Peninsula hangout aimed at meeting teens’ needs -By Nick Green |
Holidays can exacerbate alcohol and drug addictions -By Mary Scott |
Holidays can exacerbate alcohol and drug addictions
By Mary Scott
Thursday, December 10, 2009 5:38 PM PST
The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time of year. It’s a time to spend with family and friends, feasting and celebrating peace and goodwill.
But for many, the holidays bring depression, loneliness and added pressure. Many turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
“I used to get drunk at Thanksgiving time and stay that way right through Super Bowl,” said John B., a volunteer at the Alcoholics Anonymous office in Torrance. The Torrance AA office provides referrals to more than 500 weekly meetings in the South Bay, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
John B., sober for 23 years, told the News that it was the hustle and bustle, and the pressure of trying to please everyone that forced him to drink excessively during the holidays.
When asked if he sees an increase in people seeking help at AA from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, John B. replied, “Definitely; absolutely.”
There is a lot more drinking going on, he said. Some enter AA on their own accord, while others are ordered into the 12-step recovery program following arrests for driving under the influence.
“There’s a lot more road blocks; people are getting caught with DUIs and the judge has ordered them into AA,” John B. said.
The holidays invoke a lot of emotions in people, said Dr. Greg Allen, a therapist with a private practice in Malaga Cove. He also is the director of Palos Verdes-based Freedom4U and the Thelma McMillen Center, which is a chemical-dependency program at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
“There’s an expectation that everybody should be happy and joyful with their lives and relationships,” he said. “And for a lot of people, that isn’t the reality. They have people they’ve lost or relationships that have not worked out.”
People use chemical substances to ease the sadness, he added.
Social drinking and drug use also increase during this time of year.
Parties, gatherings, reunions and unstructured time all are factors. “[People] don’t have the usual routine of work or school, so there’s a lot more down time,” Allen said. “They have to fill it with something, so that may make them more vulnerable to take something.”
There are adults who can manage their consumption of alcohol.
The difference between social drinking and problem drinking is the ability to control one’s behavior, Allen said. Those who have had negative consequences from drinking, such as being arrested for a DUI, and continue to drink anyway may have a problem and should seek help.
“Another way to tell is if you say, ‘I’m just going to have one or two,’ and you weren’t able to … then [you] may not be able to control it,” Allen said.
The McMillen Center offers free consultations to help people learn what type of care may be best for them. For those who may not have an addiction but worry that the holidays may cause undue stress and a drinking binge, Allen suggested that they develop coping strategies ahead of time.
“These could be activities, hobbies, disciplines, spiritual practices, supportive people and, don’t forget, fun,” he said.
Support groups, such as AA, can help, too.
“Now I enjoy the holidays,” John B. said. “It’s a joy to be doing things for other people.”
What changed for John B.?
“I got sober. I stopped drinking,” he said. “My attitude changed. That’s what we call AA, ‘altered attitude.’”
John B. offers this advice to those who may be suffering this holiday season: Don’t try to sober up by yourself.
“I had to quit hanging around my old friends. I had to quit hanging around my old places and I just had to change my life,” he said. “After being sober for a while, I found out that my friends weren’t really my friends. They were just using me anyway. Of course, I was using them at the same time.”
For more information about the chemical-dependency program at the Thelma McMillen Center, call (310) 784-4879. For more information about AA meetings in the Palos Verdes area, call (310) 618-1180.
Surfer talks to teens about drugs -By Mary Scott, Peninsula News |
Surfer talks to teens about drugs
By Mary Scott, Peninsula News
Thursday, October 29, 2009 11:33 AM PDT
Alex Gray was 17 years old when he lost his older brother, Chris, to a drug overdose.
Chris had been clean for six months when he moved back to Palos Verdes after staying in a sober-living house. One night, while out with a friend, Chris decided to use just one more time, which turned out to be the last time. He died that night at the age of 20.
“When my brother passed away, it completely changed my life,” Gray said.
Today, the professional surfer visits local schools and talks to students about his brother and the danger of using drugs. Last week, he spoke to approximately 700 students at Miraleste Intermediate School and Chadwick School.
“I just want them to know that it can happen to any of us, really,” he said. “It’s not that you’re a bad person if you fall into drug use. It’s more that life is full of choices and at some point you chose to go down that path — or maybe you didn’t.
“I don’t think my brother would’ve have ever chosen to die at 20 years old at a drug overdose,” he continued.
The two brothers were close; Chris was Gray’s inspiration.
“He was the best older brother I could ever ask for … He was like my guardian,” Gray said. “He looked after me and introduced me to basically every great thing that ever happened in my life when I was a kid.”
Chris, Gray said, was smart, good-looking, and a great athlete and musician. He was on the dean’s list at El Camino College and had received a music scholarship to the University of Idaho. When he died of a drug overdose, it came as a shock; Chris didn’t fit the stereotype.
“It really opened my eyes to the reality of drug use,” Gray said.
Throughout the years, the News staff has heard rumors of rampant drug use on the Hill. But this is an affluent community, Could that really be true?
About 60 to 70 percent of teens are using a substance at least weekly, said Dr. Greg Allen, a Palos Verdes Estates-based family therapist and program director of the Thelma McMillen Center at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. At his group practice in Malaga Cove Plaza, he works with teens, parents, couples and adults.
These statistics are really no different than they are in other affluent communities across the nation, Allen said. However, he added, drug use among teens is greater in affluent communities like Palos Verdes than it is in lower socio-economic neighborhoods.
Teens in Palos Verdes have more money, more freedom and are trusted more by their parents.
“The main reason that kids are doing a lot of stuff is because they’re trying to deal with stress, trying to deal with how to have fun,” Allen said. “They’re trying to cope with academic pressure, and they’re also not being supervised.”
Kids as young as 13 are using. Besides alcohol and marijuana, they also are using their parents’ prescription medication, heroin and ecstasy, a drug frequently in the news several years ago.
Ecstasy burns cells in the brain that cannot be repaired, Allen warned. It has a stimulant, a hallucinogen and sometimes heroin in it. After a lot of attention, kids stopped using it.
“But in the last year and a half, all across the South Bay, now our communities in Palos Verdes, kids — 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds — are taking ecstasy,” Allen said. “And ecstasy is very dangerous.”
Parents can reduce the number of kids using by employing open and honest communication. Allen said the main reason teens don’t use drugs or alcohol is because of their connection to their families. They eat meals together. They understand their parents’ values, and what is and what is not OK to do.
“I encourage parents to stay involved with their teenagers like they did when they were little,” Allen said, adding that parents drift from their teens and that’s when they are at risk for bad behaviors.
Psychologists are putting a greater emphasis on healthier ways to relax, such as mediation and yoga.
“And that’s the same for our kids,” Allen said. “They have to find healthy ways to cope with life.”
Gray believes that kids need to find their passion and follow it. And parents, he said, should talk honestly and openly with their kids.
“I experienced such a tragic thing at such a young age that I don’t want any kid to have to go through what I did, or any parent to have to bury one of their kids,” Gray said. “I don’t think a parent should ever have to do that in their lifetime.”
Losing Chris was hard for Gray to get over.
“When he first passed away, I couldn’t go surfing, because it was what I did with him … For about two months, a month, I couldn’t even look at a surfboard,” he said.
One weekend, his parents took him to a competition. When he got to the beach, Gray said a dark cloud left his head.
“I was like, ‘God, what would my brother want me to do if he was here right now?’ And I really sat there and thought about that,” he said. “He would want me to continue doing what I’m doing and kick some butt at it and take it as far as it could go. He gave me this, and now to not honor what he had given me, that [would be] like a stab in his back.”
From that moment on, he dedicated everything to Chris.
“He’s not with me physically anymore, but spiritually, he’s always with me,” he said.
Alex Gray, right, is pictured with his older brother, Chris during a family vacation to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Chris died at the age of 20 from a drug overdose. Alex, now a professional surfer, speaks to local teens about the danger of using.
Give the perfect gift -By Mary Scott Bellgraph Peninsula News |
Give the perfect gift
By Mary Scott Bellgraph Peninsula News
Monday, February 12, 2007 1:20 PM PST
What is the best Valentine’s Day gift you could receive? Diamonds? A dozen red roses in a crystal vase? According to the National Retail Federation’s “2007 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey,” conducted by BIGresearch, Valentine’s Day spending is expected to reach $16.9 billion. But once the diamond loses its luster and the petals fall from the roses, will the relationship still be blooming?
What if the best gift you could give your partner is, well, you? A relationship rich with love, respect and patience is priceless.
Valentine’s Day is a good reminder for couples to check on their relationship, says Greg Allen, a Palos Verdes Estates-based marriage and family counselor. “And also to think about what we appreciate about the other person — to do something good for them,” he says.
Too often, people dwell on the negative aspects — what isn’t and what should be — of a relationship versus looking at all its positive qualities.
“Love,” says Allen, “it takes work.”
Allen compares relationships to a garden — in the sense that once it’s planted, it needs tending. Relationships, like gardens, need nurturing and protection, and occasionally, you have to pull out some weeds. “If you do all these things … then it will grow and be beautiful — flourishing,” he says. “It may sound funny, but you have to look at your partner that way — as something that’s growing, potentially growing into something really wonderful and beautiful. So you have to take care of it. You have to tend to it.”
People get caught up in work and activities, and they don’t take care of their relationships. Many couples, says Allen, are mistaken by thinking that their relationships have gone bad, when really they were just neglected. The divorce rate in California is higher than the marriage rate. Allen says that 85 percent of the couples that break up could have worked out their differences. “What people call irreconcilable, I call giving up,” he says.
Hang in there, Allen says. Love can be rekindled.
“There’s a lot that couples can do to get out of their complacency — like dating each other.”
Find an activity — or do something you used to do when you first started dating — that you both enjoy and go on a date. Don’t talk about problems, bills, children or anything that puts a strain on the relationship. Talk about simple things and enjoy each other’s company. Also, Allen says, try to look at each other as if you don’t already know everything. “If you’ve been in a relationship with somebody, you’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, so you think you know everything about them … You really don’t know everything about the other person,” he says. “If you can see them as more of a mystery, and have more interest in what they think about this or that … then it creates a little more interest in the relationship.”
For those with kids, finding couple time is difficult. Too often, the kids become the focus and the couple suffers. “That’s a big challenge for married couples with children,” Allen says. “It’s very hard to have an enjoyable marital relationship. A lot of couples forget what that is because they’re focused on work and the kids. The family, the individual couple, doesn’t get a lot of prime time together.”
It’s easier said than done, but schedule time alone.
“Put it on your schedule,” Allen says. “Carve out the time. Cancel other things and [schedule] an hour, two hours, three hours … [Having time together] used to happen naturally when it was just the two of you, but it doesn’t happen anymore.”
If that sounds too clinical, don’t worry. The romance, the natural desire to be together, soon will follow.
Whether you’re starting the journey into coupledom or you’ve been on the road for some time, there are several key factors to developing and maintaining a loving, healthy relationship. Respect your partner, and accept him or her for person he or she is — don’t try to change anyone. Be honest about your feelings and really listen to the things your partner says to you. Learn to communicate through conflicts, which will arise; know how to apologize and work on yourself. We often look at what others do wrong and forget to reflect on the things we do. Take a self-inventory and learn about you and why you respond to things the way you respond. If you take care of yourself, you’ll have more to offer another individual.
“If you want to take a time out, if you feel overwhelmed or really distressed, in despair,” Allen says, “find someone to talk to about your feelings, someone you can really be honest with — like a friend … A healthy relationship has two individuals that have enjoyable lives going already. And together, it should enhance life.”
On Wednesday, remember that it’s not about the roses or diamonds or candy. “The important thing is being together,” says Allen.
Greg Allen has been counseling families, teens and couples for 27 years. He has a private practice in the Malaga Cove Plaza in Palos Verdes Estates.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE PENINSULA
The good news is that 20% of the students in the Palos Verdes high schools are not taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Are we prepared as a community and a country to deal with the other 75% who are drinking and 35% who are taking drugs? At a California Crime Prevention Officers conference nearly 15 years ago, the featured speaker from the California Attorney General’s Office asked the audience what would be the worst scourge in our country’s future. Most guessed correctly – drugs. At that time law enforcement, governmental agencies, parents and schools were seriously concerned and promoted all kinds of programs to fight back, including DARE and SANE. In 1996 an Orange County judge speaking to a group of law enforcement officers asked, “Who here feels our country is in better shape today than five years ago, in regards to drug use and abuse and all the crime and misery that goes with it?” Not a single person raised a hand. And if you asked any law officer the same question today, you would probably get the same reaction. Most programs set up years ago haven’t worked. Drugs are easier than ever to obtain. Kids have become more accepting of drugs. Parents have become more complacent. And the United States has the distinction of being one of the highest consumers of drugs in the world; allowing dealers to continue making millions as the ever growing supply of young people are ready and willing to continue to fill their coffers.
Despite valiant efforts to contain this scourge, we have witnessed the horrible toll that drugs and attendant violence have made in our communities, destroying countless families, lives and friends with a resultant explosion of youth perpetrated crime. Substance abusing athletes, entertainers and celebrities are taken more seriously as role models than parents. From sea to shining sea, including the hamlets of rural America, drugs are silently tearing up the very fabric of our communities. Where does our little community of Palos Verdes fit in?
We asked the question of two entities both of whom see the dark side of drug activity – law enforcement and the medical side of substance abuse. Dr. Greg Allen and CORE Deputy John Despot routinely see the results of the drug culture in RPV. Both have nothing to hide, no axes to grind, no one to answer to, and the same goals – to prevent substance abuse and help those that can be helped. Both concur that drug activity hasn’t gotten any better, and maybe is worse. They indicate that Peninsula substance abuse is similar to the National statistics. That is some 20 percent of freshmen are drinking and using marijuana. By their senior year, 75% are drinking regularly, enough to get drunk, and 35% do other drug activity.
Both indicated how easy it is to get drugs on the Peninsula. “Kids here just ask around. Everyone knows a friend of a friend who can get drugs for kids within a day. They’re available at parties in nice houses, behind gates, and on campus. Kids have money. $10 to $15 a day can get kids a nice high.” Despot says, “At the beginning of the school year we start canvassing school areas around campus before, during and after school. We watch for loitering and suspicious activity during daytime curfew and after school at Peninsula Center juvenile hangouts. We go for the dealers as well as the users. We do our best work under cover as we can get closer to the criminal activity. Over the last 8 years we have watched drug transactions take place within 20 feet of us, often in the Peninsula Center parking lots. We’ve seen drug overdoses right in front of us that have resulted in death.”
When asked who is doing what drugs at what age, the answers were eye-popping. Gateway drugs are those drugs people are first exposed to and experiment with. The traditional gateway drugs are alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. However, abuse of prescription drugs is rearing its ugly head and pushing its way into the top three. A 2005 study indicated that teens who abused prescription drugs were twice as likely to use alcohol, 5 times as likely to use marijuana, 12 times as likely to use heroin and 21 times as likely to use cocaine as teens who did not abuse such drugs.
Although easily available on hundreds of websites, kids here starting as early as 6th and 7th grade find it much easier to steal their own and their friends’ parents’ prescription pills – pain relievers, sedatives, and stimulants, such as Oxy-Contin, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium and Prozac, sometimes taking them with alcohol. Parents rarely even notice the missing drugs. This is also a generation for whom a pill is available for every ailment – from anger control to aggressiveness to depression. The CEO of the Partnership for a Drug Free America recently wrote, “Teenage abuse of prescription drugs has become an entrenched behavior that many parents fail to recognize. Clearly this is a true problem in American society”.
Younger kids are also into the extremely dangerous use of inhalants, which can cause heart attacks. Inhalants are anything that emits fumes or that is in an aerosol form that can be inhaled, such as gasoline, hair spray, Reddi-Whip, paints and cleaning fluids. Experts tell us that the scary part of pre-teen and teen substance abuse is that the teen brain is particularly vulnerable to drug abuse. The earlier a person starts, the more likely he or she is to continue doing drugs in later years contributing to the huge problem of drugs and violence in the workplace and in the home.
Alcohol is also easily available to kids on the Peninsula, freely purchased by others and given to kids as young as 13 and 14 – sometimes by parents who believe that if they let them drink at home, they won’t drink away from home, a practice Dr. Allen strongly disagrees with. It is highly addictive. Most of us know a family member or friend whose life was ruined by alcoholism. Marijuana seems to be joining beer drinking and cigarettes as a standard rite of passage for many young people. It’s easy for many parents to look the other way since they smoked it themselves and survived. Teens see it as harmless, but as Dr. Allen says, “The marijuana kids are getting now is 14 times more potent that in the ‘70’s”. He also indicates that because marijuana is now so expensive, more teens are turning to heroin, less expensive but considered the most dangerous and addictive narcotic there is.
Why do kids take drugs? Dr. Allen answers that, “Kids do drugs because they can. They’re allowed to. And they’re very clever about hiding and masking their drug habits. When they get to high school, parents back off and stop supervising.” Younger kids start abusing because they’re curious or have friends who have tried it and “it’s cool”. Peer pressure should be taken as a very serious factor, even for kids with no other risk factors. Alienation, rebelliousness, and lack of bonding either with family, friends or society start some kids off. A drug enforcement officer at a training session for a grand jury told them, “Most of these kids and now young adults started out innocently, just kids trying a joint. Then they begin to steal to get money for drugs and it escalates from there.” We see that right here on the Peninsula with kids who are now burglarizing our own residents to feed their drug habits.
Both Dr. Allen and Deputy Despot agree that parents are the first line of defense. Too many don’t take a strong enough stance and too many are in denial. A national survey that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse just published indicated that, “Parents drastically underestimate their teenage children’s exposure to and use of drugs and alcohol. Eighty percent of parents surveyed said they did not think alcohol or marijuana were available at their teens’ parties. But over half of the teens who attended those parties said these drugs were available.” The Center’s President said that substance abuse increased with drug availability and those parents, many of whom take the attitude of, “not my child”, were often unaware of the problem and sometimes enabling it. Ninety-nine percent said they would not allow their teen to serve alcohol at a party, but 28% of teens said events they went to served alcohol while parents were there.
A friend who counsels teenagers says, “Parents often refuse to take their kid to a medical clinic to have them tested for drugs when the kid shows symptoms but denies use. It takes a strong and forceful parent to do that, but it works in most cases. However, all too often, parents are afraid to act, and end up taking their kid to a hospital after an overdose, something they don’t hesitate to do. Too many parents want to be friends to their kids, not parents, and they fear their kid won’t love them anymore if they DO something. Insecurity breeds lack of discipline in the home.”
Despot recalls instances that bear this out. About 5 years ago, he first encountered and arrested a 13 year old Peninsula student for marijuana and alcohol abuse. The Mom and Dad worked full time, and the kid had minimum to no supervision after school. He began to steal from neighbors’ houses. His parents indicated they “had no control” over their 5’2”, 110 pound child. Despot suggested counseling, more supervision, involvement in after school and organized events, and more accountability when he got into trouble. The parents basically brushed him off, and said they’d take care of it. Two years later the same kid was arrested again for possession of stolen property. When asked how he’d been disciplined, he said, “I was restricted for 24 hours and that’s about it”. The parents never connected with him, he manipulated and violated them, and is now in jail for burglaries.
Another freshman, a good student, popular, with hard working parents who both worked was arrested for possession of marijuana. When the parents came to the station, they commented that, “This seems a little harsh”, when they saw their son in jail. “It was only marijuana.” Despot commented back, “This is the most important day in your kid’s life to be good parents. How you handle this when he gets out is how he’s going to handle future drug use.” The parents did everything he asked, held their kid accountable, didn’t defend his actions, didn’t back him up, and made it clear that it was 100% on him. If he screws up, he’s on his own. To this date there have been no more reported problems.
One of the ethical crises of modern parenthood for those baby boomers and X-ers, who openly participated in the drug culture of their own youth, is what to tell their kids. Do they tell the truth or do they lie? Back in the late ‘80’s, Rolling Stone did a survey of boomer parents. The conclusion was that they did a lot, regretted little, but wanted their kids to do none of it. Two-thirds had premarital sex, half used drugs, and the only serious regret was from those who drove while drunk. So their motto was, “Do as I say, not as I did”. But people in the medical profession now say the best thing to do is level with your kids about their own experience, but be prepared to say why you wish them to behave in a different way. Dr. Allen recommends that parents, “not recount every experience. Some details should remain private. Avoid providing more information than is actually being sought by your child. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand exactly why and what a child is asking before answering questions about your past drug use, and limit your response to that information. Parents should make it clear that they feel it was a mistake to use drugs and they hope their kids won’t have to make the same mistakes. Often parents feel guilty because of their own past use and feel this disqualifies them to speak against use now, or kids will use it against their parent’s to disarm their attempts at parenting. . However, we can learn from our mistakes and stand a strong stand now.”
Numerous polls have been made on those 20% of students who have never tried drugs. Their answers? “I stayed away from people who did drugs and associated with people who didn’t, so I had positive peer pressure.” “My parents and school and a few friends gave me strong anti-drug messages, and I said that’s not for me.” “I was afraid of the consequences, as my brother, a policeman, told me stories of what could happen”. “My parents warned us against it and said peer pressure could FORCE us to do it. The warning and the ego not to be FORCED to do anything resulted in my decision.” “I think having a police officer coming into our class and really telling us about drugs and what can happen if we use drugs, really deterred people.” But the most powerful reason that Dr. Allen sees is, “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”
Both Dr. Allen and Deputy Despot agree that parents must help solve these problems. Parents should supervise and monitor their children. Know what they’re doing, and who they’re with. As the legendary Gene Stallings, former Head Football Coach at the University of Alabama said at the National Sheriff’s Association Conference, “If you don’t know the names and faces of the people your kids are running around with, you’re in big trouble”. Dr. Allen says, “When you’re connecting with your kids you know what they’re doing. Kids care about their parents’ feelings. Get involved. Do things together. Join them in their lives. Continue to invest in the relationship in becoming an adult. Realize that kids have a demanding life. They have pressures to succeed in their education. They need to blow off steam and relieve the pressure, just as we adults do. Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Provide creative and fun activities for your kids, and supervise their activities.”
The longest march begins with a single step. It begins with connecting, then listening, educating, caring, learning about things yourself, setting limits, getting involved and watching for warning signs. We are sending this generation of kids out into a turbulent and challenging world. They must have the life skills and social skills to cope with clear heads and minds. What Franklin D. Roosevelt said in the ‘40’s still holds true today, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
Gail Lorenzen – Neighborhood Watch
Dr. Greg Allen can be reached at: 310-897-5043 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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