Meth addiction growing among teens

Meth: Part II

Meth.

"You either have kids say they used it once and hated it, or they used it a few times and were hooked.

"Then the madness begins."

That's the reality of methamphetamine to Shawna Bowen Bevers, a licensed drug abuse counselor with a master's degree in counseling and psychology. She's an expert in teen-age drug addiction and all that comes with it. About half of her clients see her on their own. The others are court-ordered by the juvenile probation system. She can be reached at 928-649-9479.

Much of Bevers' reality lies outside the box of stereotypes we dip into to help us understand meth addiction. Her reality rattles some of those myths.

"I'm seeing, definitely a trend, the adolescent meth user has skyrocketed," Bevers said.

An "epidemic," she calls it.

Stereotypes don't help as much today as they did yesterday in spotting or predicting meth addicts.

"Not only people with piercings and Mohawks are using," she said. "I'm seeing the good-looking kids, church-going, good kids. Their faces haven't started dripping away yet."

High school is the growth market. "If they go to Mingus High School, they are around it all the time," Bevers said. She also said meth use is widespread and is in all high schools.

According to Bevers, kids in junior high are getting set up for meth use by using marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes.

"A lot graduate into meth use by high school," she said.

Why? That's the question so many ask. If the ugliness of meth addiction is as plain to see as open sores, sunken eyes and rotten teeth, why do teenagers get into it?

The answer might be simpler than we like.

"A lot of it has to do with curiosity," Bevers said. "But the kids don't see anything other than the good times."

She said teens see their friends having a great time on meth.

"In the beginning it's a lot of fun. It's a major endorphin rush," Bevers said. "It's pot times 10 with speed attached. In the beginning, they really can do a lot of homework and perform well in sports."

Weight loss is another draw that meth holds for girls and even for boys who are being teased about their weight. "If you're a female that is over size 4, you're at risk," Bevers said.

Add to this mix, the natural sense teenagers have that they are bulletproof.

"You can use casually for the first month or two," she said. "But there are no casual users after that."

All too soon they've crossed the invisible line into addiction. Bevers said the teenagers don't know they can't stop because they haven't tried to stop. "That isn't an issue, yet."

They just know they keep needing more. Kids tell Bevers they spend every waking minute looking for the next fix.

That's when the glide ends. The rough stuff is here and its course is predictable.

"The consequences start," Bevers said. "The kid starts going down, and that's when denial kicks in." She said denial is the oxygen of addiction.

Grades start falling. The student drops out of sports. Likely, the teenager will have trouble with the law -- end up on probation. Some kids will start selling meth to their friends to support the addiction. "All of a sudden selling drugs is OK for a kid who has never been in trouble," Bevers said.

Typically, according to Bevers, the teenage meth addict will drop out of public high school and switch to a charter school and take a part-time job. Then they quit the charter school, thinking they'll get a GED.

"They keep the part-time job," she said. "That's one of the signs parents can look for."

Bevers said parents of teen meth addicts cushion their child's downfall. "That actually prolongs the agony.

"Young adults on meth will lose their homes, their cars and not have food in the house," she said. "But kids just go home where they have food and a bed -- and a family secret.

"I tell them, 'You will be alone. Your family and friends will eventually give up on you. You're not going to understand that what I'm telling you is true until the cuffs are on.'

"That's where I come in," Bevers said.

But the road back from meth addiction is neither short nor easy. Studies show that only about 10 percent of meth addicts stay clean after counseling or rehabilitation.

"The statistic is right," Bevers said. "But that 10 percent just proved that you can do it."

She said that meth becomes the addict's number-one coping skill. "They need to develop coping skills that don't include hurting themselves.

"I help kids develop self-esteem so they can say no," Bevers said. "If you have self-respect and self-love you don't treat your body like a toxic waste dump."

Bevers says that meth addicts cannot stop without significant work. "The biggest part of the disease is the mind talk. Mind talk develops to keep you using."

She points out that treatment does work. "There are a lot of kids who are doing well and are staying away from it," she said

"If a kid has a conviction not to use, they better make sure everyone they hang out with has the same conviction," Bevers said.

When it comes to finding workable solutions to the growing meth epidemic, Bevers shakes her head.

"How bad does it have to get?" she asks. "How many kids have to lose their life's potential and creativity before the fear is enough to prevent this?

"The best way to stop it is to prevent it," she said.

"We have a lot of kids who aren't using today, who will be tomorrow."

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