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In the mounting numbers of teen drug users are children like any others: curious, troubled, bold. They experiment. And some are consumed by the experience. They encounter the drugs and alcohol in the most casual ways, on school yards, at parties, and in their own homes. Finding a way to stop is harder.
The Seattle area teenagers profiled have all sought help. For some, it is a fragile recovery...
It is highly recommended that you read the sad but riveting stories about these struggling teens and what they have all gone through.
story by Molly O'Conner
photographs by Maxwell Balmain
DRUGS OF CHOICE: alcohol, marijuana, gasoline
Sarah found her high close to home: stealing liquor from her parents and inhaling fumes from a gasoline can kept in the garage.
Sarah would hug the gasoline can, wrap her mouth around the nozzle and breathe deeply the fumes from the fuel used in the family lawn mower. If her parents were gone, she and her older sister would carry a gasoline can to the attic of their home on the Plateau and spend all day huffing the fumes. If her parents were home, Sarah would make as many as four 15-minute visits to the garage to get her gas-fume high.
"I started huffing at home once I realized we had gasoline here," said the eighth-grader. She had been introduced to huffing at a party. Huffing, she said, "made everything seem like a dream." Sarah said she doesn't remember the time she tried to jump out of a window at her house after huffing. She heard the story later of how her then-boyfriend pulled her back in.
But gasoline fumes weren't Sarah's first high.
At 9 years old, Sarah and her older sister started to swipe beer from their parents. By the time Sarah was 11, they had graduated to hard liquor, also pilfered from their parents. At age 12, Sarah tried to kill herself several times in one month. That was before she started smoking pot. "Pot took me away from reality 'cuz I never really could handle it. It (reality) scared me." After a month of smoking pot, Sarah said it became a daily routine for about a year.
Some days, she'd ride the bus to school and then go to a local grocery store to steal alcohol. She'd spend the rest of the day drinking behind the building. "I didn't care about school. I didn't care about my future." Sarah had been caught by her mother behind the grocery store once, but she said her parents were more suspicious of her older sister's drug and alcohol use.
"I was the little innocent baby of the family. They were in denial that I would do anything wrong." But when Sarah's mom found out that Sarah had been sneaking into the garage and huffing gasoline daily, she checked Sarah into a residential treatment program. Sarah's sister went for treatment later. "They wanted it for me when I wasn't strong enough to want it for myself."
To aid in Sarah's recovery, her parents quit drinking at home and took all of the alcohol out of the house. She's been sober for six months. "Moderation is not an option," said Sarah, who describes her personality as addictive. "Either I do it 'til I pass out or everything's gone."
"I plan to stay sober. I can't do drugs. They'll kill me, or I'll kill myself."
DRUGS OF CHOICE: alcohol, LSD, marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, gasoline, Dramamine, Scotch Guard, hash laced with opium, hallucinogenic mushrooms
Wearing a pager to make drug deals made Quincy feel important. A potent batch of methamphetamine brought his drug abuse to a sudden, frightening end.
Drugs made Quincy desperate. He'd sell pot to kids in junior high and skim his share off the top. He'd break into houses and steal drugs from friends and their parents. He'd date girls just because they bought him dope.
"I couldn't handle a second without it. I had to have it somewhere on me. To me, they were my god. I'd use anyone and rip anyone off for drugs. I didn't really have friendships. I used them. They used me."
Quincy, an only child, started drinking, smoking pot and huffing gasoline in ninth grade. By tenth grade, Quincy had replaced soccer, football, baseball, basketball and snowboarding with Scotch Guard fumes, LSD trips, hallucinogenic mushrooms and pot. He hoarded lunch and clothing money his mom gave him and bought drugs at the end of the week. Toward the end of tenth grade, he quit smoking pot. To reward himself, he started smoking again.
Quincy was friends with gun-carrying drug dealers by eleventh grade. He carried his own pager, so he didn't miss a drug deal. He thrived on the attention. Every time he was paged, every time the phone rang, it "made me feel wanted, like I was the man of the hour."
But Quincy trusted no one. The acid made him paranoid. He thought people were listening to him through vents or were out to get him. Eventually, brushing his teeth and taking a shower became a chore for Quincy.
Quincy snorted, then smoked, crystal methamphetamine during his senior year.
A different drug dealer with a stronger form of the drug brought Quincy's drug use to a frightening halt. His heartbeat would race and then limp along. He'd try clutching the daggers in his chest, as others shot down his arm. The chest pains lasted for a week. Quincy couldn't eat. He smoked pot for two days, hoping the pain would subside. Increased paranoia was the only effect he had from the pot. "I ended up praying for some reason. I was scared."
But when Quincy entered drug treatment center in Burien, he only was ready to give up crystal meth. He didn't think he'd have to give up his other drugs. "They were taking away my best friend. It was like losing someone you'd been married to for a long time."
Quincy now works at a printing business and has a 3.2 grade point average at school. He'll graduate in June. He has his driver's license, real friends and truthful talks with his mom.
But he can't promise that he'll always be drug free.
"I can't really look at the future, but I think I can make it through today."
DRUGS OF CHOICE: LSD, alcohol, marijuana, crystal meth, cocaine, Ecstasy, mushrooms
Eric kicked cocaine and other stimulants on his own, but he continued to drink until he'd pass out. His liver and lungs have paid the price.
Eric couldn't fall asleep at night without a drink or a joint.
That was the summer before he started tenth grade.
Now 30 percent of the high school student's liver is dead and his lungs are black. Memory loss, flashbacks and tracers - shooting stars in his vision as a result of doing acid - still linger.
Eric started smoking pot and drinking in sixth grade when he became friends with an eighth-grader at Catholic school they attended. "It was getting so we'd make plans for it. And nothing could break those plans, even family gatherings." By seventh grade, Eric found a full-time dealer to feed his pot habit. Eric would smoke pot three to four times a week - five if he had the money.
That summer, Eric discovered acid. "It was the best high I've ever had in my life." It was a contrast to the "downer" drugs - pot and alcohol - he had been doing.
Eighth and ninth grade for Eric blew by with daily doses of acid and pot, and alcohol three to four times a week. He sold the drugs prescribed to him for his attention deficit disorder. He also would steal car stereos and break into houses, spending all of his money on drugs.
Then Eric was introduced to the "booger sugars'' - cocaine, Ecstasy, crystal methamphetamine. Within a month and a half, Eric looked gaunt, having lost 25 to 30 pounds. He had lost his appetite and could sleep only if he were drunk or stoned. His use was so frequent and heavy he was being called a "cluck" - a fiend - by his friends. On his own, Eric stopped using the stimulants but continued to drink until he'd blackout. In one drunken rage, he broke his stepfather's nose and bruised his ribs. In another, he was arrested for drinking and driving.
He drank the night he left a residential treatment program and throughout the after-care program provided by the center.
He finally quit when he realized his sober friends in after-care were his real friends. "They are the friends that care if I live or die."
Eric's been sober since September 7.
"It's a miracle. I wasn't sober for a day. Now it's been eight months. That's a miracle I think."
DRUGS OF CHOICE: marijuana, acid, hallucinogenic mushrooms, nitrous, cocaine, metham-phetamine
Behind the good grades, athletics and other school activities, Kim hid a pattern of drug abuse in fifth grade. This honor student started every day high.
During her first two weeks of drug rehabilitation, Kim awoke each morning and groped at her night stand in search of her mirror. A line of cocaine had started her day since junior high.
Faller grew up in a large, suburban home on the Redmond plateau, "the kind of place you wouldn't expect someone to be doing drugs."
Her older friends introduced her to marijuana the summer before Kim went into fifth grade. In sixth grade, she won an essay contest sponsored by the anti-drug program DARE. "Before I was given the DARE award I smoked some pot," said Kim.
It wasn't a special occasion. By then, she smoked pot at the beginning and at the end of each school day.
By junior high, Kim had moved onto acid, mushrooms, cocaine and methamphetamine. Her drug supply came from her older friends. Kim used her weekly $10 allowance to buy drugs, some of which she resold for a profit to younger kids. "When I WAS in class, I was always high."
At Eastlake High, Kim said, she snorted lines of cocaine. While on an acid trip during her English final, Kim left the room when she thought the words were jumping off the page. Her parents, she said, didn't know what was happening.
"I put up the front that I was the excellent daughter," said Kim, who was involved with softball, volleyball, cheerleading and track and held a class office. Kim also carried a 3.8 to 4.O grade point average.
But on March 7, it was Kim's dad who pulled her from school and took her to a drug treatment center. She weighed 90 pounds. The doctors, she said, were amazed that she was still alive.
When she left the center, Kim started at a new school and made new friends to leave past temptations behind. She's been sober for 14 months. After she graduates in June, Kim plans to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
In the meantime, she talks to parents and kids at local schools about her past drug use. She believes she would have stayed away from drugs if someone her own age had told her doing drugs could lead to jail, a psychiatric ward or death.
"After I came out of treatment, it was like being a 2-year-old. I had to learn how to do everything normal and sober because drugs had been part of my daily routine."
DRUGS OF CHOICE: alcohol, LSD, marijuana
Ben quit pot and acid but he still likes to have a beer sometimes.
Six Xanax mixed with vodka almost killed Ben when he was 15.
He remembers thinking the pills his friend gave him were codeine. But after that, he doesn't remember much. Two weeks after Ben left the hospital, he started doing acid at school. One day he made the mistake of calling his parents while high. He started outpatient treatment soon after and has been sober since December.
Ben said alcohol and cigarettes just "popped up" when he was in elementary school. "I didn't even see weed until eighth grade."
Ben first tried pot at a party.
Smoking pot and drinking "turned into a weekend thing and before I knew it turned into an all-week thing." In middle school, Ben said he would smoke pot before school and at lunch. After school he would drink and, sometimes, do a hit of acid. But he and his friends spent most of their time smoking their way though the shoebox full of pot they found in the woods. By the time Ben hit Issaquah High School he was "getting messed up with anyone" he could.
"I always had a good excuse. I went to stuff that was parent-proof. Stuff that parents approved of," like the movies. But an outing to the movies always included a couple cans of beer. Or Ben and his friends would drink with parents who didn't mind.
"I tried to stay away from parties because I didn't want to get caught."
He said that if kids "play a sport here or there, wear nice clothes and stay in class then it's cool." Ben believes that his drug use was a phase. But quitting wasn't easy. He missed the high and he missed his friends. He said he can still go to a friend's house and have one beer.
As for other drugs, "There isn't a next time. Another drug and I'm out of the house."
DRUG OF CHOICE: marijuana
Kate once skipped school for three weeks just to smoke pot.
Kate fell hard and fast.
First with alcohol. Then with pot.
A year ago, Kate couldn't even imagine seeing marijuana. It was "not a part of my world," said the high school junior who has a family history of alcoholism. Last summer, Kate started going to parties and drinking on weekends. But big crowd scenes weren't for her so she would fall into the smaller groups gathered at a party. Those usually were the kids doing pot. That's how Kate got her first puff.
"It became so easy so fast."
Her pot use escalated from a couple of times a month to every day of the week. She once skipped school for three weeks just to smoke. "It was like eating. We didn't go a day without it," said Kate. She and her boyfriend would smoke before breakfast, at lunch and after school. She continued her routine until she was sitting in a McDonald's on a rainy Sunday night. It was the beginning of March. "Oh, this is not how I want (my life) to be," thought Kate.
She called her mom, who lived in Spokane, that night and asked to try treatment. Kate said most of her support came from her boyfriend, who later quit with her, and her mom.
"I started to stay sober and realized that I liked it. There's so much to do and so much I missed while smoking pot."
Kate relapsed once at the end of March. "I wanted to try it one more time - to see if I wanted the sober life or the life I had before."
The hardest part about quitting was realizing what she had missed and what little she could recall from the past few months, including her niece's birth. "Once you quit, everything comes down on you, all you wasted or did during the time you used."
If her boyfriend hadn't quit, she would have had to find a new group of friends. "When you start to do drugs you lose sober friends, but when you quit you lose your drug friends."
Now Kate, who once got good grades, wants to do well in school and graduate.
She considers herself lucky because she quit after only eight months and because "a lot of my friends haven't quit and some started in middle school."
"If you're curious, you try it. And once you try it and you like it, you don't care. Pot makes you not care."
DRUGS OF CHOICE: alcohol, LSD, marijuana, codeine
When he was living at home, Travis' room was always filled with music. He was kicked out once more for using drugs again.
Travis struggles every day, waffling between sobriety and addiction.
Now he'll struggle on his own.
Travis knew the bottom line: Do drugs again and you leave the house. It was a deal his mother insisted on after he completed a drug treatment program last year. Part of the deal was taking periodic drug tests.
Last Monday Travis failed the test. His mother thought he had been clean for almost a year. He confessed he had been drinking and doing Ecstacy and pot since the end of February.
Travis moved out the same day.
"The part that me made me loose my stomach was leaving and saying good-bye to my mom. I feel guilty because I lied to her." This is at least his third relapse in two years.
After an arrest for selling drugs, Travis has gone through numerous drug treatments. He would always quit for months at a time. But he always fought treatment. During one relapse, his daily drug diet included LSD and 12 codeine pills, a diet that gnawed away at his stomach lining and dropped 20 pounds from his already lean frame in two weeks. A new girlfriend made him stop. He said he didn't want to have another relationship built on getting drunk and high. Two months after they broke up, Travis used again.
As a seventh-grader, Travis began pounding beers on the weekend with his brother, who was then in the 10th grade. He moved to pot by eighth grade. That year, Travis's brother went into drug treatment and Travis "took over his area." He started eating hallucinogenic mushrooms and smoking more pot.
To support his habit, he started selling.
His mom talked to him about drugs. He assured her that he had seen what had happened to his brother and "no way" would he do drugs. The next day travis got caught selling LSD at school, was expelled and hauled off to the police station. After that Travis' life became a series of drug treatments, relapses and deceptions.
Before his weekly drug tests and meetings with counselors, Travis would try to mask the drugs in his system. He would stuff his book bag full of encyclopedias and run around the block or stand outside a steaming shower to try to work up a heavy sweat. He consumed combinations of vitamins, vinegar, cranberry juice, water and a special tea he believed would stump the drug screen. He also dumped his grunge-rocker look. He even became more involved in family activities.
"You have to find a way to disguise yourself," he said. Travis thought his act was convincing.
But when his dad called his school guidance counselor last Monday and described Travis' lethargy and disheveled appearance, the counselor cautioned those were the signs of drug abuse.
Travis now lives with two friends - one doesn't go to school, the other barely goes to school. "I have no future game plan right yet. I've got to go to school. I'll work for rent, work for insurance, work for food. My spare time, if I have any, is going straight into my music."
But he's not certain this means an end to his addiction.
"It's a total war, and it's all against yourself."
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