Hip clothing store Urban Outfitters often pushes the envelope with its provocative t-shirts. But a controversial new line—aimed at teenagers—is causing quite the stir, with slogans like “I Vote for Vodka,” “USA Drinking Team” and “I Drink You’re Cute” spelled out in drunkenly blurry letters. With teen drinking and drug use a perpetual concern, the tees have earned predictable opprobrium in some quarters. "Kids shouldn't be wearing these t-shirts," says Jan Withers, national president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). "Marketing [alcohol-related products] to teens is not in any way acceptable." Most Urban Outfitters customers are aged between 18 and 24, while their second largest demographic is under-18s. But branded merchandise laws allow clothing with this kind of content to be promoted towards people of any age. Withers believes the messages on the t-shirts will act as a silent form of peer pressure. But she also sees a chance for parents to communicate: "It's a perfect opportunity to talk to kids about the dangers of alcohol use for teens. Part of our mission at MADD is to prevent underage drinking and the research shows that the best way to combat this is to have an ongoing dialogue with our children."
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The US Marine Corps may have been born in a bar, but concern is growing over how much time its members spend there. To combat unhealthy boozing habits, officials are developing an alcohol-abuse campaign to educate Marines about the consequences of drinking—an idea that isn't necessarily popular. “What’s interesting about this campaign is it is such a huge cultural shift for the Corps that it’s not been well received so far,” says Dr. Keita Franklin, who led a study of focus groups of hundreds of Marines in all ranks. “It’s getting at the heart of people’s drinking habits. It’s such a personal issue for them. … [One Marine] was telling me, ‘You’re not going to fix this problem. It’s what we do. It’s just getting caught that’s the problem.’”
Despite this resistance, officials the issue as one that can no longer be ignored. Promoting “responsible drinking” hasn't proved adequate, as that means something different for everyone: “We asked Marines in the focus groups, ‘What’s responsible drinking?’” Franklin says. “And the first Marine that answered the question, in the first focus group at Camp Lejeune, was like ‘18 or so beers?’ Another one stood up and was like ‘No, not 18. More like 15.’” The new program would push the idea that even one drink can put an individual at risk, through everything from drinking and driving to impaired decision-making. The education would begin before individuals even report to boot camp, and continue through entry-level training and at the unit level. Alcohol abuse is involved in about half of the Corps’ sexual assaults—of which there were 333 reported in 2011—and a third of its spousal abuse incidents. “If we reduced our alcohol numbers, would we reduce our domestic violence and child abuse numbers, our sexual assault numbers, our DUIs?” Franklin asks. “Would we alleviate people taking prescription drugs because they’re struggling with post-traumatic stress and they’re masking it with alcohol? … If we could just get these [alcohol numbers] down a little, it would have spillover effects for the other areas.”
Some kids get grounded for using drugs; others get turned into walking billboards of shame. When April Methison caught her 13-year-old son Brandon smoking pot, she decided to teach him—and the rest of the teen population of Beaufort, South Carolina—a lesson. She did this by forcing him to walk the town's main intersection wearing a sign that reads, "Smoked pot, got caught! Don't I look cool? Not!" on one side, and "Learn from me, don't do drugs" on the other. "Time outs and taking things away just doesn't work any more. Sometimes a little public humility is what they need nowadays to get a point across," says the tough mother. "If this works for him and maybe saves one or two other students from thinking about picking this stuff up, then I feel like I've done my job as a parent." Asked what he's learned from the ordeal, Brandon—who has walked the intersection two nights this week while getting "all kinds of looks" from passersby—dutifully says: "I got to change my life and stop."
The Wire and Boardwalk Empire actor Michael K. Williams managed to keep his double life in Newark, New Jersey out of the tabloids for several years. Best known for his role on The Wire as Omar Little—the scar-faced, shotgun-toting, homosexual thug who made his living stealing from cutthroat Baltimore drug dealers—Williams admits to doing cocaine and pot starting in 2004 in "scary places with scary people," including drug dealers and real-life felons. His addiction got to the point where he was even begging dealers for lines. “I was playing with fire,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before I got caught and my business ended up on the cover of a tabloid or I went to jail or, worse, I ended up dead. When I look back on it now, I don’t know how I didn’t end up in a body bag." A high-functioning addict, Williams never blew an acting call and never missed a day of work due to his habit, but said his addiction led to an isolation that became too much to bear. "I had to slip away to do drugs," he says. "I had to hide it. I’d be gone for days at a time. I was lonely in that part of my life. I was broke, broken and beat up. Exhausted. Empty. I finally said, ‘I can’t do this no more.’ I didn’t want to end up dead.”
He eventually saw the light when a friend dragged him Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington and Williams met with the Reverend there. He eventually gained enough strength from the church to kick his addiction, and credits the Reverend with saving his life. "After that first time, I would come back here high," said Williams. "I didn’t kick it right away. He knew that. I would never disrupt the services. But you could look at my eyes and tell. He never let me leave without giving me money. He probably gave me two grand altogether. He made sure I could eat. He always asked, ‘Are you okay?’ He loved me until I could love myself.”
Q: I know a cancer patient who feels angry when people describe behavior-driven addictions as a disease. Should we define the two differently?
[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.]