Dear Straight Talk: Everybody knows what high school is like: people do drugs, drink, and have sex. I'm one of the few who is different. I've gotten looks of disgust when I say that smoking marijuana or drinking is bad -- like I'm an evil person! I've lost three or four close friends because I won't participate. They are failing school, disillusioned about the future, and take advantage of the opposite sex. I don't know what goes through their minds. Is anyone out there like me? -- One Concerned Guy in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Chuck, 17: I can relate. I have never once smoked or drank even though the high school scene is the same at my all-guys Catholic school. However, I'm not vocal to my friends who drink, use drugs, and take advantage of girls. Encouraging alternative activities works better than telling them they're doing something wrong. They're not bad people and I don't look down on them. This lets me keep my friends while remaining clean.
Elise, 20: I've never cared for drugs and alcohol. However, the majority of my friends do. They may poke fun, but they respect me. I just say, "I don't drink or smoke." Most people understand.
Christina, 19: I was lucky to have close friends who didn't smoke or drink. We didn't care what our classmates thought. Avoid people who bring you down; get involved with like-minded people. This might mean looking for friends outside of school at places like church or volunteer programs.
Brie, 20: I wanted to cool it on partying, so I fit in by being a designated driver. Nobody judged me.
Catherine, 24: In high school, I felt isolated for not attending parties and would have made a lot more friends if I'd been willing to drink. In college it was worse. Students forget it's even possible to have fun without alcohol. My straight-edge and religious friends were a lifeline.
Sarah, 20: Most of my high school friends used drugs, drank, and had sex. Despite these vices, they are wonderful people and some of my closest friends. By not passing judgment on my friends, they in turn were not critical of me. It was common knowledge that I was straight-edge and no one ever pressured me. Even now, in college, half my friends are straight-edge and half are not.
Dear Concerned Guy: I applaud you for being straight. And you are not losing friends because of it. You are losing friends because you judge them. An evolved straight-edge approach is used by Chuck, Elise, Brie, and Sarah. They set a personal ideal to not use substance, communicated it to their peers with zero judgment, and received respect and acceptance. This result almost always occurs when people don't feel judged. This approach defuses peer pressure and people will actually look up to you for being straight. It gives being straight a good name and makes others want to try it. Everyone is happier. As you make new friends, why not give it a try?
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