Photography by-Colleen Cahill Studios

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Recognizing the Face of Drug Abuse

In the alcohol and drug abuse prevention, treatment and recovery field it has long been known the disease of addiction does not discriminate.  Much as we would all feel better about things if we could just put a face on addiction and then go after that source, the truth is that face could be your neighbor, spouse, family member or friend.

Doctors, lawyers, teachers, teenagers, and factory workers have all become acquainted with each other in residential treatment facilities across the country.  When it comes to addiction, it looks like anyone.

As I have learned in my years of addressing this issue almost everyone I have encountered have their own story to tell of a family member, friend, loved one, or themselves who have struggled with addiction.  Most recently a friend who is suffering the loss of a beautiful young sister.

Today, a story hit the newswires that shows just how deceptive the face of addiction can be (Copied from Associated Press).

NEW YORK -- New York City authorities say five Columbia University students are charged with selling drugs on campus and at fraternity houses.  

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Tuesday that the students and three off-campus suppliers have been arrested and indicted.  They say most of the sales took place at three fraternity houses.

The five-month investigation began in July. Authorities say undercover officers bought cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy, Adderall and LSD. In some cases, the LSD was in breath mints and candy.

Authorities say one of the off-campus suppliers plotted to kidnap a pair of rival cocaine traffickers.  

These were educated young people, by all accounts the best and the brightest.  What motivates a person with all the advantages of a top notch academic opportunity to be attracted to the intoxicating effects of drugs?  What do the effects of these drugs provide that are otherwise missing from these students lives?  How could it happen here?

The answer is as simple as it is complex, and it may make you uncomfortable.  

How does it start?  According to subjects responding to inquiries while undergoing residential treatment for addiction, it often begins with a cigarette, or a beer, though recent studies show many young people are skipping the usual first cigarette and going straight to marijuana.  

At what age does it start?  The average age of first use is 13 years of age.  Children are making the decision to use drugs and alcohol while they are still in grade school!  They may not start to dabble until later but that decision making process is strong in grade school.

What can parents do?  First and foremost, take a good long look at the patterns and behaviors you are setting as an example for your own children.  Do you reach for a glass of alcohol as soon as you get home from work?  

Does you child see that alcohol is an important part of your daily or weekly habits?  If so, consider why and look at alternative activities to reduce stress and relax.  

Look into the habits of the parents of their friends, too.  The opinions of the parents your child associates with can have lifelong consequences for your child.

Many parents want to be the "cool mom or dad" who are actually enablers providing alcohol as a means to gain acceptance for their child in the group, while professing to teach them "how to drink".  Know that you cannot teach a child how to drink responsibly while at the same time exposing their brains to the intoxicating effects of alcohol or drugs.   

 It is a biological fact the adolescent brain is not completely formed until approximately age twenty-two, making them very susceptible to the effects of alcohol addiction prior to that age.  Consuming alcohol before age sixteen greatly increases a child's likelihood for a lifelong battle with addiction by the time they reach adulthood. 

Remove alcohol consumption as the focus of parties or events, i.e., using "can't wait to party" as a euphemism for drinking.  When alcohol consumption is the focus it is a clear message to children that this practice is important to you.  Is this the example you want to set?

Take responsibility for setting the expectations and examples you want your child to follow.  When asked who was the most influential person in their lives, grade and middle school children most often cite their parents.  You are your child's best advocate.  

As for this tragic story, it is all too common.  The only difference in this particular instance?  The veneer of alcohol and drug abuse was lifted to show the truth.  Addiction does not discriminate.

A colleague of mine once said, "You will suffer your child's anger much better than you will suffer their death."  She would know...