The great debate continues around recreational drug use, misuse and abuse. When is too much - too much? When does a young person cross over the line from experimentation to addiction?
Those questions continue to challenge the experts. Depending on the data and who you ask, you will get a different response.
One thing that is factual is that is that our traditional approach to drug abuse and/or misuse has been a dismal failure. Drug use is not on the wane. In many communities, it is on the rise, especially among middle school and high school students.
Many young people today don't consider pot a drug. They also believe that it's their inalienable right to smoke as they wish, especially if they function well in school and are reasonably compliant at home.
For the sake of argument, let's put pot on the side for the moment and address the increased use of street and designer drugs like E (ecstasy), heroin, crack, cocaine and a wide range of other accessible prescription and non-prescription drugs. Teenagers from every social group seem compelled to experiment. More and more teenagers feel it's fine to use these chemical substances for recreation and social purposes. For some it is a phase that passes. Unfortunately, it is a track young people get stuck in that could be lethal.
Once you cross the line of addiction, it is hard to cross back, stop and get on with life. Every person is different. Everyone's genetic history and chemistry is different. The literature is clear that people with addicts in the family tend to be more vulnerable to having a problem with addiction themselves.
Drug use, misuse and abuse continue to be a growing problem, especially among our young. Our information, approach and access to treatment are impaired and the adult community is not clear and consistent on the issue.
We continue to set our kids up for disaster by pumping them with erroneous information. Smoking one joint is not going to make you a pothead. Consistent pot use is not necessarily going to automatically be one's gateway to bigger and better illegal drugs.
We need to re-educate ourselves so that we can re-educate our children and at least afford them the positive tools to stay addiction free and healthy. Tolerance is not the answer, nor is ignorance.
Reality being reality, many of our teenagers will probably experiment with a wide range of drugs. Hopefully with well informed, knowledgeable parental support and better student education, our teenagers' experimentation will be minimal, not reckless and without any real human casualties.
As adults, we need to advocate and demand better treatment possibilities for our children who have crossed over the line and get back to the other side. Our present system is inept, incomplete and unavailable. Most aftercare programs are inaccessible to the average teen who has limited transportation.
It is scandalous that more and more very damaged teenagers are being discharged from treatment whether they are ready or not, because their insurance runs out. The recidivism rate is epidemic. Where do teens without insurance or money go?
Most young people of high school age, when they leave treatment, return home and attempt to go back to school. Few school districts have on-campus supports for the student in the early stages of recovery. This only makes it more difficult for the teenager in recovery to survive.
Remember, he or she may have learned many invaluable tools and skills for survival, but the recovering person is returning back to the very environment that enabled a lot of bad choices and made getting high easy.
Illegal drug and alcohol availability and use are not leaving any high school or college campus, so what do you do? It is hard to be strong when you feel like you are standing alone.
Our schools have to become more proactive. Whether it is sponsoring a support group or a recovery homeroom or even having a regular AA or NA meeting on the school campus at some time during the day.
To pretend that the problem does not exist is to enable it to reach even greater lethal proportions. We need to educate staff on how to deal with recovering students and abusing students. They also need to be educated as to how to deal with denial among parents and colleagues. We need to educate parents and try to forge a working partnership in the area of prevention, intervention and education.
It is a challenge one must embrace if we want to improve the quality of life within our schools.
RJ is twenty-three, a university graduate with a degree in secondary education in the area of history. While completing his student teaching in a challenging school district, RJ was seduced into trying the business world. The thought of quick money that would quickly increase was very seductive.
After interviewing with a number of relatively large computer firms, RJ took a job at a very large computer tech program. The starting salary was excellent and ever growing. The benefits were comprehensive and the social life was outstanding - happy hour every Thursday and Friday with guys and girls all relatively the same age.
As a sheltered high school student, RJ remembers some limited drinking for social acceptance as a senior. That escalated once he went to college. During his college years, he expanded his horizons and tried a wide range of designer drugs, but always denied that he had a problem.
Upon graduation and taking a job in the business world, RJ was exposed to recreational coke use every weekend. He bankrupt his bank account and almost got himself locked up for a long time. He had a lost weekend that he almost did not return from. With the assistance of his counselor, he went into rehab, which was helpful in laying a foundation, but possibly inadequate in preparing him for long term, life long recovery. He was discharged after three weeks. Thanks to that same counselor, he entered a wellness recovery program that demands residence for a minimum of eighteen months, with three different phases. The main focus of the experience is to prepare the recovering person for survival that is life-giving in a world that is recklessly out of control.
From day one, RJ wanted to do things his way. He has been abstinent from all chemicals, but has not really entered recovery. He is approaching his sixth month of treatment and abstinence. Finally, he is beginning to admit that he cannot do it his way.
However, he is not giving up. He has finally realized that he is an addict and that he can never use alcohol, pot or any other drug again, because of his addictive personality. He is also learning that real life in recovery can be rich with happiness and fulfillment, but the road is long and hard, and the one less traveled.
But he is walking it nonetheless!