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Teenagers trying out soft drugs isn't so bad for them PDF Print Email
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 07 September 2008 20:51
Teenagers trying out soft drugs isn't so bad for them - or for us
Face it, a joint may be a lesser menace than binge drinking
By India Knight

The Sunday Times
July 20, 2008

Apart from the fact that it is completely illegal and that I don't in any sense recommend or condone it, I don't actually think there is anything especially heinous about teenagers experimenting with the softer drugs. I'd prefer them to be tucked up in bed familiarising themselves with Kant or Spinoza, or going for 10-mile runs, but we do need to keep a degree of realism about these things. The reality is that for the majority of young people the odd period of light recreational drug use does little harm. I'm not talking about crack or heroin - but then most children don't experiment with crack or heroin.
A quarter of England's secondary school pupils have taken illegal drugs at least once, according to figures released last week by the NHS Information Centre. This is a 4% fall since the previous set of figures in 2001 - but it still means that more than 40% of the nation's 15-year-olds are likely to have tried drugs; 6% of 11-year-olds had taken drugs in the past year and 3% in the past month.
Obviously I am firmly of the opinion that 11-year-olds should be playing with their dollies, not taking illicit substances (does anyone play with dolls past the age of five any more? I was devoted to mine until I was about 12). But I don't find the figures for teenagers especially alarming. I know we're all supposed to tremble in our boots at the evil of recreational drug-taking but experimenting with drugs just seems to me normal - banal, really.
Teenage binge-drinking is another story, because soft drugs don't cause you to get cirrhosis when you're still in your early twenties, or render you so out of it that you get raped, or leave the streets of Britain awash with vomit (although the figures for alcohol have dropped slightly since 2001 - teenagers are drinking marginally less, which is cheering, although they are averaging 12.7 units a week, which isn't).
Possibly I feel this way because I liked taking (soft) drugs when I was a teenager myself - my fondness for marijuana got me expelled from boarding school, in fact, due to an unfortunate incident during an Italian translation class. The vocab had struck me as so intensely hilarious - it was something to do with Jesus at Gethsemane - that I couldn't control my laughter, fell off my chair and lay on the ground, convulsed with mirth, unable to obey increasingly furious orders to get up.
The fact is that this had only positive consequences: I changed schools, stopped having to play bloody lacrosse (the sheer hell of which had sent me in search of new pastimes in the first place), moved home to London, regained normal freedoms and occasionally took more drugs. By the time I went to university I had grown bored with the druggy scene and had evolved enough to get over the sense that drugs were exciting and naughty - an insight, I observe, that still eludes many less precocious middle-aged types, 20-odd years later.
God save us from cringe-making naffness of the "cool" (they wish) kidults with the paunch and the mortgage and the coke habit: the great advantage of moderate teenage drug-taking is that, by the time you're 20, you understand perfectly that there is nothing glamorous about spontaneous nosebleeds or talking very fast.
I know people in their fifties, whose teenagehoods were models of probity, who still haven't fathomed this one out. It's worth bearing in mind if you're despairing of your dopey 16-year-old: at least he or she is unlikely to turn into an embarrassing dopey adult.
All of which makes me think that a bit of teenage soft drug-taking is, for the vast majority, simply a rite of passage. Just as having underage sex doesn't turn you into a nymphomaniac, so underage drug-taking tends, in the vast majority of cases, not to turn you into a tragic junkie. There will always be exceptions, of course - several of my teenage drug-taking companions ended up in rehab and a couple still struggle with various addictions.
In my experience this is often to do with certain depressive personality traits which would have manifested themselves in one destructive way or another in due course anyway. And, of course, when I was young, the noxious strands of skunk that are around today didn't exist, so I doubt that any of my contemporaries became psychotic as a result of smoking a joint.
Abstinence is best of all, it goes without saying. But in the absence of abstinence, soft drugs often have something to recommend them over alcohol. I'm not saying this as a partaker, but as an observer - as a person, say, who is trying to get from A to B at 11pm. A clean-living friend recently spent a weekend partying (without artificial help) in Ibiza and couldn't help noting that although every person he came across was on ecstasy, they were all smiling, kind, polite, courteous and friendly.
Compare and contrast, he said, with trying to walk through central London on a Friday night, when every other person is loud, obscene, aggressive and trying to start a fight and there's always some poor sod on the night bus with a bleeding face, to say nothing of crumpled girls who are either crying or comatose with drink. "I know which I prefer," he said, and so do I.
The real fact of the matter is that drugs are no longer cool - they haven't been since roughly 1987 (when acid house reigned and young people's social lives were revolutionised by the cheapness and availability of ecstasy). Which is why three-quarters have had nothing to do with them - quite a whopping percentage.
For the majority, being cool about drugs means shrugging them off - not because you're nerdy or square, or because you're scared, but because you're intelligent enough to check out Pete Doherty or Amy Winehouse, both touched by genius and both made repulsive through their excesses, and think, "Ew, no thanks". This doesn't mean that the spirit of experimentation is dead - teenagers are teenagers and trying things out is part of the process - but it does mean that we can ease off a bit on the gloomy prognosis front.
Smoking the odd (nonskunk) joint isn't automatically going to turn a teenager into a raving, scabby crackhead. Frankly, it's more likely to turn him into a newspaper columnist.

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