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More Fifth Graders Trying Alcohol, Drugs

July 6, 2009, 4:54 PM by Katie Janssen

More Fifth Graders Trying Alcohol, Drugs
They're not even old enough to get a learner's permit, but a new study shows more fifth graders are experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  Around 6 percent of fifth graders, who are ten and eleven years old, reported using drugs or alcohol in some form.  Alcohol counselors say it's a disturbing trend that's here to stay.

Jeremy Petersen works with kids in crisis every day, as a rehab technician at Keystone Treatment Center's adolescent unit. But not too long ago, he was here for another reason; he was getting treatment himself for drug and alcohol addiction.

"The first time, I was just with a friend. He said he wanted to get me high and that's what ended up happening," Petersen said.

Petersen was just 12 years old then.  For the next four years, he continued to get high whenever he could. He says he had no idea the impact it would have on his brain and his body.

"When I was 16 years old, I weighed 90 pounds. My skin turned yellow, and I could suck my stomach in and reach my hands all the way around and touch my fingertips," Petersen said.

Petersen entered Keystone that year, and now realizes why he started the dangerous habits in the first place. In school, he says, he was an outcast, always self-conscious, but he found he could numb those feelings with drugs and alcohol. Plus, he finally fit in with a group.  Keystone Program Director Christy Alten says they're common triggers.

"It's a real tender age. They're still trying to figure out who they are and still looking for the support of their caregivers,"Alten said.

Alten says parents play a key role in keeping their kids sober.  Simply by getting involved in their lives will let kids know you care and lowers their chances of using in the first place. According to Alten, that includes knowing their friends, listening to their music, keeping tabs on their whereabouts and disciplining them when necessary.

Petersen says it's the best thing you can do for your children.

"Just work with them, give them love, and show them it's alright," Petersen said.

Neither Petersen or Alten were surprised at the school district's findings. They say they've treated kids as young as nine years old.

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