Teens in rehab say drugs are everywhere


KINGSPORT - Before they got their driver's licenses, went on their first dates or attended a prom, drug and alcohol abuse had become a way of life for most of the boys now living at a Kingsport treatment center.

The need for more teen drug rehabs is further punctuated by the rising incidents of teen drug addiction.

The teens say drugs are everywhere - and are often as accessible as a can of pop. They can speak firsthand that it doesn't matter if you live in a housing project or in a million-dollar home, every teenager will be tempted by drugs and alcohol, and some may end up becoming hard-core users.

Different roads brought teenagers Shawn, Aaron, Jacob, Michael and Brad (all names have been changed to protect the teens' privacy) to Comprehensive Community Services' Adolescent Treatment Center in Sullivan Gardens, but they will spend at least four months at the facility learning how to live life sober.

Michael, who grew up in the projects of Chattanooga, said he has been exposed to drugs and the drug culture all of his life. He came to CCS after being arrested for selling drugs to an undercover cop and for violating his probation. Michael smoked his first joint when he was 8, when his uncle let him try marijuana. After that, Michael said he sold drugs for his uncle.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Brad. Growing up in rural East Tennessee, Brad said his parents never did drugs and never had a drop of alcohol in their home. An older cousin allowed 12-year-old Brad to smoke his first joint, and he said he began using drugs because it was about the only thing fun to do in his small town.

"You either get high or get drunk. There is a park, and that is it. There is not even a Wal-Mart. There's a few gas stations. It's nice, but all there is to do is get drunk or get high. Everybody does it. The whole county,'' Brad said. At 17, this is Jacob's third time at a rehab center. He started using drugs when he was 12, sniffing a "bump" of coke at a friend's house.

"I have a great family,'' said Jacob. "There's no history of drug use. I have an older brother, and we live in the suburbs. We have a nice little house, two bedrooms, one bath. Two dogs, three cats. A happy little life.

To pay for his drug habit, Jacob would do neighborhood yard work. He'd make between $80 and $100 a day and lie to his parents about how much he made and how he was spending the money. "I did everything. ... I painted, cleaned out gutters, weed-eated, mowed, washed cars. I'm not spoiled. My drug of choice was LSD. ... It's usually about $4 a hit, but for $70 I could get a vial, and that's 120 hits,'' Jacob said. For Jacob, using drugs boosted his confidence, especially with girls.

"I have low self-esteem. If I'm on drugs or under the influence, I feel like I can talk to a girl easier," he said.

Jacob maintains that even after he leaves the treatment facility, he'll probably go back to using drugs, especially when he goes to college. But he says when he gets married and raises a family, that's when the drug use will stop. "They say that what you do will come down three times on your kids. I hope the (things) that I do won't come down on them," Jacob said.

Shawn also says he'll probably go back to drinking alcohol when he's out of the treatment facility. He started drinking after several of his friends died in a car accident. He got caught stealing beer from a convenience store and was sent to CCS. "I can't go back to the neighborhood I live in and expect not to do anything. It's just all around,'' said Shawn.

Shawn lives in Pigeon Forge, which he describes as a constant party town. Although he doesn't look 21, Shawn said he got alcohol from convenience stores simply by striking up a conversation with the clerk.

"It's all about how you approach people and talk to them. You always find ways. You slip them a five and go get a case of beer. It's not hard." Aaron, who had been at the center for two weeks at the time of the interview, said he had gotten in trouble for a non-drug-related offense and wound up taking a drug test for the court system. The judge sent him to CCS. Aaron had a part-time job installing siding to make money to pay for drugs.

All five boys were introduced to drugs either by family members or friends. Even though their parents were not using drugs and had discussed the dangers of drugs with them, other influences in their lives started their habit.

"My parents tried to act like I didn't have a problem, but they knew I did,'' said Shawn. "They asked if I needed help, and I said no, I didn't need any f---ing help."

"I hate when people ask me if I need help,'' Michael said. "If people want to, they'll stop." "I had a problem with stealing,'' added Brad. "I loved pills, and I would steal anything to get pills. I stole pills off my grandpa. ... You start to lie a lot."

"I don't call it lying, I call it being a con artist. If you do drugs, you have to know how to con people to get what you need or you end up in jail,'' said Shawn.

None of the teens said they were scared of going to jail. Most were more scared of their parents finding out about their drug use.

"I didn't want to let my parents down," said Brad. "I was doing real good for a while, and I just let them down. And they were saying 'Oh my God' and crying. I don't like that."

"My grandma told me I needed to stop. But I wouldn't smoke in front of my grandma. ... I regret that I got my little brother smoking weed. One day I was in the bedroom with him playing, and he asked to hit it with me. For a minute, I paused and thought about it. And then I let him. ... I'd rather him smoke it with me than with anybody else because you never know,'' said Michael.

All five teens admitted to doing drugs at school. But they never got caught, and they were never tested for drugs even if they were involved in sports.

"In my freshman year, I started out playing varsity in everything I did,'' said Shawn. "I didn't want to let the coach down or get put down to JV. So I started snorting coke. I'd do a gram of coke before a football game and raise hell, running everywhere and hitting everything. "I did good because I was so hyped up. Then it turned into more of an addiction. We didn't do drug tests. Most schools know what is going on.

That's why they don't push the drug tests because half of their players would be gone. I think the coach knew. Two or three of us were on the sidelines, and we'd pop up with a nosebleed. You'd have to know that something was going on." Michael and Brad said they both smoked pot on the job at fast food restaurants, sometimes even with their managers.

"I could go to the (store) with my parents and get high in the bathroom, and no one would know,'' said Michael.

All five of the teens said they graduated from the DARE program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, when they were 10. But that never stopped them from taking the first sip of alcohol or smoking the first joint.

"The DARE program is a joke. That's in fifth grade. You're eating crayons, not pills. Four years later, you're not thinking about the drug program. You need to bump that up to like seventh grade," said Shawn.

"If they said they were going to drug-test people, more than likely more people would quit," said Michael.

"There is no way to get it out of the system. Kids are always going to be exposed to drugs. There is nothing nobody can do about it. There is no way to stop it. All you can do is talk to them,'' Jacob added.

"Just always talk to them," said Shawn. "I'm going to tell you that there is nothing you can do. At a certain age you got to let them have their freedom. If it's your daughter and she's 14 or 15 and there's three guys and two other girls and everybody is getting high but her, she's going to eventually give in."

"But you can't go crazy on them cause they tried it once,'' said Brad.

"Yeah, you can," replied Shawn. "I say go f---ing nuts."

"My parents freaked out the first time," said Brad.

"Not me," said Shawn. "I wish my parents had."

Copyright October 12, 2003 Kingsport Times-News.

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