October 23-31 was Red Ribbon Week. As a graduate of D.A.R.E., I can remember my fifth-grade class getting a visit from the local police officer to speak about drugs and their dangers. I also remember distinctly the ad campaigns from the 1980s reminding us young people during Saturday Morning Cartoons what the effect of drugs would be on our brains, visualize a frying egg. Additionally, I remember Nancy Reagan and her campaign encouraging us to “Just Say No.” Years later, drug education and resistance became pretty heavily mocked and lampooned. Cool or not, we have learned over time the destructive effects of addiction to individuals and their communities. There are quite few among us who have not been directly affected by addiction, for some this has been first hand, for others it has been your family, and for almost all of us seeing someone struggle publicly. As any parent knows, just saying “no” is not enough; instead, it is important for us to explain why it is that we want you to say “no.”
Drugs and controlled substances work on brain chemistry in a way that can frequently cause individuals to become dependent on them. Perhaps one of the most insidious ways that drugs can impact the brain is to become insensitive to the true cues that the mind is trying to respond to. For example, we all enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a good grade on a test or a job well done. The difficulty lies in the fact that to earn that “good feeling” takes effort and work, for many that can be days of studying or hours of hard labor working in the yard. Nevertheless, the mind feels the sense of accomplishment and reward and pride. Controlled substances can work to allow one to obtain the feeling of accomplishment without the underlying work. This is highly damaging to one’s ability to delay gratification, as the ability to delay gratification is damaged one goes back to drugs to get that same feeling without the effort to go along with it. Delaying gratification is not something that comes naturally, just ask any parent of a toddler, if that skill is not developed or allowed to atrophy it will be a constant struggle to be able to naturally obtain the feeling that should come along with accomplishment and hard work.
On the other end of the controlled substance spectrum drugs can work to numb or dull physical and/or emotional pain. This can be an understandable desire. There is no need to fight through a headache instead of taking an ibuprofen to move quickly past it; however, when one uses pain killers to work through an injury, the purpose of the pain, which was to protect the injury can be ignored and frequently the injury becomes more severe. When used to cover emotional pain, dependency on drugs can frequently result as learning to use other tools to help process and move through emotional pain is stunted. It is often hard to admit that one could benefit from counseling or to talk out hard feelings to a neutral counselor, sometimes we are forced to examine our own thoughts and attitudes, sometimes it is about uncovering terrible abuse that is buried deep emotionally. Again, it is understandable to desire to cover over the pain as frequently, this can be very uncomfortable but it is in usually in the long-term best interest to work through these different issues as opposed to just cover them over. When they are continued to be covered over for too long, the necessary skills to work through all the different things that life brings our way are not acquired and developed.
Drugs alter the ability to work through the ups and downs and life, and they also present a variety of serious risks to an individual’s physical health. When a person uses street drugs they subject themselves to a product that they can not be confident of what it contains and its risk to them. As you walk down the supermarket aisle you may notice that your 16 oz pint of Ice Cream has become 14 oz. The 32 oz bottle of Mayonnaise has become 30 oz, and the company has kindly hollowed out the bottom of your jar. In ancient times unscrupulous vendors would dilute milk with water, drug dealers do this and worse, they regularly add filler to their product so they can get more money for less product and often they substitute a more dangerous product so that someone can get a similar effect but with less product. They do not care about the consequence to you the end user they’re just trying to get the most money they can for the least product. This is seen ever more frequently today with street drugs mixed with fentanyl, a combination that is readily seen as extremely dangerous and deadly. With street-level drugs one cannot trust what is being sold.
As I come to the end of this, I want to encourage each of us, that you are a person worth fighting for, you are worth fighting for to be the best you you can be, and to avoid drugs and any dependency that comes along with it. To the parents out there, I know it can often be hard to bring up topics like this to our children, perhaps some might feel hypocritical because of their past choices or don’t want to feel like we are badgering our children. But there is no hypocrisy in using wisdom you have gained through life experience to encourage children to make better choices. This week is a perfect week to have a light conversation with your son or daughter reminding how much their future means to you and them and that you want them to experience the fullness this life offers. This community is a community worth fighting for, as a young person your future is worth fighting for, and as a parent your children’s future are worth fighting for, and when we say no to drugs we all are better for it!