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Jamie Lee Curtis Helps Teens Cope

Jamie Lee Curtis says teens need support because adolescence is always difficult.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

After her roles in the Halloween movies, teens might be used to Jamie Lee Curtis trying to scare them. But the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress has a gentler, more compassionate approach when it comes to helping teens in crisis, especially those dealing with alcohol problems.

"The teen years are difficult and always tumultuous," says Curtis, who has continued her own victory over alcohol. "You have all this stuff flying around you - your body is changing; your relationships are changing; your hormones are changing; you're besieged by school and peer group pressures. All of that is so overwhelming for a lot of teens that they find drugs and alcohol as a temporary relief of that pressure."

"Eventually you realize that if you're using drugs or alcohol it's just a coping mechanism and that it's not taking care of the problem," Curtis says. "The problem will still exist. So isn't it better to try and solve the problem than just coping with it?"

To that end Curtis has helped support Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Teen Line. Established in 1991, the teen-to-teen hotline also provides associated community outreach services.

"Since we started, we've trained over 1100 teens, which we call listeners," says Elaine Leader, PhD, executive director of Teen Line and a nationally recognized adolescent expert. "Jamie Lee has been helping us for several years now. She is a great role model because of her willingness to speak publicly about her addiction and recovery."

Recently Teen Line honored Curtis with their Humanitarian Award for her ongoing support and devotion to helping kids."

"First and foremost I got sober to be a better mother," says Curtis, who is a best-selling author of five children's books. "I realized that the path toward an alcoholic mother was not going to be a happy one in my home. I caught it early.  I didn't lose my life like so many alcoholic women often do."

The award was presented by16 year-old Lindsay Lohan, Curtis' co-star in the upcoming summer film Freaky Friday. The film is about a mother and daughter who switch roles.

"Being a teenager is really tough," Lohan admits. "But I also see how hard it can be for parents like Jamie. While we were shooting she told me she worked with Teen Line, and I immediately thought that it was amazing that people my age have a resource to turn to.  Someone they can call their own age to talk to and get help."

'Freaking out'

Leader says the majority of calls they receive deal with relationships - often dealing with family, peers, the opposite sex, or an authority figure.

"Our teens handle calls about abuse, drug and alcohol problems (often about a parent who is addicted), depression and suicide, sexuality, runaways, or traumatic events like Columbine or the recent war," says Leader. "But we don't give advice - our teens actively listen with an open mind and open heart. The goal is to help the caller find the solution for him or herself."

According to Leader, teenagers today are getting alienated more and more.

"A lot of people view teenagers as bad news," Leader notes. "We see teens in a more optimistic way. If they can get a helping hand, they can improve their life quickly. If they don't know where to turn, that's where the problems start. We certainly don't need to lecture them."

Leader feels the message "Just Say No" did a big disservice to many teens.

"Just saying "no" isn't enough," Leader says. "Teens want to know why it isn't a good idea to become sexually active at 13 or why drugs or alcohol are harmful."

"Teenagers want to learn things for themselves," says Lohan, who starred in The Parent Trap. "Often teens can't hear what an adult is saying because we think of they're just saying it because they don't like what we're doing. They just don't want me to do this.

So they often learn things the hard way. Hopefully Teen Line can help avoid learning some of these things the hard way."

"Teens are more open to talking to people their age," Leader notes. "The best thing about Teen Line is we have the anonymity, the confidentiality and the objectivity of trained teens who can listen to other teens in crisis."

And more and more kids are facing problems, particularly with alcohol. And Teen Line is listening for their S.O.S calls.

Message in a bottle

A 2000 survey revealed that nearly 10 million young people ages 12 - 20 reported drinking alcohol in the previous month.  Of these, 6.6 million were binge drinkers and 2.1 million were heavy drinkers.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) overall alcohol use by teens involves 48% of girls and 52% of boys. But among ninth-graders there's almost no difference, 40% of boys drink versus 41% of girls; 22% of boys binge compared to 20% of girls.

Other sobering statistics include:

  • 87% of adult drinkers had their first drink of alcohol before age 21.  
  • Individuals who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who begin drinking at age 21.  
  • The prevalence of lifetime alcohol abuse is greatest for those who begin drinking at age 14. 

"We're very concerned about alcohol," Leader explains. "It's the overwhelming drug of choice for teenagers. Unfortunately, they don't realize that alcohol is a depressant.  So they drink and for a little while they feel better but then the alcohol depresses them which can trigger them to drink again. This is how the addictive cycle gets started."

"Alcohol has become very accessible to people my age and that's really scary," Lohan says. "You don't need alcohol or drugs to have fun or to cope. If you have problems at home, don't turn to using drugs, pick up the phone and call Teen Line at 1-800-TLC-TEEN. Talking about it is the best thing you can do."

Curtis agrees completely.

"The fundamental program that I am involved in on a daily basis, at its core, is one alcoholic talking to another," Curtis explains. "If you are a non-alcoholic talking to me, you just don't understand me.  You just don't. Even with a compassionate open heart you cannot understand what the prison of addiction is."

"The idea that alcoholics help other alcoholics is very much in sync with Teen Line," Curtis continues. "It's not adults helping teens but teens helping teens. And that 'relatability' hopefully will allow the teen who calls up to think, 'Oh maybe you do understand me.'"

"We want teens to know we're here and there's nothing wrong with reaching out," Leader concludes. "It's okay to talk and have someone there to listen." 

"If I help create greater awareness about Teen Line, then I'm a good conduit - I'm a great 'adapter plug' to Teen Line," Curtis says. "If just one kid picks up the phone instead of hurting themselves or cutting themselves or using drugs or alcohol - then all of my speaking publicly will have been absolutely worth it."

• Teen Line

• Al-anon/Alateen

Click here for more information about depression or other mental health issues.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 5/16/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

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