When faced with the challenges of peer pressure and fitting in with the crowd, teenagers have enough hard decisions to make about the direction of their lives. While it's difficult to say no to drugs and alcohol, if teens say yes, they face an equally difficult struggle to end that addiction.
"It's hard to appreciate the battles that people deal with daily," said Judge David Rice, district judge for the 12th Judicial District serving Chouteau, Hill and Liberty counties.
He tells people in his courtroom that they have the key to getting clean through treatment. Support is there for them, and it helps, he said. But in the end, the only person defendants have to blame for not getting clean is themselves.
"It's all up to you," he said he tells them.
Some people get into trouble and end up in front of his bench again, Rice said. "But I've seen lots of success stories."
Most success stories come to be because of support of the youths' efforts to get clean, said Kevin Buerkle, chief juvenile probation officer for the 12th Judicial District Youth Court.
Having pro-social activities available, positive peer relations and being engaged in school help youths remain clean once they go through treatment, he said.
"They have to learn to function in society" sometimes with limited support, Buerkle said.
Along with positive activities and relationships, parental involvement and support also increases a youth's chance of success, he said.
In Havre High School, roughly 40 percent of the student population is involved in athletic each season, said Athletic Director Dennis Murphy. The number of students who participate in other activities is much higher, he added.
He said he doesn't think that Havre is much different from other communities in that there is a drug and alcohol presence, and he has heard that marijuana use is on the rise. If random or mandatory drug testing would keep students from using drugs or alcohol that he would be in favor of doing so.
Testing would be an avenue to give youths "another reason to say no," he said.
"The bottom line is that ... I want all kids to be safe, and I want them to make good choices," he said.
Athletes' bodies are under more stress because of the physically demanding situations they are placed in and can experience worse effects of drugs because of that, "but that doesn't decrease how much we care about our other kids, in my opinion," he said.
Even with activity involvement, some students go down the wrong path, but some students come out the other side.
Murphy remembered one student who experienced issues who went on to become a teacher, just one of many success stories.
Being part of an activity makes students feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves and also gives them a sense of belonging while helping to build friendships and camaraderie.
Those friendships can provide a support network for students faced with tough decisions and peer pressure, giving students strength to say no to drugs and alcohol because a large number of their teammates are also saying no.
"The best family there is, the Blue Pony family," Murphy said.
Recognizing a burgeoning problem Teenagers are notorious for temperamental behaviors as they struggle with peer pressure and becoming secure in their identities.
"It's difficult being the parent of a teenager," said Jerry Vandersloot, principal at Havre High School.
So how do parents know when their teens' behavior is a sign of something more?
"First thing is ask the kid," Tim Brurud, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, said.
"You might have to open up the sock drawer every now and then," said Gabe Matosich, assistant chief of operations wi t h t h e Hav r e Po l i c e Department, to check and make sure that children are not involved with drugs. Also, overthe- counter drug tests are available if a parent suspects that their child is using drugs.
Parents also have the option of taking their child to a family doctor for blood work.
"Parents just need to be a lot more vigilant and nosey in their kids' business," Havre Police Chief Jerry Nystrom said.
Be upfront with children, Brurud suggested, and become educated about what issues they are facing so that conversations about them can be frank and useful.
Know about changing avenues of information, such as Internet sites that share ways to get high, he said. Keep the computer in a public area of the home, like the living room, so that there is no privacy and set parental controls to limit site access.
Other signs that a teen might be involved with drugs or alcohol include a change in friends, habits, grades and attitude, Vandersloot said.
Taking a direct approach to talking with children is the best avenue to take when confronting them about drug or alcohol use, he said, and parents should keep lines of communication with their children open.
Check text messages and other forms of communication teens are using, he said.
Support of children from the community as a whole helps, too, he said.
"(Community members) need to care about the kids in our community," he said.
Murphy shared the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.
"We have to be looking out for each other," he said, adding that parental involvement is key to keeping children on the right track.
"Without parent involvement, the chance of us succeeding is very small," Murphy said.
Having clear and consistent boundaries in place for youths will help to keep them out of trouble, said Terry Hanson, Hill County program officer for the Montana Community Change Project.
"And hopefully, after 21, you'll only drink responsibly," she added.
Sometimes, though, parents want to be their child's friend instead of disciplinarian.
"You need to be a parent," Nystrom said. "You're job is to be a parent."
Community members can be involved as part of the solution, too, and should report suspicious activity, like high traffic to an area, Matosich said.
"A lot of times, that's what starts off the investigation," he added.
"We all live here," Nystrom said. "We all own this community.
We're all responsible for it."
Part three of the substance abuse series in Tuesday's paper will examine how culture and positive alternatives may be keys to helping teens make decisions not to use drugs and alcohol.
Two local families also will share how their loved ones died from addiction and how they're dealing with the aftermath.