LDS teens offered more drugs

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    By Elizabeth Bowman

    [Sara is an alias for a past substance user from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who would like to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.]

    Sara can still remember the first time her lips touched a cigarette and the depth of the moment. After a few months of hanging out with a new group of friends, Sara asked for a cigarette, but her friend said no because she didn”t want to be blamed for her starting to smoke.

    “But I persisted, I really wanted to smoke,” said Sara, who was in eighth grade at the time. “My friend was controlling – she wouldn”t even let me hold it, she told me when to suck in and when to blow out. I took a drag, I didn”t even cough, then I exhaled and we shared the rest. My mind was telling myself that I needed to remember this, because it was the first time that I had done something deliberately wrong – April 12, that was the date.”

    Within less than a month, Sara was addicted to nicotine. A few months later, she found her life entangled with other distractions, including not only an addiction to tobacco, but also alcohol and drugs, resulting in a six-year on-and-off habit.

    Sara”s story does not differ too much from many LDS teens and young adults in similar situations. With its strict health code, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” youth may have the impression they are barricaded from the world; but, with daily temptations, it can be difficult for some youth to stay strong in maintaining those standards. As a result, parents and counselors are making even stronger efforts to safeguard and provide help for teenagers, who might find the need to experiment.

    In a national study conducted from 2001 to 2005 at the University of North Carolina, researchers reported 40 percent of LDS youth have been offered drugs. Out of the youth questioned, this statistic seemed to be the highest among LDS youth.

    The statistic only refers to the youth being approached about drugs, not those actually using them. But the authors, Christian Smith and Robert Faris, also reported that 34 percent of the LDS participants in the study had used illegal drugs. Of the youth questioned, the LDS teens had the highest number of individuals who had never smoked before. However, 42.8 percent of the LDS youth in the study said they had smoked before, with 1.9 percent smoking regularly.

    Some may wonder why a large percentage of youth who have the church”s guidance and a strict health code are finding the urge to experiment with harmful substances. Many counselors and experts agree the youth”s actions may be influenced by everything from ads to movies, television, music, peer pressure, boredom or maybe just the innate desire to rebel.

    “It wasn”t really a curiosity, it was doing something recreational – because you feel empty inside,” Sara said. “Cigarettes and drugs can be cheaper, easier and more accessible [than other popular activities].”

    After the initial denial that a child might be using drugs, many LDS parents do not know exactly how to approach their child. There is no textbook example of how to handle the situation.

    “When I was 16, they [my parents] were catching on by finding cigarettes in my car,” Sara said. “They yelled and tried to give me a punishment like grounding me, but it never lasted.”

    Many parents find themselves struggling to find the appropriate response in this situation. One of the first times Pam Flygare, parent of a recovered drug addict, realized her son”s problem was when a trusted teacher confided his fears to her during a parent-teacher conference. He told Flygare and her husband that not only was their son, Todd, failing, but he was also often truant from school. The teacher thought Todd could be using hard drugs. Flygare said she and her husband originally approached their son in conversation.

    “When it became apparent that Todd needed more serious intervention, we began exploring rehabs of all types: wilderness [and] long-term residential,” Flygare said. “Within a day [of looking into rehabilitation options], we knew we had to act quickly or we would literally be planning his funeral.”

    After personally visiting about five Utah facilities, Flygare and her husband decided to send Todd to the Utah Boys Ranch in West Valley, now known as West Ridge Academy. Flygare recounts that her husband said the night the staff members came to take Todd was one of the worst nights of his life. It was only one week before Christmas, and, because Todd did not want to leave, two of the personnel had to physically remove him from the house. Flygare said she knew it had to be done and remembers the air being filled with mixed emotions from Todd, her other son, her husband and herself.

    “Parents need to have the courage to do whatever needs to be done to save their child,” Flygare said. “The same answer doesn”t fit every family, but be diligent in seeking and researching help … we couldn”t wait another minute to rescue him from himself; it was the hardest thing I”ve ever had to do.”

    After years of counseling and parent intervention, Todd Flygare is now a recovered addict and married with two children.

    Sara is also now a recovered drug addict; however, the road to recovery was difficult. Her parents tried various methods of remedy: asking youth leaders for help, writing their beliefs in a letter to their daughter and giving her antidepressants, Sara said. But only when Sara decided to visit a counselor on her own terms did she finally decide to permanently change her life. She continues to visit a counselor at the BYU Comprehensive Clinic.

    “We generally see recovering addicts and help them work through their individual issues that used to be even more problematic during the addiction period,” said Judy Norman, director of the clinic. “We”re not focusing on [just] staying away from drugs but [also] strengthening the individual in their job, family and social life to help prevent relapse – we”re working on the psychological issue.”

    Norman also said she encourages families to be involved in the healing process and not allow a clinic to do all of the work. Sara also agrees it is important to have family support before, during and after the addiction period.

    “Parents: love your kids,” Sara said. “Tell them that you love them and show them that you love them. Teens that aren”t using: don”t judge what you don”t understand, don”t be close minded, just know it”s there and don”t participate in it and teens that are using realize there”s a huge world and the things in it are a lot more important then what”s in your bowl.”

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