From a Presentation I Gave To A Bunch of Middle-class White Business People About Drugs Last Week

When I was a kid my dad took me fishing on Primrose Lake. Primrose Lake is a private military lake that is used for target practice and inaccessible to the general public (If you look on a map of the Cold Lake area in Alberta there is this big dotted line called the “Air Weapons Reserve”. There was an urban legend that if you could fish that lake and didn’t mind being aimed at by F-18’s, that the fishing was out of this world. My dad pulled a few strings and before I knew it we were fishing between bombardments. It was incredible. the fish practically jumped in the boat. It took 20 minutes for three of us to catch our limit of big, big fish. The cleaning took far longer than the catching.

We filled our freezer with fish that summer. Summer also brought holiday time and before long we were off to the family camping trip, thoughts of Primrose Lake far behind us. What we didn’t know was that, just before we left, someone had accidentally pulled the plug on our huge freezer.

Fast forward two weeks later…

We got home, tired and travel-worn and the first thing we noticed when we walked in the house was that it reeked of bad fish. Why, we wondered, was that odor so pronounced? It didn’t take us long to find our way downstairs and finally open the now completely defrosted freezerfull to the brim with brine and water and dead smelly fish. What to do?

It was tempting to just close that lid and walk away. We could have dressed up that freezer; even painted it a new color, but that wouldn’t have changed what was inside it. We could have hired a psychotherapist to talk to the fridge; maybe a minister could have come by and cast a demon out of the thing. It would not have mattered. Dress up that thing any way you want and the fact remains that it still is a freezer full of rotting fish. Unless you deal with what is going on inside you are not going to make any difference at all.

That’s a lot like our issue with drug and alcohol abuse in this area. It’s tempting to make excuses for the problem and blame someone else but at the end of the day the fact remains that it is still our mess-o-fish. It’s not the school’s fault, or the RCMP, or even the fault of the addict alone. At the end of the day we can blame whoever we want, it’s still our problem.

As a middle-class person who is trying my best to protect my kids from the horrors of addiction it’s really tempting to want to shut that lid and believe we don’t have a problem… but we do. We have a huge problem, an epidemic.

This isn’t a few of us smoking a doobie in 1985, kids in our middle schools are regularly offered meth-amphetamine (you can get high for a whole day for ten bucks), alcohol, oral sex, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, cigarettes, pot, Ritalin, pornography, cough medicine (Dextromethorphan), and prescription drugs. And a lot of those kids are getting their stash from their parents. Tons of teens smoke weed with their parents. Virtually all prescription drug abuse among children (Oxycontin, Percocet, T3’s, Emtec, T1’s, cough syrup, Benzos, sleeping medications, muscle relaxers, etc.) is directly connected to the family medicine cabinet.

The British Columbia (Canada) Adolescent Health Survey (2009) – 24% of adolescents reported using cannabis 20 or more days in the past month. 20 or more days! That’s shocking, isn’t it? Among students who use marijuana most reported that they started smoking cannabis at 13 years of age… 13.

Same with cigarettes (35% at 13) although 9% reported (those who had the courage to report), that they had their first cigarette when they were 9!

26% report having oral sex before the age of 15.

We regularly see parents who tell us their 12-year-old (or younger) has been offered or engaged in drug use, alcohol, high-risk behaviors and oral sex. Most of my female clients who have a history of sexual abuse tell me that they were 12 or 13 when they started dating men in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. It’s twisted and scary and statutory rape.

Kids today have crazy access to all kinds of stuff they aren’t emotionally prepared to handle – and with the immanent legalization of cannabis that access could potentially go through the roof.

Throwing these kids into jail doesn’t work and you can only scare the hell out of them and ground them for so long until they figure out we don’t have much power as parents anyway.

That’s the bad news.

So what can we do?

We have tried to force people to be good and that worked fantastic in 1920 (if you don’t mention Prohibition). We can’t force people to obey anymore, just ask the Catholic Church, but we can teach people to make better choices.

And that’s where places like this organization, and drug forums, and parenting groups, and mentor programs and better information and organizations like Alouette Addictions come into play.

If we have any hope of keeping drugs from becoming a plague it’s going to have to happen in the Elementary Schools. And we have absolutely no one working in the Elementary Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. We have Drug and Alcohol Counselors in every high school in the area but that’s too late. We spend most of our time cleaning up messes. By high school kids have been offered drugs dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. My 16-year-old told me this week they smoke weed at the high school smoke pit.

As you can probably imagine, it’s weird working at a counseling service for addictions. Let’s start with the fact that most people who walk up the stairs are breaking the law and are, by definition, a “felon”. Those who aren’t are usually seriously hurting and frustrated and scared out of their minds that they or someone they love, and often that’s a kid of 14 or 15, is going to kill themselves or end up homeless and a “junkie”. People who were active clients at Alouette have died. Sometimes people overdose in the bathroom. That’s kinda scary for the soccer mom who is waiting to talk to you in the waiting room.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to get jaded. It’s easy think that it’s an unwinnable thing.

I had a conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago and I said, in a kind of condescending way, “You have no idea what’s going on out there. Everyone is smoking pot. Every kid is probably going to use drugs at some time.”

 Here’s the thing – I was wrong. I really hate to lose an argument but it dawned on me, “that’s not right”. There are thousands of kids out there who, though they may try drugs, won’t go down that road.

And the reason they won’t is because they know that drugs and alcohol abuse is a stupid way to waste your life.

And where did they learn that? They learned that from someone who knew what they were talking about.

We call that Prevention.

Prevention is teaching parents, educators, and citizens the real truth about addiction. Ever try to argue with a teenager about the evils of smoking pot? How did that work out for you?

You know why?

That’s because they are educated. They may be educated with the wrong information but they are educated. The Internet has told them that pot is all natural (which it isn’t) and that drug use is cool and mind expanding and harmless. Their stupid friends are telling them fictitious statistics and facts that they learned from some other stupid friend or a stoner parent.

Prevention is about knowledge and science and facts, not stories made up by people who want to justify their own addictions.

Prevention is also about educating kids. Getting to them while they are still open to teaching and guidance.

I have had parents say to me, “well isn’t that wrong, shouldn’t we try not to manipulate our kids and let them decide for themselves”.

I try to put on my professional face and act all unbiased but what I really want to say is, “That’s Nuts!”. Everyone is trying to influence your kids.

  • The Internet is telling them what to believe.
  • The music is telling them,
  • Miley Cyrus and Charlie Sheen are telling them,
  • Their immature friends are telling them what to believe.
  • TV is telling them what to believe.
  • Their hormones are telling them what to believe.
  • Their immaturity and selfishness and childishness is telling what to believe.

Prevention is about helping kids learn the facts, get the whole story, so that when you’re not there and someone is embarrassing them in front of their friends and telling them to use drugs – your little voice is in the back of their head telling them that they are amazing and they don’t need to do this. That’s prevention.

Prevention is about helping kids know where to turn and who they can talk to.

Prevention is about teaching parents not to freak out and helping them understand that sometimes you have to parent in a different way, sometimes in a way that seems almost wrong, if you want to help your kids.

Prevention is about giving kids a choice.

I wish I could tell you that we are doing a stellar job at Alouette teaching every elementary school kid about making good choices but that would be a lie.

Get help because there are options. Contact a good Drug and Alcohol Counselor. Don’t necessarily trust your doctor, many know next to nothing about addiction and that was one of the reasons medical clinics hire me part-time. Doctors are often brilliant but probably grew up in a world of middle to upper class, a couple of decades ago, and have their own often skewed or uninformed opinions. Talk to a person who understands addictions. Even if they haven’t struggled with one themselves a good addictions counselor will understand neurochemistry, the Limbic system and Amygdala, impulse control issues and addiction as larger counseling issues regardless of it’s expression.

People who are middle age often have a hard time understanding the scope of the issue, the sheer impact and influence that drugs have in modern high schools, even middle schools. In many places it’s a plague, not just a problem. My 16-year-old told me this week he gets offered drugs a dozen times everyday. Imagine the fortitude required to say no, day after day after day. I didn’t have those skills, I may not have the perseverance even now.

We are going to need new solutions, not old guilt trips and groundings and yelling.

3 thoughts on “From a Presentation I Gave To A Bunch of Middle-class White Business People About Drugs Last Week

  1. I’m a mom and an alcoholic in recovery and my 19 year old has been using pot, alcohol and possibly worse. He failed his first semester at college largely because of his partying, and we refused to send him back for another semester. He’s home now and going to community college to show that he can study and apply himself.

    My son had plenty of seeing me work at sobriety. Although he says he doesn’t remember me ever being drunk (I was highly functioning), he does remember me going to rehab for 6 weeks and all my AA meetings and I was very open about my addictions and how helpless it made me.

    Setting a better example didn’t matter. Like you said, he learned all sorts of nonsense from his loser friends, including one who has been arrested several times and failed high school. I would’ve thought my son would know better than to hang out with a kid like that, but even all the educating in the world can change the escape that drugs offer.

    Our hope is that our son is getting a taste of the consequences of his behavior, that people aren’t going to just roll over and let him continue to slacker his way brought life. He was shocked that we didn’t send him back to his college especially as we’d already paid for the semester. I don’t know if it is working, but it feels like the only thing we can do at this point. He still doesn’t think he has a problem, even though he admits the partying contributed to his poor grades. It’s a jungle out there.

  2. Hi Scott,
    This kinda makes me wonder about a program where you would offer preschoolers and Kindergartners a cookie a dozen times a day. Work it right and I suppose you would have better choices become second nature. The resistant kids would also present early and intervention could begin sooner. Arithmetic, spelling, physical education, social studies and impulse control . . . A better rounded curriculum.
    Mark

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