By the time you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol, experts say they might already have tried one or the other.
According to the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, just over 36-percent of high school seniors have used marijuana, or an average of 11 students per classroom; and get this -- the average age a child starts drinking is 12.
In this 3News Special Report, Kiii News Reporter Bill Churchwell gives us a look at a program that focuses on helping children overcome their path to addiction.
"I came here first for community service for getting into a fight," 12-year old "Link" said. "The reason I got into a fight, so I could get the students who were always picking on me to stop to show them I wasn't just brains after all."
The bullying at school is what started it for him.
"Link" is only 12 years old, and because of his age, we won't reveal his real name. His addiction started at nine years old -- first with cigarettes.
"You can know where that leads, to marijuana, weed, pills," Link said. "Led to all that. Just when I was in the sixth grade."
And all of it, he says, was easy to get his hands on.
"Very easy, in fact," Link said.
"You see how many of these kids are exposed to it at home, through family members, through friends, family," said Wade Fjeld, director of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, or PDAP. "It's just hard for them to avoid."
The PDAP support group and 12-step program helps children as young as five years old who are struggling with addictions.
"It's everywhere. It's in the schools, it's at the beach, skate parks, all these places that the kids want to go and hang out," Fjeld said. "There's a lot of availability for drugs."
It's also online -- videos of kids experimenting with things like prescription drugs and even synthetic marijuana, posted on site like YouTube for everyone to see.
"There's just a lot of people over-dosing because they are watching these silly tings on the Internet," Fjeld said.
Fjeld said that, with nothing but free time on their hands, the summer often gives kids an opportunity to find things that will get them in trouble. So part of what PDAP does is keep kids busy and active.
"It's a fellowship. What keeps these kids sober is when they make an investment in sobriety by making friends," Fjeld said. "Developing a way of life that's different from what they were used to."
"When I started coming over here, I felt a lot of love with a lot of people, and being real respectful to each other," 15-year old "Bre" said. "And it's just like, it's like family."
Bre said it was her friends who first pressured her into smoking marijuana in the ninth grade. Since entering the program, she's been sober for the past two months.
"The thing is that I chose not to be with those people anymore because they are a really bad influence," Bre said.
"Just manage through it. Talk to your parents. Have them bring you down here. I mean, this place has helped me a lot," Link said. "I don't even think about using anymore, and I used to always have dreams about going back to drugs."
If you're concerned that your child might be abusing drugs or alcohol, there are a few signs to look for. See if your children are tardy to school, or staying up too late. Is there a change in their behavior? Also, look to see who they are hanging around. Experts say you can tell a lot simply by knowing who your child's friends are.
And most importantly, talk to your children.
All PDAP services are free. For more information on the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, you can call them at 361-887-8900.
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