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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am an 18-year-old female college student, and it saddens me to see what a big problem drugs and alcohol have become to the youth of today.

Seven years ago when I was 11, I, too, wanted to get high once, "just to see what it was like." Well, four years and one arrest, a long-term psychiatric hospitalization and $30,000 later, I finally admitted that I had a serious problem -- not to mention the pain and grief I caused my family.

I never intended to become an addict. Nobody does. I just wanted to try it because all the "cool" people did drugs, and I wanted to be "cool," too.

It has been three years since I've touched any drug, but it's still a daily struggle. I was very lucky to have received help. By the time I turned 15, I weighed 85 pounds and had more cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol in my blood than any human body should have been able to tolerate. Because of drugs, I have also had to bury three friends I used to "party" with.

Today, I'm doing wonderful things with my life and am proud of my accomplishments. Abby, if just one person who reads this will stop and think about what experimenting with drugs did to me, then everything I've been through will not have been in vain. -- OLDER, WISER AND CLEAN

DEAR OLDER, WISER AND CLEAN: I hope that other teens will take your painful and hard-earned lesson to heart. Nothing teaches as effectively as the voice of experience.

DEAR ABBY: Last summer I had a life-changing experience. I was watching a television program that featured a segment on obsessive-compulsive disorder. I didn't pay much attention until I heard a list of symptoms that characterize OCD.

I stopped dead in my tracks as I heard every detail of my own bizarre behavior (behavior I had hidden for years) described. After doing some research at my local library, I discovered that I, like millions of others, was not insane but suffering from a very common disorder. OCD is characterized by recurrent, unwanted and unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive, ritualistic behaviors the person feels driven to perform (compulsions). Typical obsessions are dirt, germs and contamination; inordinate concern with order, arrangement or symmetry; inability to discard useless or worn-out items, etc. Typical compulsions include excessive washing (particularly hand washing or bathing); and repetitive actions such as counting, arranging and ordering or hoarding.

After seeing a psychiatrist, I was prescribed medication and started behavioral therapy. I now feel normal for the first time in my life. Please, Abby, publish the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, not only to increase awareness for those who are suffering and don't know why, but also for people who are close to someone who is suffering. People with OCD hide their behavior well. This disorder is still very much in the closet. -- BETTER IN BOSTON

DEAR BETTER: A recent Oscar-winning movie, "As Good As It Gets," was brought to my attention by The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the welfare of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The movie tells the story of a successful writer (played by Jack Nicholson) who is struggling with OCD. With as much publicity as the film is receiving, obsessive-compulsive disorder may gain new understanding from the general public.

The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation can be reached by writing to P.O. Box 70, Milford, Conn. 06460-0070; e-mail:

CONFIDENTIAL TO JEANNE: Happy birthday, my precious firstborn.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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