(This is part 6 or a seven-part series)
Drugs and Alcohol
Many years ago when Steve Arterburn and I wrote the book How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs, we were amazed at two statistics that kept popping up in our research. Ninety-two percent of all pastors said there was a problem with drugs and alcohol in their surrounding community, but only 13 percent thought there was a problem with drugs and alcohol in their churches. Incidentally, Christian parents believed the same. The second troubling statistic was that there was only about a 5 to 10 percent difference in the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol between kids who attended church and kids who didn’t.10
There has never been a time when children were more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, and yet—without trying to offend you—most parents are either in denial or are ignorant of the issues of drug and alcohol abuse until it is too late. Parents of happy, healthy families study the threat of drug and alcohol abuse and teach their children about the dangers.
All parents should help their kids understand from a young age the usual progression of a young person’s involvement with alcohol and drugs. A child or teen will begin to experiment with a gateway drug and then will continue along the road to dependence on hard-core drugs. Let me explain this process in more detail.
Beer and wine, the gateway drugs. Here’s how they work: Kids begin their experimentation with beer and wine—that’s usually where substance abuse begins. As I mentioned before, today the average first drink happens around age 12. The majority of kids will try alcohol before they graduate from high school. If kids do try beer and wine, they have a greater chance of moving through the gateway onto the road to substance abuse. Another step on this road is nicotine.
Nicotine. The tobacco industry has done a pitiful job of keeping future, underage addicts from experimenting. But is it really the tobacco industry’s fault, or should the blame equally fall on us, parents who haven’t taught our kids about the harmful effects of the very strong drug called nicotine? Did you know that it’s actually easier to get off heroin than nicotine? The detoxification period of heroin is terrible, but after about five days, the drug has passed through the user’s system. In contrast, some say it’s nearly impossible to shake the habit of using nicotine because of its intensely addictive nature. The fact is that 81 percent of kids who smoke cigarettes will move farther through the gateway to experiment with marijuana, yet only 20 percent of the kids who do not smoke cigarettes will ever try marijuana.11
Harder alcohol. First of all, let’s get something straight: Alcohol is a drug. It’s a drug because it is mood- and mind-altering. It’s also a poison; it’s toxic. Most teenagers—and especially college students—know someone who has died or who became extremely sick from drinking too much alcohol.
All alcoholics have a high tolerance for alcohol and can consume a great amount without it affecting them like it does nonalcoholics. In fact, many budding alcoholics consume large quantities of alcohol; yet since they drink below their tolerance level, they are praised for being able to hold their liquor.
I know a 16-year-old young man who proudly told me he could drink five beers and not get drunk. He was surprised when I answered, “I believe you, and in fact, I would rather have you as the designated driver than someone who is slushy drunk on two beers.” But then I went for the jugular when I bluntly said, “You must be a budding alcoholic.”
Surprised, he protested, “Maybe you didn’t understand. I’m not even drunk after five beers.”
I said, “I understand perfectly. Your body has a high tolerance for alcohol. The problem is, like all alcoholics, your body craves alcohol differently from that of nonalcoholics and will begin to break down. And unless you quit drinking, you will live a life very similar to your dad’s.” (He had already told me that he had little respect for his father, who was a drunk and who had left the family for his secretary. His father’s alcoholism had messed up his own life and taken a toll on the whole family.)
Marijuana. Marijuana, another step on this path to substance abuse, is similar to alcohol in that it’s inexpensive, plentiful and intoxicating. When I graduated from Anaheim High School in 1971, we were told that marijuana wasn’t harmful to our health. Hardly anyone is saying that today. We still don’t know everything about this popular drug, but we do know that in many people it produces a sickness called amotivational syndrome, when one’s brain is lazy and lethargic. Most of us have a friend or two who smoked just a bit too much pot, and although they function, they are just slo-o-o-o-w.
The other important factor for parents to know is that the marijuana in the 1970s is not the same as the marijuana kids are using today. Today’s marijuana is 5 to 20 times stronger and is often laced with more dangerous drugs.
Heroin, LSD and cocaine. Then we move on to heroin, LSD and cocaine. Your children likely won’t start their experimentation with these drugs, but as kids move through the gateway, they find it easier to violate their value systems and move to harder drugs. Each step past the gate brings people closer to hard-core drugs and brings more destruction.
Healthy parental drug education is an answer. The chances of young people abusing drugs lessen when parents proactively teach their kids and set a good example themselves. The first step in preventing your kids from abusing drugs and alcohol is self-examination. I know one father who tried to get help for his two sons for several years. On the day he admitted he had a problem with alcohol, his sons followed him into treatment.
- Stephen Arterburn and Jim Burns, How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), p. 24.
- “Teens Who Smoke Seem Likely to Take Other Risks,” The Orange County (California) Register, April 25, 1995, Health and Science section.