Remember the, “Just Say No!” campaign? Were those words strong enough to stop vulnerable young teens, or even pre-teens, from succumbing to pressure from peers who implored them to, “Just try it!”
We sometimes think we’re doing our part by enrolling our children in school programs, like D.A.R.E., that teach our kids the dangers of drug abuse. And then we tell them, ““Don’t Use Drugs! Drugs Are Bad!”
Have we done our part? Have we done enough?
Many parents drink alcohol in front of their children – nothing wrong with that – if parents drink responsibly. But have you explained to your children that you’ve built up a tolerance to alcohol and that the amount of alcohol you consume would be toxic to them?
And if you don’t drink “responsibly,” can you admit you’re an alcoholic and get help for yourself before you set up an atmosphere where your children will feel so comfortable in a drinking environment that you risk them becoming alcoholics too?
Many parents also use drugs – and can recite a litany of reasons to explain why they take drugs. While some drugs are medically necessary, parents who won’t admit they use drugs recreationally confuse kids who’ve been told, drugs are bad! Don’t take drugs!
When a child comes home from school and Mom is drooling on the couch, that child knows Mom is drunk or high. Parents can lie to their kids all they want, but kids know – or will eventually know – the signs of alcohol abuse, because they see it every day. At some point they will visit other families whose parents don’t imbibe and their definition of “normal” will change dramatically.
And don’t kid yourself about what you’ve told them about that “skunk smell.” They’ll figure out that you’ve been smoking marijuana all day and when someone offers them that familiar odor, they’ll partake, because the scent will feel comfortable to them.
But let’s talk about what happens when your child tries drugs. First they think – what a lie – drugs aren’t bad for me! They’re good! Drugs make me FEEL GREAT! I want to take them again. I want to feel this way forever!
And THAT is what we are need to address with our kids. THAT is what we are NOT telling our kids – that they will feel good – initially – when they take drugs. We tend to ignore discussing the PROCESS of drug addiction with our kids. We tell them only what could happen to them if they take drugs. We tell them only not to take them. We allow them to believe that everything about drugs is bad, but we neglect to tell them how good they will feel when they take them – the first and maybe even the second and third time – and that’s where we need to focus our attention.
Because once they’re hooked, there’s no turning back. Like renting a room at the Hotel California, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Now these kids don’t just WANT to take drugs – they NEED to take them.
And these kids need to know, that yes, drugs will feel great – at first – but those feelings will become harder and harder to maintain, because they’ll need to use more and more drugs to achieve the same high. Pretty soon, they’ll rob from their family and friends, and after that, they won’t care about anything or anybody – including themselves. Of course, they won’t believe they’ll ever be in that position to feel that way about their families and friends, so we, as responsible adults, need to provide examples.
But even examples might not work, because kids think they’re invincible. They won’t be that kid who steals from family members. They won’t be that kid who doesn’t care about anybody. They won’t be that kid who dies from an overdose. So we need to protect our kids from themselves. We need to tell them the truth about how drugs will make them feel the first time they take them.
We need to tell our kids that drugs will entice them and excite them. Drugs will make them feel so great, they’ll want to maintain that high. But they won’t have any relevant past experiences upon which to compare their euphoric feelings, so they will attempt to replicate that high every chance they get.
And then, after they realize they can’t achieve the same high from their previous drug use, they’ll get angry, because the high will wear off, and they’ll want it – again and again and again and again. They will do everything in their power to achieve that same feeling, and they’ll be disappointed that their next high won’t be nearly as good as their first.
So they’ll take more drugs and more drugs and more dangerous drugs and even more dangerous drugs to feel high again. And pretty soon, they’ll find themselves selling their souls and their bodies to feel even slightly normal.
And you, as their parents, will watch their decline. You, as their parents, will knowingly or unknowingly, contribute to their deaths. If your kids are teenagers, you may think, when they first begin using drugs or drinking alcohol, that they are experiencing common teenage rebellion, but you need to recognize the difference between normal teenage rebellion and not-so-normal aggression that results from drug usage. (See the section linked below on Behavioral signs of drug abuse from NCADD.)
We will need to tell our kids that they don’t have to be addicted to drugs to abuse drugs. Addiction could occur immediately or it might take several doses to affect the chemistry in YOUR child’s brain. Like Russian Roulette, kids take their chances every time they use. One dose could do nothing – or it could kill them.
We need to teach our kids about tolerance, withdrawal, and loss of control. We need to explain to them that they will reach a point where they will want to stop, but they won’t be able to stop, because they won’t know how.
Kids need to know that they will begin to neglect all of their other activities, even and maybe especially those that are important to them now and that drugs will take up more of their time, energy, and focus. They need to know that though they think addiction will never happen to them, they will continue to use, despite knowing the consequences, because they think consequences don’t apply to them.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) addresses all of these issues in their article about knowing the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Click the link to learn more.
Let’s admit that we haven’t been forthcoming with our kids. Let’s open the lines of communication with them. If you’ve indulged in drugs, admit it. Be honest. The chances of your child becoming an addict greatly increase if you, too, have been one. By confessing your own addiction or abuse, you will connect with your child in ways you might never thought were possible.
If your attempts to connect with your child are met with resistance, your child might already be deeply involved with drugs and you may have to investigate drug rehabilitation programs. Find one that follows up with its residents and has proven to be successful.
More than anything, though, let’s stop lying to our children. We have to remember how children think. Though they believe themselves to be adults and to be smarter than their parents are, teenage brains aren’t fully developed. Taking drugs at their age greatly impedes the growth of brain cells. They’ll fight with you, but you have to care enough about them to be strong. If you can’t be strong because you, too, are addicted, get help NOW!
So let’s admit that drugs feel good – at first – and then let’s show our kids how devastating drugs can be with continued use. You can start by showing them before and after photos of individuals who abused drugs, found on this Rehabs site.
Help your kids find themselves by recognizing their talents and by developing their skills. Children who are engaged in their lives and who enjoy their activities, who feel a sense of accomplishment and who feel worthy of living are less likely to try drugs than those kids who feel like failures. Help your kids realize their worth. Contribute to their sense of accomplishment. Guide them down the path they were meant to travel – toward the people they were meant to be. And be honest about what will happen to them if they decide to drink or abuse drugs. Be a good role model.