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by Abigail Van Buren

Teen Agers' Risky Habits Frighten Lifelong Friend

DEAR ABBY: I am a 14-year-old girl and a pretty good student. My problem: I have friends who like to drink and do drugs. While I have no interest in getting caught up in that stuff, I don't want to lose their friendship.

They know I won't hang with them when they're drunk or high on something. I've told them that numerous times, and they know how I feel.

Abby, I've grown up with these kids. They mean a lot to me. Can you please give me some advice so they'll stop these bad habits before it's too late and something really tragic happens? -- WORRIED IN RHODE ISLAND

DEAR WORRIED: It's painful to see people you care about do risky things, but your friends must decide for themselves about their alcohol and drug use. However, you can get information to help them understand the many serious consequences of substance abuse. The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information has a series of "Tips for Teens" brochures about alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and other free materials. You can call the organization toll-free at (800) 729-6686 or visit the Web site at www.health.org.

Whether your friends are willing to learn and reconsider their current choices is up to them, but you will have offered them sound information to help them make their decision.

You could also send a confidential letter to your school principal suggesting the school sponsor an assembly about drug and alcohol addiction. If possible, the assembly should include personal testimonials and warnings from older teens and young adults who have conquered their habit. I can't imagine a more powerful motivator for your friends and other young people to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.