They clear bloodshot eyes with Visine. They hide liquor in Nalgenes. They take Ritalin to boost test results. They numb out on stolen Vicodin and Percocet. They post party alerts on Facebook. They text-message dealers during class. They’re some of Wayzata High’s finest students. How the world of chemical abuse has changed since you were in school.
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Still, for other parents, it’s a matter of complicity. They go to bed upstairs, while a group of kids in the basement are left alone to party freely. “Many times we hear that parents are there and kids are drinking, but they don’t try to stop it,” says Barb Beise, Wayzata High’s assistant activities director, who’s worked at the school for 14 years. “That’s been a big shift since I’ve been here.”
Jessica’s parents had noticed her pulling away, her change in friends, her laissez-faire attitude and disrespect, but they hadn’t connected those things with her drinking—mostly because they didn’t know how much she was drinking. “It should’ve made the alarms go off—we can see that now—but it didn’t,” Steve Garlock admits.
They might have had a better idea about their daughter’s use if they’d looked at her Facebook page. Social media has become what yearbooks were decades ago: a way for kids to create their identity. Jessica saw the pages of other kids partying. “There are so many pictures of friends drinking and partying—I wanted to be part of that,” she says. “If you have a lot of pictures of you partying, you’re going to be called to go party.”
Or invited on Facebook. Kids set up exclusive groups that can only be accessed by those who’ve been invited, then send messages to the group about parties. Some kids even use the exclusive groups to let others know they have drugs to sell. Of course, Jessica’s parents would not have been able to see any of this because she blocked her profile from being viewed by anyone other than friends.
Jessica’s first trip to the emergency room wasn’t enough to scare her. “My parents told me, ‘You almost died,’ but I said, ‘Probably not, if I’m still alive,’” Jessica says. “I figured that happened to everybody who got drunk.”
She started drinking at school, filling her water bottle with vodka. “I don’t know how teachers wouldn’t have smelled it because I would take swigs during class—or maybe they did know,” she says. By the summer, she was drinking daily. One night, high on coke and alcohol, she and her boyfriend had unprotected sex—a common scenario. Jessica got pregnant, but she chose not to keep the baby. The guilt and depression that followed drove her to drink more. Booze wasn’t hard to come by. Friends had fake IDs. She texted her orders. “It was easy to make plans to get a bottle in front of my parents because I could text in front of them and they’d never know,” she says.
After two more trips to the emergency room, Kelly and Steve Garlock realized their daughter had a serious problem with alcohol. They sent her to a boarding school in Iowa for kids with behavioral issues. Jessica returned home 14 months later and stayed sober six days. She ran away a couple of times and stayed with friends. Her parents sent her to treatment in the spring.
Jessica managed to graduate from Wayzata High in 2009, but she wasn’t ready to stay sober. Not until she hit bottom, which happened one night when she and her boyfriend of four years had a drunken argument at a party—and he broke her hand. “I realized nothing good comes from drinking,” she says. “I would never have been in that situation if I wasn’t drinking.”
Both Jessica and her boyfriend have since quit using. She was sober when they conceived their second child. She plans to raise the child with her parents’ help, and they have set up a nursery in their Plymouth home. “I’ve been sober through the pregnancy,” says Jessica, now 18. “That’s what has motivated me.”
BY SENIOR YEAR, Derek’s use had turned him into someone he didn’t want to be. He started stealing: alcohol from unlocked garages, drugs from cars parked on the street, and, at parties, cell phones and iPods from fellow students. He turned violent, picking fights. “I became the shady one no one wanted to talk to,” he says. “I got really lonely.”
His girlfriend broke up with him. His best friend went away to treatment. He got stoned by himself, and his loneliness deepened.
When a friend returned from treatment, he invited Derek to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “I connected with everything everyone said,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m screwed.’”
He quit using for six months, relapsed, then quit again. He’s been sober since December.
He has started repairing his relationship with his mom. Now, he tells her the truth. She can trust him, he says. Many times in high school, when she was making it difficult for him to get high, he would tell her that he hated her. “He has since hugged me and thanked me,” Deb says. “He says, ‘Mom, I know you did that because you love me.’”
John Rosengren, a 1982 graduate of Wayzata High, is a Minneapolis freelance writer. His last piece for the magazine was a profile of Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson.