Title:   Drug Proofing the Family
 Authors:   Erica Wittenberg & Jim Parker

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:


..Kids & Drugs

There are as many different reasons for using drugs and alcohol as burgers served at McDonald's -- around 99 trillion, at last count, and still climbing.

And while you may insist that any drug or alcohol use by young people is unacceptable, it's important to realize that some factors signal trouble much more clearly than others. And different levels of involvement can mean different things -- and lead to very different courses of action.

That's why, in developing a "drug-proofing" plan for your family, it's helpful to consider how problems get started, what keeps them going, and why.

We'll begin by pointing out that people of all ages use psychoactive chemicals (and here we include coffee and alcohol and tobacco, alongside pot, heroin, crystal meth, and the rest) for the same reasons that anybody does anything: To meet internal and external needs with the most available (and apparently-effective) means at their disposal.

Drugs and alcohol can seem the most available and effective means for young people to meet a variety of needs, including the following:

  • to satisfy their curiosity
  • to feel included in their social group
  • to feel older, more grown up
  • to fill (or kill) time
  • for fun or adventure
  • to cope with feelings of anger, fear, loneliness, or sexuality

None of these reasons in itself is a sign of serious trouble. They're needs that all normal kids (and adults) experience from time to time.

One important difference is that young people may feel these needs more urgently, and have fewer resources to deal with them.

Our goal as parents should be to help our kids meet their normal needs in ways that are more acceptable (and less potentially harmful) than drug abuse. That's what we call "drug-proofing," and we'll talk more about it in the next chapter.

On the other hand, there are reasons for use that should really jump out as danger signals. And each needs to be considered carefully.

  • Self-medication. Often, kids start taking drugs as a way of medicating themselves against chronic, undiagnosed anxiety or depression. The emotional turmoil of growing up is only compounded as kids begin to realize their own limitations and vulnerabilities, and bump up against standards they can't meet or problems they can't easily resolve. Part of the problem is hard to defend against, since kids are bombarded with fantasy-based images of beauty and success and happiness in the media every day. Still, it's important to do what we can to help them deal with emotions constructively. But don't expect the media to do it for you: It does a better job of selling dreams than preparing kids to take their place in the real world. That's our job.
  • Family problems. When kids are unhappy because of tension inside the family, they look for solace outside the family, and drugs and alcohol rush in to fill that void. Often, drug use really is a cry for help -- not only for the user, but for a whole family.
  • No control. Sometimes, kids learn (whether we mean to teach it or not) that they're not really expected to succeed in life, that they're incapable of making great things happen, or they're defective in an important way. This is a crippling view of life, whether drugs and alcohol come into play to insulate against it or not.
  • Imitation. Then there are kids who do such a good job of internalizing mom or dad's values that they adopt their chemical use patterns, too. The psychological label for this process is modelling. And whether we like it (or are even aware of it) or not, we're role models for our children. So if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, your kids could have one, too -- if they don't have one already.

Continue with Chapter 3: Patterns of Use
Go to Table of Contents

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org.