(Disclosure: I am not a mental health professional. The statements in this blog post are based on observation and personal experience.)
At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to a New York Times opinion piece by Andrea J. Ritchie, describing the nightmare some women are subjected to in the War on Drugs. These women are often singled out by race, and whether or not any of the individuals in question are guilty of drug offenses this harassment is a national disgrace.
Please read all of the statements in Ms. Ritchie’s column carefully. There are different “reasons” for these injustices, and not one of them is the product of clear reasoning. Not one of them will make us a less drug-dependent society, either.
Where substance abuse is concerned, the United States has been painted into a corner we may not get out of.
Personally, I don’t have an active addiction of any kind. I stopped drinking alcohol when I was twenty (in 1980) because I believed alcoholism was creeping up on me. Stopping was my choice, made without intervention. Aside from a few years of intermittent cravings which I was able to resist, staying sober hasn’t been a challenge for me. I haven’t been full circle with any of the drinking or drugging issues you might hear about in twelve step meetings.
My lifelong trouble with allergies may have been a factor in preventing me from using mind-altering substances. I developed a sensitivity to alcohol way before I stopped drinking, and the three-day-long hangover symptoms after half a glass of wine had a role in my decision to give up wine and everything else containing alcohol. Satisfying a craving wasn’t worth the aftermath.
The first five mg. Valium tablet I ever took (prescribed at a for-profit clinic with an on-site prescription drug dispensary) made me sick. Against the advice of doctors in that clinic, I never took Valium again. It was a nice middle-finger gesture to dope dealers in lab coats, and also worked to the advantage of my health. I had been to the clinic for general healthcare, and learned through experience that healthcare was kind of iffy in that place. They sure sold a lot of pills, though.
I still have allergies and vague “sensitivities,” but there’s one tranquilizer I can tolerate in small doses. I use it sparingly, under the supervision of a doctor who doesn’t seek profit from writing prescriptions. He insists on seeing me at least once every six months, though, if I want refills. He’s ethical with it. I’ve seen that doctor for seventeen years, and for the most part he’s been focused on other aspects of my care, such as helping me survive pneumonia in 2008.
Although I’ve had personal tragedies associated with making someone gravitate toward illicit drugs, I haven’t moved in that direction. Credit the allergies, my early exposure to people who turned into monsters when they relied on booze and dope, or some unidentified gene which causes me to fall back on other things for comfort. Whatever.
(Something to think about: Many alcoholics and drug addicts grew up around adults with addiction problems, and witnessed very bad behavior on the part of those adults. The experience does not necessarily deter substance abuse, and it’s a trauma which kids shouldn’t be subjected to.)
Our society itself is doing nothing to help children fill their respective voids with anything other than instant gratification. Kids in elementary school are developing Type 2 Diabetes because they’re hooked on sugar and refined starch. The influences at home, in the media and among their peers aren’t likely to change. Whether unhealthy food is a “gateway drug” to something else may depend on the child.
I can think of a current popular writer who is criticized for the way he commercializes his work. He always has several projects going at once, and he credits multiple co-authors. He doesn’t just write for adults, though. He’s also writing bestselling chapter books which are marketed for kids, and that lightweight entertainment may be helping to create an anchor for lonely children in dysfunctional families. A drug-free anchor, that is.
When I was a child, I disliked most children’s books. I didn’t like reading in general. That left me with audio/visual pop entertainment (TV during the 1960s and early 70s, and Top 40 music later), some with themes I wasn’t ready to handle in the real world. Some of it went over my head, and some didn’t. I’m relieved I wasn’t influenced by the glamorization of substance abuse or sex, since I didn’t always have anything better to cling to.
In case you haven’t figured out the identity of the “current popular writer” mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, it’s James Patterson. During my own “tween” years and adolescence, if he and his co-authors had been churning out the sterile airplane reads they publish now, I might have enjoyed the books for adults. Whether young readers are hooked on his kid hero novels or the Alex Cross and Michael Bennett series for adults, they’re getting absorbed in something which is way healthier than listening to other kids brag about taking meth or pondering whether they should believe what their divorced parents say about each other.
A young person can be under a lot of pressure. I was told, with the predictable smirk, “Maybe you’ll be ready when you’re older,” by a high school classmate when I refused a cigarette she offered. I knew of some terribly naïve things that girl was doing, and intellectually I was aware her social development was behind mine. Still, it stung to hear her say that. I heard plenty more after that because I never did take up smoking.
Ordinarily, the intellect doesn’t overrule impulse. Children and teenagers are likely to make decisions they know are bad, and strict rules by parents often escalate the problem because rebellion is a normal (and sometimes healthy) part of growing up. The only potential answer is supporting kids in finding their own safe places, and offering guidance without hovering. That isn’t enough for some kids, but no one has thought of anything better. Heck, most of the time adults don’t even know how to go about being supportive and offering hover-free guidance. If I were a parent, I’d probably be as lost as anyone in that regard.
On top of everything else, the Trump Administration has determined that police state tactics and general degradation of human dignity — not healthcare, education or enlightened parenting — are the way to respond to the proverbial drug balloon that keeps blowing up bigger. Andrea Ritchie’s NYT column addresses the ways sexist and racist hate are used to exploit the substance abuse tragedy. Maybe now all we can do is watch it escalate further.