Youth affected by meth use, addiction

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 26, 2006

Editor’s note: This is Meth Education Week in Freeborn County. This is the fifth in a series of stories on the effects of meth on the community.

By Kari Lucin, Tribune Staff Writer

Adolescents often get involved with methamphetamine after they have already had alcohol or marijuana dependencies, and because they are chemically dependent, they will use whatever drug is available.

&8220;There’s usually some other entry point. Meth may be the one they get in trouble with the fastest. They may be dependent on alcohol or cannabis, but when the meth use starts, bad things happen very quickly. It’s likely to say that may be the drug that gets them to treatment faster, or it may be the predominant trouble-causing chemical at that point. But it’s usually not the thing they start using,&8221; said Garth Barker, director of Fountain Centers.

In fact, kids with dependencies on alcohol and marijuana often declare that there is no way that they would ever do powders.

&8220;So they leave treatment… and in a matter of a year, three years, we’ll see them back here, dependent on methamphetamine,&8221; said Paula Ciffra, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor.

Ciffra characterizes meth as a &8220;charismatic drug&8221; that appeals to young adolescent girls, because they are concerned about maintaining a low weight and staying attractive. Dealers sell the drug claiming it won’t have the negative effect on lives other drugs do.

&8220;As you cross over into addiction, it begins to take your life from you. It costs you your health, your family, school, friends, every aspect of your life, physically, emotionally… and mentally,&8221; said Ciffra.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to addiction because they believe it can’t happen to them or that it will happen to someone else. But meth addiction does not discriminate between the star athlete and the loner, the A student and the C student.

As addiction moves forward, it starts to resemble something else.

&8220;As with any chemical, in the beginning it almost appears to be a love affair between the person and the drug,&8221; said Ciffra, who often has kids fighting chemical dependency write a letter to the drugs. &8220;By the end of the letter, it’s &8216;get out of my life, I hate you. You came into my life at such a good time, and made me feel so good, and took me to places I’ve never been before.’ And at the end, the basic premise is: You took me places I did not want to go.&8221;

By the time kids get to Ciffra, they are usually involved in the legal system, and initially they are on the downswing from meth, desperate. By the time they start treatment, they may not think the addiction is so bad anymore.

&8220;Recovery… is a process. It’s a verb. That process will need to continue for the rest of your life. And that’s a hard sell with adolescents,&8221; said Ciffra.

Kids have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they cannot drink alcohol safely for the rest of their lives.

&8220;It’ll take you back to your drug of choice so fast your head will spin,&8221; said Ciffra.

Parents sometimes see their child’s addiction as a personal failing, a sign of either the child’s or their own weak character or moral problems. But addiction is a disease.

&8220;Those behaviors you’re doing are yours, but they are not who you are. They’re your behaviors, but they’re not about you as a person. They’re not what you are made of,&8221; said Ciffra, describing the guilt and stigma of addiction.

Kids are just as appalled at what meth does as adults are. They watch friends lose teeth, have open scabs on their faces, lose a hundred pounds.

&8220;It’s pretty tough to watch a friend go down that path, but it’s not about wanting,&8221; said Ciffra. &8220;It’s taken over the entire person.&8221;

She warns parents to trust their gut.

&8220;If you’re seeing some things that are out of the ordinary, call and talk to somebody. Everything is kept confidential, you can ask questions. You don’t have to name names. Make a mental note or write down things that you’re seeing, whether it’s change in school, sleep, friends, how they treat you… but don’t be afraid to talk to somebody about them,&8221; said Ciffra. &8220;Of course, the best ammunition is knowledge. Learn about this as a disease, learn what it’s all about.&8221;

Recovery is possible, and its rewards are great, but addicts need to find what’s in it for them in order to succeed.

&8220;The most important

thing is education, because then you can direct your anger at the drug, at the addiction, not the person,&8221; said Ciffra. &8220;There is life beyond meth.&8221;

(Contact Kari Lucin at or 379-3434.)