless, stupid behaviors and decisions.

One statistic I saw estimated that 90 percent of all crimes on college campuses including rape and murder involved alcohol.

Ask your teen how much would it suck on Prom night to end up:

  • on their knees somewhere throwing up or passed out
  • embarrassing themselves, their friends or their date
  • on a Youtube video doing something they wish they could take back
  • not remembering much of this supposedly unforgettable night
  • suspended from school or worse, arrested

Some people will say that teens will be teens, they will party and drink, but so what? Well if the statistics about alcohol related traffic accidents above doesn’t cause you to pause, think about these numbers from about.com:

  • 3 million children ages 14 through 17 are regular drinkers who already have a confirmed alcohol problem
  • Ninth graders who drink are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who don’t
  • 40 percent of children who begin drinking before the age of 15 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives

We can’t ignore the problem of teenage drinking. I am almost positive that the client I spoke about above, parents have not talked to her at all about drinking on Prom night, because she is an excellent student who never has behavioral problems. They would be shocked to know about her intentions, which is why I let her know I saw her text and spoke at length with her about underage drinking.

Parents, talk to your teens about staying safe and away from alcohol and drugs during Prom. Not only should you talk to your teen, you should also speak with their dates and even friends to try to make sure everyone is on the same page. You can even have your teen, their date and friends sign a sobriety or Prom promise, that says something as simple as:

I,__(name)_________ hereby commit to having a safe Prom by not using alcohol, tobacco, or any other drugs. I will also encourage those with me to remain alcohol and drug free and I will not get into a vehicle driven by someone who is not sober.

Have your teen sign and date it. Sounds simple, but this little method has proven to be powerful on high school campuses across the country each Prom and graduation season.

Lastly, parents:

  • Let your teen know that they can call you or someone else you both trust and agree upon, to come and get them anytime from anywhere
  • Know your teen’s plans for before, during and after Prom
  • Know who they are with
  • Come to a fair and agreed upon curfew
  • Let them know your expectations for an alcohol and drug free night
  • Check in with them during and after the Prom, or have to check in. A simple text, “I’m okay” may suffice

Prom is an exciting, memorable time that unfortunately ends in tragedy for far too many young people. Let’s try to keep them safe while allowing them to prove that they are ready for the responsibilities that come along with being young adults.

My Day Working At A Women’s Residential (Addictions) Facility: Observations And Thoughts

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Yesterday I was blessed to be able to go and work with a group of women in a women’s residential facility. All of these women varied in age from barely twenty to the elderly, yet they all battle some form of substance abuse.

None of them looked like “typical addicts” and they were all extraordinary women.

Many of them were mothers or wives and of course daughters who had lost nearly everything due to their alcohol, cocaine, crack-cocaine, prescription pills, meth or heroin addiction.

One older lady had battled addiction for most of her life and at one point became homeless before finally making up her mind to try to get sober and clean. She has seven months sobriety.

Another woman who looked like she couldn’t have been a day over twenty, but had a five year old child, had been clean for four years before an old dealer of hers found her on Facebook and seduced her into using again.

And another older female had been pretty much a functioning alcoholic for the past five years and then one night out of the blue had an alcohol related gran mal seizure that landed her in the hospital for five days and she was court-ordered to rehab from there.

A lot of the women had tragic stories, including a very young girl who I don’t think was even twenty and was in rehab for the first time after being court ordered into treatment.

She was adopted, her birth mother was a drug addicted, her birth father was in prison and when her adopted father died two years ago she started using any drug she could get her hands on to numb the pain she felt.

Working with these women yesterday in group and individual settings I took a lot away from not only what it meant to become and remain substance free, but also what it meant to accomplish any major goal.

Having a good support system of course is important.

The women who had a supportive family, a supportive group of people such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, supportive healthy friendships, supportive professionals or a supportive sponsor all seemed to be doing better than those who did not.

Having a belief in and a relationship with a Higher Power also seemed to help.

Not that there weren’t many women there who weren’t religious, but it was obvious that those who had some type of relationship with God, the universe, or whatever, seemed to be doing better in recovery compared to does who didn’t.

Also, those who were honest with themselves and in touch with reality seemed to be doing better than those who seemed to be a bit oblivious to reality.

The one thing that bothered me most about a lot of the women in the facility were that a lot of them were lying to themselves as we all do from time to time, especially when trying to stop a bad habit.

Many of the women still had “addict behaviors” not only in the fact that they were lying to themselves, but they were also lying and being sneaky to others.

For instance, this was a smoke-free facility where these women are prohibited from smoking, yet a number of the women sneak out and smoke.

That may seem relatively harmless in comparison to their bigger addictions, but that type of sneaky, dishonest behavior sets the stage for future relapse.

Relapse is not something that usually just happens, but develops overtime in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts.

A sober, clean person may start feeling agitated, lying, sneaking off to do things they know they shouldn’t, etc., days, weeks or months before actually relapsing.

They start lying to themselves, saying things like, “I can just have one drink” or “I can just take one hit and walk away, I know how to control it now”.

Before you know it, they are back in the thick of their addiction, driving under the influence to get more alcohol or selling whatever they can get their hands on to get more drugs.

Most of these women displayed some of those signs of a future relapse, from sneaking off to smoke, to being angry and irritable, to the woman who had the seizure asking me:

“How much do you think I’ll have to drink for that to happen to me again, because it scared the hell out of me. I don’t want to drink any more, but I just want to know if I have one drink, or two drinks, how many would it take before that happened again?”

Although she’s telling me she doesn’t want to drink again, she is lying to herself. It is obvious that in her conscious or unconscious mind, she is trying to figure out if she can get away with drinking “just a little”, but she is an alcoholic, and knows that there is no drinking “just a little” for her.

The women sneaking off to smoke, will be the same women sneaking off to drink or get high once they are out of rehab. That is “addict behavior” at it’s best.

Just like in trying to quite anything from smoking to losing weight, people generally relapse and it takes a few tries before they get it right. Relapse at some point is usually expected which is why there is often a focus on relapse prevention.

One of the biggest things to know about relapse is that if you mess up, if you have a drink, or a hit, or a donut, it doesn’t mean you just give up and give in. You can still back away at that point and start over before the addiction truly regains a hold of you.

All the women in this facility are at different points in their recovery and no doubt, for many of them, this will not be their last time in treatment, but hopefully one day they will get it right.