‘Love Letters’ is a Petal + Sass blog feature that regularly asks a group of diverse women in their 20’s and 30’s about their experiences with health, sex, emotional wellness, body image, college, careers – and what they wish they had known themselves as teenagers. Visit the ‘Love Letters’ To My Former Self page to learn more about the contributors.
Question Posed: Did you experiment with drugs or alcohol in high school? Were there any repercussions? What advice would you give teen girls who are presented with the opportunity to engage in drinking and drug use?
Miss Lilac: I was very, very anti-drinking until the second half of high school. Like, I was that annoying girl who would leave a dance and get in my mom’s car and be like, “omg everyone was so drunk, it was sooooo stupid.” Except I didn’t say “omg” because I am too old, and omg wasn’t a thing yet. Anyway…I didn’t start drinking until I spent six weeks in Spain the summer before my senior year. Then I sipped the fruitiest drinks and danced all over every discoteca I could find. The good news is, in retrospect, I didn’t drink too much because I would have set myself for some potentially scary scenarios.
The reality is you have your whole life ahead of you to drink, so there’s no real reason to get the ball rolling so early in the effort to be cool. However, I’m not here to be a total square, so I will say this: if/when you decide to drink be sure to do so in spaces that are safe and that you have some buddies who can keep track of you. Learning to drink is a terrible game of trial and error. We recently revealed to a good friend’s mom at the friend’s wedding that I had been dragged up their back steps after one night in high school when some other friends got accepted to college and their parents decided to let them have friends over. I drank my weight in Absolut Mandarin (I still cannot look at a bottle without gagging). Fortunately the only repercussions took the form of multiple day hangovers, but it could have been much worse had I not had a trustworthy lady crew. Also, I do advocate for getting some of that trial and error out of the way before stepping into the real world with no rules. Had I not drank in high school, I would have probably been an even bigger mess in college. I was glad I had some experience, so at least I knew my limits a bit…
Miss Peony: I would say I drank pretty heavily in high school. I also smoked weed occasionally. I liked to smoke when I was hanging in a friend’s basement playing video games – I did NOT like smoking when I was out with people I didn’t know because I’d get really paranoid. Once, I was pressured into taking a bong hit on a first date, and I got so high I grabbed a handful of “coco puffs” that turned out to be dog kibble! Ugh, gross.
There were no personal repercussions for me when it came to drinking or smoking, but my friend did get kicked out of our high school for drinking. Several others have since died from overdoses. A lot of my friends did harder drugs like coke, shrooms, pills, heroin, or salvia. I was always the safe friend, who watched them and made sure they didn’t get hurt. I remember watching my friends do coke in the parking lot during a free period. Watching someone do drugs when you’re sober is like, the best anti-drug. They look ridiculous and uncomfortable. On summer break in college, I once when to a party my old high school friends hosted and everyone was on ecstasy. They all had pacifiers in their mouths and rave music was playing. I stayed for like 10 minutes – it was just… gross.
Anyway, if I could give you advice, I’d say know your body and know what you’re comfortable with. Don’t ever do too much of anything that you lose control of your body. It’s just not safe – I mean you could die, get taken advantage of, but also you could get kicked out of school, get arrested, have to be admitted to the hospital…it’s just not worth it.
Miss Rosebud: Tl;dr: All things in moderation. Don’t do hard drugs. And, for god’s sake, don’t start anything beyond maybe a bit of wine when you do decide to start drinking.
Growing up, the popular kids started drinking and doing drugs as early as middle school. It seemed normal enough at the time, but, looking back, I’m horrified by it. You think you are grown up when you’re in 7th grade, but you aren’t. And, until you’re older, it’s hard to handle things like alcohol and drugs responsibly. I know I sound like a D.A.R.E. commercial, but, as you get older, you have the perspective of seeing people who maybe didn’t do as well because they were too focused on drinking or drugs. I’ve said before, but, almost to the person, the popular kids in high school were not the ones whose lives you want today, as adults. I enjoy a hearty glass of wine now and then, but I don’t over drink, nor drink and drive, and I make sure that drinking isn’t interfering with my life or relationships. Some of my family members have drinking problems, so I’m quite aware of the effect it can have on a person’s life and those around him or her. Even some of my friends now didn’t move away from the heavier drinking of our 20s, and you can see the effects that too much substance imbibing is having on them now.
I think as someone moves from being a younger teen to an older teen, there is room to begin trying alcohol responsibly. My mother always let me have a glass of wine when I wanted, and her attitude helped me avoid the feeling that it was something forbidden and enticing. On the other end of the spectrum, we all know kids who never had a drink until they went to college, and then freaked out first year and didn’t know how to handle themselves.
Miss Magnolia: I experimented more with alcohol than anything else. I was the new girl and wanted to fit in, and felt peer pressure for sure. Then I realized I had a lot of insecurities and alcohol helped me ‘deal’ in a way, however unhealthy it was. Looking back, some may have used it to deal with their ‘problems’ or family situations.
I experienced several repercussions. I got in trouble with my parents once; I embarrassed myself SEVERAL times; I would black out – which was scary; and my friends and I would always be scared of the cops, which is no way to live. One time I woke up in my own vomit and honestly thought, this is how Jimi Hendrix died. I quickly got up and took a long hard look at myself.
What advice would I give teens now? Usually I’d tell you to figure out a cool way to say no. The truth is, most people get pressured into this. But what’s great about this day in age is that there is more room for people to actually do what they want and to be who they are. Own your decisions, do or don’t try new things. But if you DO try drugs or alcohol, just know that there’s a whole other world on the other side and you may not be ready to deal with it. Even if you know you think you can, I can assure you, you won’t be ready. And don’t bother with the hard stuff.
Miss Bluebells: This is a hard one. I did drink at parties when I was in high school, as early as 9th grade. I definitely had a few scary episodes where I drank too much. Usually I wasn’t caught by anyone – even when I was vomiting for an hour in the girls bathroom at a high school dance and then snuck out of a window. I always had great friends with me – and very often a sober one in the group – who would watch out for me. There always seemed to be one friend who “volunteered” not to drink so they could make sure everyone else was ok, which in retrospect, is really awesome for a teenager to do.
The thing with drinking in high school is that, for many, it’s just an unavoidable reality, and yet as a teen nobody knows what they are doing and they are not allowed to talk about it with adults. ‘Learning your limit” is not something that comes easy – it happens when you nearly drink yourself to death or put yourself in an extremely compromising situation like driving with friends home from a party or being taken advantage of by a guy. My advice would be a waste if I said “Don’t drink until college,” because that’s just not the reality for most teens. So I will say, 1. Always have a designated friend who will opt out of drinking and be a driver and watch out for you while you are drinking; 2. Don’t drink a lot of any anything quickly, especially if it tastes good (alcohol hits you all at once, and fast, when you truly think you are sober). Just sip and pace yourself; and 3. Don’t mix substances (alcohol and pot, for example) and stick to the same type of alcohol in one night (mixing anything usually ends up in disaster- those are the worse times I can recall growing up, with most of the night spent with my head hanging over a toilet bowl.)
For more information about drinking and drug use, visit abovetheinfluence.com or NIDA for Teens.