Breaking the binge
Vulnerable teens must face down extreme peer pressures
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 22, 2011 07:07
11 p.m. Halloween 2008.
He didn't bother changing the clothes he wore earlier that day. He locked his apartment door and went straight to his room. He crumbled to his knees in prayer; his shoulders were heavy with demons that had been riding him for years. Everything was coming back to destroy him.
Ryan Proudfoot was only 18 and a kinesiology freshman at the University of Texas at San Antonio, yet he was already a veteran of late nights accompanied by hard drinking and casual hook-ups.
"Drunkenness was the destroyer of me, my values and my morals," Proudfoot said. "It was the defining factor of the times I fell."
Proudfoot is now 22 and a UTSA graduate. Four years ago, he was part of the 28 percent of youth aged 12 through 20 nationally who consumed alcohol.
According to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation's report in 2009, 1.3 million underage youth in Texas consume alcohol each year. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that of the high school students who drank alcohol, two out of three reported binge drinking. The CDC said that binge drinkers often engage in health risk behaviors, such as driving intoxicated and risky sexual conduct.
"I had no self-control, zero boldness. I didn't stand up for myself like so many of us do today," Proudfoot said. "The crowd of people I surrounded myself with controlled me."
In 2009, the CDC ranked San Antonio eighth out of 180 metropolitan areas for binge drinking adults.
Twelve-step fellowship leader and San Antonio resident Raymond Loera, 46, lives by the belief that alcohol is a narcotic. He has been clean from his former addictions to cocaine and alcohol for 15 years, but Loera believes that alcohol acted as a gateway to cocaine.
"The hardest part of it was to stop drinking," Loera said. "I was told that it was a narcotic, and it was true because anytime I was high, I was also drunk. I started drinking alcohol at 14 or 15 on a regular basis, and I started combining them and by the time I was 23, I was using both frequently, together."
Neural behavioral researcher Charles Mathias, who has a doctorate in applied biopsychology, is studying the link between adults who drink excessively and adolescents.
"What puts them at greater risk for addiction is when a parent or family member uses drugs or drinks alcohol," Mathias said.
Another study Mathias is conducting at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio focuses on teens with addictions. Mathias has identified one commonality in his studies – impulse.
"When you're a teen, it's only normal to have a higher tendency to do things on impulse, but what we want to know is: does impulsivity increase because of drug use or do teens just come with that?" Mathias said. "Most studies conducted use adults and there is an obvious trend in the level of impulsivity in adults, but what I'm trying to find out is how were they before they started using? And that's why we study."
Mathias said in the '80s, the drug of choice was cocaine, while in the '90s and 2000s, it was Ecstasy. Over time, the abuse of prescription drugs has gradually eclipsed past addictive trends.
"In our area, it's currently prescription drugs that are being misused," Mathias said. "The drug of popularity changes over time, and it looks as if prescription drugs are replacing those widely used in the past."
To better combat the evolving world of narcotics, school districts have developed programs to help students. Northside ISD has several programs in place for those who are willing to come forward to a teacher, counselor or nurse about a substance abuse problem.
If a student arrives to school under the influence of narcotics, the counselor must inform the parents and suggest treatment for the child. Following the completion of treatment, NISD students are required to enroll in an in-school counseling group that generally has six to eight sessions.
"Student safety is the No. 1 priority," said Kimberly Burke, coordinator of secondary guidance and counseling. "When a student discloses that they are using, it is (a counselor's) duty to tell their parents and help them seek the services that they need."
While divulging such information to a school official is unrealistic for some adolescents, Proudfoot believes there are several options for teens facing addictions.
"I've come to an understanding that addicts have a void that needs to be filled — a void of love, of community or of acceptance," Proudfoot said.