At the age of sixteen, a Christmas gift from my parents was a splendid “Beers of the World” collection, featuring 12 bottles of beer from different countries. Earlier that year I had spent several drunken evenings finishing off boxes of wine with my mother. I was the chief “joint-roller” in my home, with an innate ability to roll a mean, tight doobie.
I had long since had my first drink. I can remember drinking whiskey with relatives as early as 5 or 6. I remember drinking wine at 10 or 11. I remember smoking pot with my parents in my early teens. Unfortunately, I was not the exception. I was on a timetable that most American children are still on. By the age of 14, almost half of all American children have had a drink. By 16, the average teen is drinking regularly. Nearly 5,000 Americans under the age of 21 die every year because of alcohol.
Because I grew up in a household that was already a bit skewed, my behavior was accepted and even encouraged. I didn’t think it was wrong or unusual and neither did my family. When I went off to college and found out that everyone didn’t drink like I did, and that they actually went to class, I was in for a shock. Of course, there was a group of kids who partied like I did, and for a time, I was the center of that group. Until I got kicked out of college, that is. But for awhile, I was surrounded by likeminded, fun people who shared my values of having fun, bucking society, and sleeping in.
Long after I stopped drinking, I worked as a high school teacher. I saw the problem of teenage drinking from a new angle. I saw young girls, sweet sixteen, arriving at school with the smell of alcohol and cigarettes on their breath. I knew girls who had gotten pregnant by their boyfriend while they were drunk. I knew a girl who had single-handedly destroyed her parent’s home by having a virtual city-wide party at the house while her parents were away.
Every high school has the poster child of alcohol abuse. The kid who drove drunk and died. We had one. He was soon forgotten as the next party was being organized, the next keg ordered.
As a teacher, I was able to look at those teenagers, actual children, and see myself – completely abandoned by my family, the school, everyone. Set free to party, to have fun, to run wild at too early an age without morals or expectations, ethics or goals. That child became a teenager and that teenager became a grownup alcoholic.