Many people perceive drinking as fun – a part of social activity or a means to unwind and relax. Many Guamanians, teens included, think nothing of having a couple of drinks. A few beers, a handful of sips, what harm could that do?
First of all, Guam law prohibits drinking for anyone under the age of 21. But there is a price to pay when you overindulge – something that two people who spoke to The Scoop said started when they were impressionable teens.
Jane: From euphoria to guilt and depression
Jane had her first beer at 14. She got drunk and felt sick. Despite that, it wasn’t long before she adopted drinking as a habit. At 15 she started to drink with her friends, claiming she only drank to take part in social activities. Jane thought nothing of it. She was having the time of her life, and letting loose made her feel close to those around her.
Jane soon became a binge drinker, which means she drank episodically and intensely, but only in the company of her friends on their social gatherings. Though she felt sick and threw up the next day, the alcohol gave Jane a high that she felt she couldn’t get any other way.
“I felt as if my mind and body opened up, and I felt so alive in the moment,” she tried to explain.
Drinking, however, didn’t just give Jane a high.
“When I got into college, I realized the drinking had made me depressed,” she shared.
Her loving and bright personality disappeared when she was intoxicated. And pretty soon her hangovers lasted more than just a day – every day felt like a hangover. Her depression worsened, and she feared she would lose herself to the alcohol but she also was afraid of letting people know she had a problem.
She hid her drinking from everyone but her friends.
However, the weight of her depression and her guilt over binge drinking, were hidden from all – her own personal albatross. She endured in secret.
John: Wrecked career, broken family
“I would tell myself that the fun of partying isn’t worth getting drunk over. I could have just as much fun without the alcohol,” said John, now a successful 45-year-old who wished to remain anonymous to protect his family.
John’s descent into alcoholism started when he was 15.
It started after a basketball game when he and his friends were hanging out. One of them popped open a beer, and they all coaxed him into drinking. They painted a picture of how fun and thrilling drinking was, and John caved to the peer pressure. After two bottles he threw up. He felt horrible, but that didn’t stop him.
Living in Hawaii where the drinking age was 18, it wasn’t long before he could legally drink.
Once he hit the magic number, John slid fully down that slippery slope he’d been on – he became an alcoholic without even knowing it. His social life blinded him to it.
“Because all my friends and I would do it, I never thought I had a problem,” he said. “I thought I had a high alcohol tolerance.”
And that thinking cost him everything he’d worked for.
An outstanding athlete, John had an athletic scholarship from a PAC-10 (now PAC-12) university. Soon, however, the glory of pursuing his dreams was stripped away from him. He lost his scholarship.
It was a wakeup call he heeded.
Eventually, John found a job in the financial industry.
“I was blessed to have a good job, and, you know, for the financial fields, you need to be on top of your game all the time,” he said. John was a stellar employee and was on track to get a promotion until his drinking reemerged.
It derailed his life again. This time, he lost his job and, soon, his family.
“My wife didn’t want me to be around my son, so she took him and they moved. (Drinking) cost me my scholarship, my job, and my son,” he admitted. “I’m reminded every day that I paid the price for my alcoholism.”
Mr. Ram: A boss’ perspective
Many teens have jobs.
Many of them also drink.
Local businessman Parsuram Ramkissoon used to own a restaurant, and he’s seen the damage underage drinking can do – especially when it’s left unchecked.
Mr. Ram, as he is affectionately known, has years of experience with teens coming into work drunk, or hungover. He said teen drinkers are like falling dominoes.
“When you come in drunk, or hungover, or tired from your night of partying, your functionality in the workplace is limited. You don’t have an adequate state of mind. Your awareness and reaction time are compromised. Because of this, someone else, one of your friends, co-workers, or bosses has to pick up your slack.”
He shared an example of an instance when he caught a young employee getting drunk over the course of the day. Mr. Ram found out that the server had brought rum to work, slipping into the bathroom to take sips throughout the day.
“Over the course of the day he got so drunk that his co-workers got fed up with him because they were the ones who had to work extra to pick up his slack,” Mr. Ram said.
At work, if you don’t do a good job, everyone around you is burdened by you, and because of your lack of commitment and cooperation, everyone is irritated.
“The burden of the world comes onto those who are not drinking,” Mr. Ram said.
This extends beyond work, to friends and family.
In the worst case, he said, someone who dies of alcohol abuse leaves behind family members who feel depressed and even guilty. It can damage a family permanently.
“A person who is consuming alcohol does not (understand) what their behavior is doing and how it affects other people,” Mr. Ram said. “Every teen is so consumed in their own life that they can’t understand the effects of their behavior on others.”
Jane: Enough is enough
For Jane, the addiction was changing her. And the depression and guilt were eating away at her. People took notice and her embarrassment deepened.
It wasn’t something that happened over the course of one day, but eventually she realized she had enough. Jane decided to quit alcohol to cleanse her mind and body. A three-month detox allowed Jane’s body to recover. Mentally and emotionally she still felt horrible about what drinking had done to her mind and body.
After her recovery, Jane made sure to never let her drinking cross the line. “I used to hurt counting the number of drinks I had. It just kept going and before I knew it, I was paying for it,” she said. “Now I have a limit as to how many drinks I have, and it’s always in a controlled environment, like at a friend’s house.”
Jane said she’s telling her story so that kids can know what drinking as a teen does to you.
Jane believes that the key to staying sober is “having a healthy understanding of what you’re doing and what the effects are.”
Jane, now a mother in her 30s, said, “When I was growing up, my parents gave me the freedom to do what I want. I appreciated that independence, but it came with responsibility. When my kids get older, I don’t want to be the parent that hides the world from their child. I want them to see what the effects of drinking are, and what it does to life.”
John: Brain damage and a rough recovery
When John was 45, his brother – after decades of witnessing John’s drinking eat away at his life – referred him to substance abuse treatment. In treatment, he finally broke free. But John still paid a high price: He was diagnosed with “wet brain syndrome,” which causes the following – permanent – symptoms:
• Severe memory loss.
• An inability to form new memories.
• Confabulation, memory of events that never occurred.
• Confusion, drowsiness and a paralysis of eye movements.
• Ataxia, a staggering or irregular gait.
• Auditory and visual hallucinations.
John’s recovery was hard. He was held at the mercy of his alcoholism before freeing himself of his addiction. After years of suffering, John reflects on where his actions have put him every day.
“People want to experiment, but it’s not worth it. Some people drink to self-medicate because they hurt inside emotionally. They turn to drugs and alcohol to numb themselves. They don’t understand that drinking doesn’t make you better,” he said. “They don’t understand alcohol alters and numbs your mind.”
John states that his faith has helped him work through recovery, and his new family gives him a reason to fight, making every day less of a battle.
“You can never make up for (the things you do because of alcoholism), the effects stay with you for life,” he said. “All you can do is fight to make today a better day.”