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Teens at the Brink

Yael Schuster

The stories are painful, the reality heartbreaking. A disturbing number of our children are using drugs and many have become addicts. What can we do to stem the tide? Young people who’ve nearly drowned in those toxic waters discuss the pain of their struggles and the gift of their triumphs, while experts share lifesaving advice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rabbi Eitan Eckstein: A bochur is smoking pot. He needs money to support his habit, so he introduces pot to his friends, looking to make a sale. It’s cool, so the friends jump on board. Before long these guys involve other friends, and so it goes. The majority of these kids are just experimenting, out of curiosity or peer pressure. But a subset of these kids are walking around in pain. They try drugs like everyone else does, and quickly realize they’ve just bumped into their solution. They’ve found an escape valve, something that dulls the pain. These are the kids that become serious drug abusers. The sources of pain are varied. Certainly, abuse of any form leads to immense pain. Around 99 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys coming through our programs have been abused. But less traumatic situations that are chronic can do it too. For example, feeling like a perpetual failure due to learning disabilities, growing up with constant criticism, or feeling neglected at home because of the needs of a chronically ill sibling, can generate enough pain to put a teen at risk of drug use.   Sony Perlman: Over the past 15 years, there has been an explosion of what we call “chillers.” These kids keep up a façade — they go to school and ostensibly do what they’re supposed to — but they have an undercover life of low-level drug use, hanging out with kids of the opposite gender, sometimes not keeping Shabbos. Doing drugs is risqué and feels good, and it runs unchecked in this group because these kids are flying below the radar. When they hit their 20s, they often have real issues with religion. Instilling enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit is the answer for the chillers, and schools are beginning to address this.   Shoshana Schwartz: As the pace of life grows ever faster, people expect instant solutions whenever something hurts. A child receives a nasty comment? In a flash he’s on social media for a dose of feel-good medicine. Kids today don’t learn to handle negative emotion. Turning to drugs is a Band-Aid, a way to instantly escape negative feelings.

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