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The Hidden Epidemic of Very Young Alcoholics

How Kids Get Started continued...

Now 24, Brooke B. (she doesn't want her last name used) remembers asking her dad for a drink when she was only 10. A shy child, she was always eager to please, to do things perfectly, to make everything right. After her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to Palm Springs, CA, Brooke regularly visited her dad in Coeur d'Alene, ID, where he worked as a beer distributor. On a hot summer day, Brooke asked her dad if she could try one of his beers. To her surprise, he handed her a can. She found the taste "disgusting" at first, she says, but she liked the idea of doing something daring.

"I asked for beer every so often after that, when we were on camping trips, and my dad always gave it to me," she recalls. "Then I started sneaking. It was easy to do because alcohol was everywhere in my dad's house. I snuck it for years and years."

Brooke got drunk for the first time when she was 12, sitting in her father's living room with her then-13-year-old stepsister, watching for the headlights of his car, the signal to hide all evidence of their secret partying. "I knew my dad liked drinking," Brooke says today, "but I also knew what it did to him when he had too much — made him grumpy and sloppy. I guess I was curious to see what it would do to me." She felt transformed. "I didn't have to be shy anymore," Brooke says. "I didn't have to be me."

At 15, Brooke veered out of control. A straight-A student until then, she began failing in school and disappearing from her mother's house for days at a time, staying with her 19-year-old boyfriend. "My mother would call the cops to bring me back home," Brooke says. As a high school senior, she started using pot, cocaine, and ecstasy. Her mother tried to deal with the problem by grounding Brooke. "She'd take away my car. And one time she took off the door to my room, so she could see what was going on or if I was sneaking out." Brooke graduated from high school, turned 17 a week later, and moved out. "My mother and I had both had enough," Brooke says. "I just wanted to be on my own. She was getting in the way of my partying."

Brooke lived with her boyfriend for a while, then tried junior college, but her addiction kept her from moving forward. Four years after high school, just before she entered treatment at the Betty Ford Center, Brooke was virtually homeless, crashing for a night or two with friends, then wandering the streets of San Diego, committing petty crimes to pay for drugs and alcohol.

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