- ‘I was drinking whiskey straight from the bottle to blackout’: Young women tell their stories of teenage binge drinking from the age of 11 – and how they battled to clean up and stay sober
- Genna started drinking at 11 or 12 and by the time she was in college, would drink whiskey straight from the bottle
- Shannon started drinking in eighth grade and would drink in the morning, afternoon and night by the time she was a high school senior
- Both were in rehab for months to get sober and address their underlying issues that led to alcohol abuse
- Each year, about 5,000 people under 21 die from underage drinking
- Low self-esteem, school and social pressures are reasons teens are driven to alcohol abuse
By Chloe Castleberry For Dailymail.com
PUBLISHED: 15:41 EDT, 16 August 2017
Shannon, 20, had her first alcoholic drink in eighth grade at a friend’s house in Colorado. She can’t remember whether it was either beer or vodka but she knows it felt good.
At first it was something she did socially with friends, but by the time they reached their sophomore year in high school, she couldn’t get enough. While others stuck to casual drinks on the weekend, Shannon started doing it by herself. For Shannon, alcohol was a way to ‘get her out of herself’.
Her grades were low, she didn’t make the sports teams, and she was nervous socially after moving to New York for ninth grade. Those things consumed her every day. But after a drink, it didn’t matter. She was less stressed and anxious; happy, bubbly and outgoing. Eventually, Shannon started raiding her parent’s alcohol cupboard, picking up a bottle to drink before, during and after school.
‘I would start drinking as soon as I woke up starting my senior year of high school,’ Shannon said. At night, Shannon would have four beers, four shots and swig liquor from a 1.75-liter handle. It wasn’t until she had a two-day blackout at the tender age of 16 that she started to realize she may have a problem – and that everyone around her seemed to know she was troubled.
‘It was either my sophomore or junior year of high school and I was in Colorado visiting friends. ‘I had a two-day blackout. It was the first time other people said something to me. I woke up not knowing where I was and had friends that were concerned.’
When she returned to the East Coast, her New York friends started worrying about her. ‘Teachers wouldn’t notice but my friends would. Others just thought I was acting weird.’ Only her close friends knew about her problem. It got to the point where they would tell her to slow down or take away whatever she was drinking from her.
‘Binge drinking affected my relationships by making it difficult to form any,’ Shannon said. ‘My priorities weren’t in check and I wasn’t there for friends. Not worrying about anyone else became routine. I didn’t have friends but people who would resent me for putting them in bad situations.’
For Shannon, drinking alcohol was easy to get away with. It seemed more acceptable than smoking marijuana or doing other drugs, and getting hold of it was easy, even underage. Alcohol answers said: ‘Drinking alcohol is more socially acceptable and doesn’t have the same stigma attached to it as addiction to drugs.’
It continued to state that it could be due ‘to the consequences associated with illegal drug use or the negative stereotype of an individual addicted to drugs. Alcohol also has a positive association with family gatherings, food and celebrations’. ‘Alcohol is more accepted by society but it’s an actual problem with deep seated issues,’ Shannon said.
Heather Senior Monroe, a psychotherapist at teen counseling center Newport Academy, said that substances tend to work with turning off these feelings of anxiety and self-esteem. ‘There are a lot more pressures today than there were ten years ago whether that be socially, academically or biologically,’ Heather said. ‘The internet and social media has played a huge part in curating a perfect image. Now you have that can physically change how someone looks – it’s unrealistic.’
Heather said the trick is to help people find a passion. ‘If they have a passion teens will be less likely to turn to substance abuse.’ At Newport located in Connecticut, Shannon discovered her love for yoga and art, which were outlets she used to deal with stress and to ‘dig deeper and find the route of my issues’.
Shannon entered Newport in 2015 when she was 18 years old and was there for 45 days and was in the rehab center’s intensive outpatient program day school for four months where she finished out high school.
She said: ‘Yoga and art have become an outlet for me. Yoga helps me center myself and calm my anxiety. Art and working out are other tools I use to blow off steam or to express myself. I have found ways to deal with the feelings of loneliness, anxiety, unworthiness, and depression so that I don’t feel the need to drink.’
Shannon said that recovery has been fluid in her life. For her, it has always been crucial to have a support system of friends who can call her out on her ‘bullshit and push me to be my best’. She continued: ‘Recovery has been a daily battle and will continue to be a life long journey. Just because I’m in a good place doesn’t mean I can stop working I have to continue to work on myself and recovery.’
Shannon has been sober for a little over a year and said she started to apply the life skills and tools she learned at Newport Academy when she was ready to embrace sobriety. ‘I learned it is okay to feel sad or angry and that’s there is always another choice. To those struggling with alcoholism, know you don’t have to use alcohol to get by. There is no shame in asking for help.’
Genna, 24, had her first drink at 11 or 12, a Smirnoff Ice which she got at one her older brother’s parties. But she didn’t start drinking heavily until she was 15. At 19, she had cut off communication with her parents, was living with her boyfriend and had dropped out of college. ‘I was an awkward teenager that didn’t fit in but alcohol allowed me to do that,’ Genna said.
Early on, it took Genna four to six drinks to blackout but later in college it took a liter of whiskey that she would drink from the bottle with a friend. Her drinking eventually led her to use other substances such as weed and heroin, which she used for the first time with her older brother and ecstasy and cocaine which she first used her sophomore year with friends but for Genna, it started and ended with alcohol.
Like many patients who pass through Newport Academy and other clinics, Genna had a turbulent relationship with her family. Her parents, who divorced when she was eight, both had their own drinking problems, and it frustrated Genna that they weren’t concerned about her own emerging binge habits. ‘I was alienating myself from every healthy relationship,’ Genna said. ‘I wouldn’t say that my family relationships were a trigger for my drinking, but it was an excuse I used for years to justify my drinking. My family was a stressor, and I decided alcohol was a way to cope with it and escape.’
Genna is now starting to talk to her dad after two years but said it is strained because there was a complete loss of trust. ‘He had seen me get sober before and relapse very quickly and was mistrusting of me up until recently. I think it was hard for him to see me repeat this pattern over and over again so he was cautious to get emotionally invested in our relationship,’ Genna said.
As for her mother, Genna said that the two still have an unhealthy relationship. She had to set strong boundaries with her mother because of her mother’s drinking and erratic behavior. ‘I acknowledged early on that my relationship with my mother was a big stressor and continued to be so to maintain my sobriety I had to limit our contact,’ she said. ‘We talk every few days briefly and see each other for a few hours about twice a month.’
Genna entered the New York Center for Living at 22 years old and was there for nine months. She has been sober for two years and still lives in her home city of New York. Now, Genna works as a ‘sober companion’ for people who are fresh out of rehab and are new to recovery. She lives with them for anywhere between 24 hours to two months depending on the level of care they need.
‘I monitor them at this crucial and unstable point and help them navigate their day to day lives as they start their journey of recovery,’ Genna said. ‘The New York Center for Living provided me with a safe outlet to talk about my alcohol abuse,’ Genna said. ‘Because it was adolescents, it gave me an intimate community and made me realize I wasn’t alone – there were others like me.’
And as for the urge to drink, Genna said she doesn’t feel compelled any more. ‘I don’t feel the urge to escape anymore. I have a purpose and something to lose. I have relationships and people that hold be accountable – I don’t want to hide anymore.’