Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Myth of the Gateway Drug

You have probably heard of this incredibly dangerous gateway drug. It's the drug that young people try and suddenly they become hard drug users. Usually the dreaded drug is Marijuana, sometimes alcohol or even cigarettes. If you use, then you'll wake up one day a heroine addict. The gateway drug is blamed for kids who become addicts.

Now let me start by saying these things are bad. Teenagers drinking and smoking and using drugs is a bad thing. It's why we have age restrictions. Teenagers shouldn't do these things. They are harmful and destructive and just bad. I'm not justifying use of these substances, but the common sense approach to deal with them. Let's begin with a fictional case study.

Dave is a freshman in high school. One day after school, someone gives him a cigarette and he smokes it. He begins to smoke regularly. By his sophomore year, he is also drinking regularly. Half way through his senior year, he quits school and is a regular user of marijuana. By the age of 24, he's in prison for meth.

Looking at Dave's life, you could blame the cigarette as the gateway drug. The problem is we are only looking at Dave's usage. In my fictional story, Dave lives with his mom and little brother. Mom works hard to pay the bills and is never home. Dave is angry that his dad left and things are so hard. Dave struggles in school due to undiagnosed learning differences. He's labeled a trouble maker. As a result, Dave surrounds himself with kids like him, looking for an escape. Many of them are trying and using drugs.

The usage in Dave's life escalates, but it's not from the cigarettes or alcohol or pot. It's from the socal abandonment of at risk kids. In this day and age, dual incomes in needed, and many families still barely get by. Single parent households with low income have a difficult time. The working poor, they struggle. The kids struggle and they are often angry.

Our education system is a mess, teachers forced to focus on tests and scores. They don't have the time and resources for someone like Dave. Shop class is being cut and kids like Dave lose interest, no one is investing in him and he knows it. He wants to feel better, because he feels unwanted. He doesn't feel like school has anything to offer him, he's better off quitting.

We lose Dave, we lose thousands of kids this way, and we blame some gateway drug. Wake up, it's our fault. At risk kids are called at risk kids because they are at risk! They are headed down a dark path, and a kid who drinks at 13 does so because he feels like that is what he needs to be happy. He wants to have fun and enjoy life and he can't seem to find it anywhere else. He takes risks because the benefits out weigh the risk. What does he have to lose anyway?

You want to win this war on drugs? Invest in kids, in people and resources. Telling kids drugs are bad doesn't work. We tell the kids the drugs are bad, we tell the kids they are bad, so they try the drugs. They need something in their lives to hope for, to want and they can't find it. We have to bring it for them.

We are blowing it because we are focused on the wrong problem. Let's look past the drugs, into the heart and lives of the people to find the hurt. Then, we bring healing. Let's stop giving lectures and start bringing hope.

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