YMCA hosts drug-education program

Almost everyone has seen the results of drug abuse or addiction, according to Suzanne Whittaker. Sometimes it’s a family member who abuses alcohol. Or maybe it’s a friend who is addicted to marijuana.

Sometimes people know the peril of drug abuse from first-hand experiences. But whatever someone’s connection to drug abuse or addiction might be, they are welcome to attend the YMCA resource center’s four-year-old Y’z Up drug education program, free of charge if they are ages 18 to 25, said Whittaker, the program’s instructor.

“It’s very rare that you’ll ever get a person that hasn’t had contact with a person that was using (drugs),” Whittaker said. “It’s very prevalent in our society.”

Whittaker said she teaches the class – comprising of agency- and probationary-referred students, college attendees and concerned family members – from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday in Georgetown. She said she focuses mainly on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Whittaker added, however, that she can provide leeway in the classes’ material and its meeting times at the students’ request.

To sign up or refer someone for the eight-part class, call Whittaker at her Delaware Technical and Community College office at 853-0197.

“There’s no need for an agency referral,” Whittaker said. “There’s no need for a proof of income,” she added. Anyone ages 18 to 25 who wants to learn is welcome.

Whittaker said she teaches her students about the drugs themselves, and about the consequences of drugs. A marijuana abuser, for instance, might lose motivation. They might start associating everything they do – even everyday tasks such as going to class or work – with smoking marijuana.

That abuse could affect their social and professional development, and relates directly to poor educational performance, Whittaker said.

Whittaker – a psychology graduate of New Jersey’s Rowan University – has been working with drug abusers and addicts since her time at the school. After graduation, she earned a certificate as a New Jersey substance abuse coordinator and educated students on drug addiction and abuse in the local schools.

Whittaker’s class is funded by a Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) state grant and is necessary in today’s abusive American society, she said. According to a 2004 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, more than 22 percent of people age 12 or older participated in binge drinking – categorized by having more than five drinks in one sitting in the past 30 days – in the month before taking the survey.

According to another DHHS study performed in 2003, more than 60 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed admitted to smoking marijuana and more than 20 percent admitted to smoking the drug in the past month.

More than 1,400 people aged 18 and older surveyed by the DSAMH in 2002 admitted to using marijuana as a primary drug, a number which was up from 179 in 1991.

Whittaker said that many people try the drug because of stress or peer pressure and progress into addiction. First they experiment, maybe trying to hide from something going on in their lives; they might like it and try it again. Then, the body begins to develop a tolerance for the drug and needs more to fulfill the growing craving and emptiness it feels without the drug. Addicts then might start lying or stealing from family members or friends to support the every-growing addiction. The addiction process plays out the same way despite the activity or drug the addict needs, Whittaker said.

Because of this progression leading to the addiction, the American Medical Association labeled addiction a disease in 1956, she added.

“People just say stop (using),” Whittaker said. “You can’t tell someone with cancer just to stop,” she added. “But if they don’t look at it and find some help, it might progress to the point where it leads to death.”

And everyone knows someone on that path who could benefit from her educational class, Whittaker said. “Addiction cuts through every line you can think of, culturally, geographically,” she said. “Everybody knows somebody.”