During a time of immense changes and growth, peer pressure can be challenging for teens. For an adolescent struggling with a mental illness, looking to fit in and be accepted fells like a necessity.
I was fairly “social” during my teen years and I will admit I had a night or more where alcohol was consumed. When I entered my freshman year, I began to have issues with anxiety and depression, though I didn’t know what it was at the time. While developing into young women, my friends and I all yearned to be accepted, popular and attractive to boys. Alcohol made me feel more confident and not as self conscious about what I was saying or doing. I could hide behind the buzz and not “feel” the intense anxiety or depression that was always dominating my psyche.
Now that I’m the parent of two teenagers, I am keenly aware of why I drank alcohol in high school: 1.) to fit in and 2.) to repress my anxiety and depression, if only for a while. What I didn’t know is that alcohol is a depressant and not such a good choice if you’re struggling with a budding mental illness.
Chloe had her first experience with alcohol a few weeks ago. I’m fairly certain she was feeling quite a bit of peer pressure by her friend and the friend’s parents who supplied the alcohol (don’t get me started). She called me to come pick her up that evening because she said her “stomach hurt.” When she got in the car, I immediately smelled alcohol and knew she was drunk. It took a little prodding for her to finally admit it. I got her home safely and tucked her into bed.
Jeff and I try to keep communication open with our girls and work to not overreact, since we have our own high school memories. The next day, I talked with Chloe about the dangers of mixing alcohol and drugs with the medication she takes for her mental illness. I shared with her that one of her anti-anxiety medications lowers her heart rate and alcohol can cause seizures and even death. We also discussed the safety of her friend’s house and how it is illegal to serve alcohol to minors. She is not allowed to stay at that friend’s house again and is limited to where she can spend time with her.
Chloe is especially vulnerable to peer pressure. With her Aspergers, she can’t read body language, can’t “read between the lines” and struggles to fit in with her peers. Not a good combination when a friend is pressuring her to drink. I hope since we responded calmly and honestly about the experience, she heard us. She did tell me and Jeff that she told her friend she wouldn’t be drinking when she turns 21 since she could have a seizure… Lemonade and lemons!?