A Generation Gone to Pot
Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD
It should not have happened to this family. Ken and Marilyn and their children had every advantage of middle class affluence, a stable marriage of two parents, and support from friends and family. Nevertheless, somehow, two children, a boy and a girl, became chronic marijuana users and felons prior to age 20, and one by age 17. Two young adults thus enter the next phase of life with limited prospects for the future, and little hope of ever transcending the tainted tale of their teens. Ken and Marilyn are broken-hearted and wondering how it came to this.
Another very distraught and tearful mother named Teresa called after clinic hours one day to ask how she could know if her son smoked marijuana. Teresa already knew, of course, that her son was a user, but she needed to ask the question to convince herself that the answer might still be debatable. This was less a question and more a manifestation of the grief process, or more specifically, the denial stage.
I want to observe here that the use of illegal drugs is common, and that it disrupts relationships and ruins lives. The damage to people, families, and society is incalculable.
Methamphetamines get the front page of the press coverage, but marijuana is still the most prevalent illegal drug I find in the course of my drug testing in Griffin and Spalding County. It is inexpensive, ubiquitous, and easily found by the experienced user.
Do we have a problem in our town? This is clearly not debatable from a quick inspection of the newspaper. From my own poll, just over one in four Griffin ninth grade students in a local school are already users of illegal drugs. This is consistent with national figures that focus on the same age bracket.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tells us that for the past three years, marijuana use by eighth graders has been on the rise, with 13% stating they have used it in the previous year. Just over 25% of tenth graders reported smoking weed, and about one-third of the seniors have used marijuana.
Of course, marijuana is not the only problem. Cocaine, club drugs, crack, and even heroin are all on the rise among teens. Alcohol is also a factor, as half of seniors in high school used alcohol to excess in the month preceding the NIDA study. The Washington Post reports that of the 15. 1 million prescription drug abusers, 2. 3 million are teens.
Let's return to Teresa's question:
How do I know if my child is in drug-related trouble? This knowledge is, unfortunately, a part of basic training for parenting today. Here are a few points to consider:
The NIDA study indicates that teen drug use goes up when the perception of the danger of drug abuse is lower. What this tells us is that drug education may be effective in reducing drug abuse in teens.
So, what's a parent to do? Talk to your pre-teen about drugs. Educate them about the dangers of following the crowd, and about the rewards of being an individual capable of self-determination. Open the channels of communication on this topic early and keep them open.
Watch your child's behavior. Look for the warning signs. Consider monitoring your child's use of computers and cell phones when you suspect your child may be in trouble. Don't feel guilty about invading privacy when it may save a life.
Know your child's friends and peer group. Know their parents. Set limits on your child's behavior and peer group when you suspect a bad influence.Remember that discipline is a form of love, though it must be firm and consistent. Parents must be on the same page with each other in dealing with a troubled teen.
Meet your child's teachers and counselors in school. Be aware that they may know things about your child that you don't, but need to know. They are the ones, after all, who monitor your child's behavior most of their wakeful hours.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Seek assistance from your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other trusted caretaker. Find and tap resources such as pastors, youth ministers, social workers, and mental health professionals.
Don't blame yourself. This problem is huge and getting worse. It is multifactorial in cause and too large to pin on one person or entity.
Let's return to the kids for a moment. Many of those in middle school and high school who are abusing drugs will never graduate. These are not going to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, or the Citadel. Many of these will stay close to home after their drug-free peers have gone on to continue their journeys to success. The ones who did not complete their education will be more likely to be involved in crime and to live in a cycle of poverty that they are likely to pass on to the next generation. This truly is a generation gone to pot.
And this brings me to the point of my discussion: This problem is not just Ken and Marilyn's issue. It is not just Teresa's issue. It is not just a health care issue. This problem belongs to all of us. It's a community thing. It will take all of us to help the Kens, Marilyns, and Teresas among us.