Our youth have been hearing anti-drug messages from the time they are old enough to know what drugs are. They have heard extensively about how drugs are bad for them, drugs are dangerous, how they can kill you. Kids are also not sheltered from the news of drug overdoses or hearing about this happening to someone they know.
No Child Says “I Want to be an Addict When I Grow Up”.
In their younger years, most children will adamantly tell you that they will NEVER take drugs. Yet here are those same kids as teens, after years of education and hearing about all the dangers, now willing to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Those are our same kids who end up addicted, or worse, overdosing.
How does this happen?
There are many circumstances that can cause a person to reach out for drugs that first time. Most commonly, drugs look like a solution for problems or difficulties the young person is experiencing. That person probably could not even describe the problem or difficulty they want to make go away by drinking or using drugs. But it exists all the same and motivates that first decision to smoke pot, drink, misuse pills or down a bottle of cough syrup.
But why do we have so many young people today willing to experiment with drugs when there’s been so much invested educating them on the dangers?
What Can Lead to Experimentation
- They’ve received true information but they regard it as false. For years, education about drugs or alcohol has employed scare tactics or conveyed exaggerated information. When a young person tries to match up their drug education lessons with what they see in real life, the two images don’t match. They’ve been repeatedly told that drugs destroy your life, drugs will kill you. Yet they see friends getting high on alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy, all they see is everyone having a whole lot of fun. No one seems to be getting hurt, no one is dying. Now they have to make a decision on whether their classroom lesson or their life experience is true. Most of the time, they’ll decide that the lessons from the teacher, parent or other adult must be inaccurate. From there on, adults are not longer a reliable source of information on this subject.
- At the same time, they’re getting the message that “drugs are good for you.” This results from instances where they were taught that there are “good drugs” and “bad drugs.” Yes, it’s necessary to explain that drugs are needed in some instance of illness or injury, but just taking that lesson that far is incomplete. A young person does not have enough understanding to be able to use his (or her) own judgment. The education must go farther than explaining that drugs from the doctor are “good” and drugs from the street (heroin, cocaine, marijuana and others) are bad. For one thing, this would set the young person up to think of prescription drug abuse as acceptable and safe as recreational drugs— a very dangerous idea, indeed.
Understanding the Risks
Youth must be taught that all drugs are essentially poisons, whether they are prescribed or not. Every drug has toxic effects, with some being far more toxic and dangerous than others. And they must understand the limitations of prescription drugs. In the 1990s, young people began getting their hands on prescription drugs from medicine cabinets or bedside tables in their homes and using them at parties or to address those life difficulties we were discussing earlier. These young people felt that because these drugs were prescribed by doctors, they must therefore be “good” and “safe.”
When delivering the Narconon drug education program in the late 1990s, we had to include education on prescribed drugs to correct the misconceptions youth had about these drugs. One place they’ve continued to obtain these misconceptions is from the thousands of direct-to-consumer drug advertisements they encounter on television or in magazines. Today, it’s just about impossible to watch television or read a magazine without running into a steady stream of these drug ads. There’s been so much indoctrination on the use of a pill to solve any problem that many teens are ready to pop a few pills from a friend without a second thought. Narconon thoroughly addresses this issue as an integral part of the Drug Education Video Curriculum.
A further factor in teens getting the message of safety and acceptability is the widespread overprescribing of drugs in this country. Since “everyone is taking them,” what’s the big deal? This is even further convincing evidence that they are safe and acceptable.
Helping Young People Make the Right Choices
Back to those life problems or difficulties that a young person might attempt to solve with drugs or alcohol. This could take the form of shyness, social discomfort, boredom, difficulties in school or life situation, or simply not knowing how to deal with the subtleties of peer pressure. If there are any perceived dangers or negative consequences, they aren’t great enough to outweigh the possible benefit to be achieved from downing the beer, smoking the joint or even snorting the crushed pill. In a young person’s mind, that drug use looks like an effective solution right at that instant.
Yet the above two factors underlie much of the reasonableness youth may have that can result in their willingness to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Once they get started, their ambition and drive—as well as their ability to reason—is lowered, so in spite of any perceived dangers they may just not care.
The time to reach kids is before they ever start. This includes education that provides a realistic view of what drugs really do to a person physically, mentally and emotionally. It also needs to result in an understanding that all drugs are essentially poisons that can have lethal consequences. With this understanding, young people are able to come to their own conclusions about drug and alcohol abuse and make positive decisions to remain drug-free.