When Chris Herren visited Talbot County in 2017 and spoke about his journey with substance use disorder, he urged parents not to permit drinking.
Herren spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 people in the first year of Talbot Goes Purple, and shared his experience with alcohol, other drugs, and subsequent recovery. Part of his compelling talk included the message that underage drinking is not a rite of passage.
“Stop telling your kids that high school is the best years of their lives,” Herren said. “Don’t let your kids drink in basements with their friends. Don’t provide those safe spaces to drink.”
Despite news of the opioid crisis dominating headlines, alcohol remains one of the most abused substances by teens. Here in Talbot County, the latest youth risk behavior survey indicated that more than half of all public high school students have tried alcohol at least once. More than 14 percent drank before the age of 13.
Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 1 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life. And almost everyone who becomes dependent upon alcohol or other drugs started before the age of 20, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A teen brain is still developing until the early- to mid-twenties and is hard-wired to take risks, leaving it particularly vulnerable to substance abuse. And using alcohol, or other drugs, during this time can cause permanent brain changes. Other problems associated with underage drinking include alcohol-related injuries, social consequences, difficulties in school, high-risk behaviors and more.
Early use of marijuana also leads to a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life. In fact, adolescents who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder. Here in Talbot County, about 30 percent of Talbot County public high school students have tried marijuana, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Even the use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) can increase the risk of future addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Next to alcohol, vaping has become the most popular addictive substance used by teens across the nation. Here in Talbot County, more than 40 percent of Talbot County public high school students have vaped, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Teens also often vape marijuana; in Talbot County, about 9 percent of our high school students have done this.
For Herren, a former professional basketball player who lost it all due to his drug dependency, it all started with alcohol. His story details how he progressed to cocaine and ultimately wound up overdosing on heroin in 2008. Herren’s been sober since, and now travels the country sharing his story and helping others.