Will Wooton, Director of Pacific Treatment Services, writes for Pomerado News and is the and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults.
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With all the prevention, why is there still addiction?
Nearly every teenager has been introduced to drug abuse prevention in some manner. Each year countless organizations descend upon schools hosting panels, speakers or movies to discuss the danger of drugs. Ribbons, bracelets and outdated (and often wrong) informational material are passed out by the truckload. I don’t think a month has gone by in the last 20 years that I haven’t been asked to speak or lecture to groups of kids.
Given this level of emphasis about drugs you would hope kids would never use them but, clearly for some teens, prevention does not equal abstention. Prevention educates teens about drugs, but does it educate and prevent addiction?
I’ve assessed thousands of people for addiction issues. What they have overwhelmingly told me is that they abuse drugs because of how it made them feel. Addiction is often referred to as “a feeling of discomfort within one’s own skin” — a mixture of an inflated sense of ego and poor self-esteem. It’s an emotionally driven set of behaviors that chips away at the core beliefs a person holds and feelings become the driving force in their life. To prevent an addict from starting drugs you must address the internal person, not simply show them a statistical analysis of the dangers of drugs. The real question becomes, “How do we target prevention to the people who need it most?” How does having a panel of sober addicts or professionals increase an emotionally struggling teen’s likelihood of not turning to substances to fill that void?
I feel that schools (and families) can play a larger role by providing more tools for inspiration during a teen’s years as boredom is one of the largest driving factors to kids using drugs. Even with funding issues, we must provide more for teachers to work with whether that be tools for the classroom, off-campus trips, expert speakers in their fields, etc. Introducing teens to new areas may spark an interest they didn’t know existed or that they may never have considered. Inspiration then becomes a newfound self-esteem, builds new friendships, and provides activities to fill their day.
Do you remember the first time you heard B.B. King sing “The Thrill is Gone”…or that feeling of awe you had standing in an observatory and understanding just how large the universe is…or stepping on a plane in another country as the excitement of other cultures surrounds you…or the first time you felt peace at church? This is what we must pass on to our kids. All the wonderful things that bring humanity meaning — arts, languages, sports and sciences — as this is what inspires us. We need to embrace after-school programs or learning centers that not only teach but also allow kids to explore what they find inspirational. From an early age make education in all forms a desire rather than just something expected to fulfill graduation requirements.
If we truly want to stop addiction, then the answer needs to be more than a two-hour talk about why drugs are harmful. We need to engage the spirit of kids. We need to build them into active knowledge seekers and open the doors to all the amazing things life has to offer. Boredom is a mindset for those who haven’t found their passion. Let’s stop pretending that a ribbon of any color will inspire passion.