A question on substance abuse and our culture

Question: In the chapter (of When Good Kids Do Bad Things) about substance abuse you  write “the general view that youth is the time to experiment combined with the denigration of authority figures, particularly parents, allows many parents and many youths to ignore the known facts.” Can you expand on this?

Katherine’s Answer: I rant a great deal about this.  A big myth is that all teens defy their parents, experiment with breaking rules, and parents shouldn’t worry so much.  Some theorists even go so far as to say, unless a teen does rebel, she or he is not really becoming an adult.  Reality check: across the ages more teens have walked the paths their parents walked without dissent and moved into adulthood smoothly.  This has changed over the years and the gradual accepting of this myth as truth is partially to blame.  Expecting teens to rebel increases the number who do.

Complicating the acceptance of this myth is the equally false  idea that a parent’s primary job is to “talk so kids will listen” or raise “siblings without rivalry” or “parent without conflict.” Reality check: parenting is messing, conflict is normal.  Parents experiencing normal conflict have too often gotten snared in unnecessary webs of guilt. Moreover, too many therapists, the media as well as peers and family too often supported a child’s complaints as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but a horrible truth.  Reality check: we all complain when we don’t get our way; some complain loudly, some silently. Reality check: complaining often makes mountains out of mole hills.

These above myths not only make drinking more acceptable to many teens, but also to increase professionals’ tendency to deny parents’ concerns, particularly about drinking.  For a while, many states even dropped their legal drinking age from 21 to 18.  Advertizing of beer has grown in to a multi-million dollar business and much of that business is designed to create drinkers and not just safe drinkers.

Here are the known facts about safe  drinking: no more than one drink an hour—that keeps you sober enough to not do something dangerous or foolish.  No more than three drinks a drinking day—that also keeps you sober.  At least three days a week without any drinks which keeps you from building tolerance.  A drink is a 12 oz bottle of beer, a four oz class of wine, or 2 oz shot glass of hard liquor.  Again a rule designed to keep you moderately sober.  Most adults ignore those rules in countries with a drinking culture.  Those are also the countries with a higher proportion of alcoholism.  The USA is one.

When I was a professional foster parent we had few teens who were alcoholics.  However, when we had a concern it was ignored.  Not one of the kids we worried about and thought might be alcoholics or addicts were referred by the professionals responsible for their care to rehabilitation or even to AA.  All were treated with talk therapy.  Talk therapy does not cure alcoholism.

What is a parent to do?

The very first thing a parent worried about drinking and drugging should do is start attending Alanon or Families Anonymous meetings.  Introduce yourself by saying “I am here to listen and learn.”  Then listen and learn.  Go to at least six such meetings.  Either you will no longer worry, or you have become more educated about the disease—and addiction is a disease, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  You will also probably have learned about resources in your area and have found people willing to offer you support.

I hope this answers the question.  If not let me know through the comments what you still need to know.

Katherine [Image Source]


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