To see a young person who has been destroyed by drugs is agonizing. We witness a lost mind; a life being wasted in pursuit of oblivion from personal pain or pleasure gone awry. Seeing this tragic transformation has become all too common, yet we continue to shake our heads in disbelief every time we witness a new case of annihilation.
Looking on in disbelief, we parents with "clean" offspring express thankfulness that our child is not the victim. Yet in some ways, we feel justified and even self righteous that our own protective measures continue to safeguard our own. At this point, we begin to judge "what went wrong" with the "bad" child and how the "faults" turned the innocent youth into a criminal, a pitiful addict.
Oh sure, we empathize with hopelessness in any given situation: we pity the addicted youth; we grieve with their family members, and we become angry that society has done little to stem the causes of the disease. But, we also justify our judgment. Why? Because we feel that unless we delineate what makes our kid different from the "bad" kid, we cannot change any risky behaviors in which our child might engage.
Admit it, most of us believe a young person who becomes addicted to drugs is a weak, immoral individual who, despite the underlying reasons for their behavior, is "damaged goods." We associate addiction with self-inflicted, deliberate suicide. And, we honestly find little reason to believe such a reject could ever "straighten up" and become something other than a criminal, a liar, a thief, a prostitute, or just another member of the dregs we must suffer and ultimately jail or bury.
When the child is very young, the majority of us cry for the protection of the innocent. We demand all children receive a decent upbringing. This is admirable and demonstrative of the way we should care for our communities. We work to better family dysfunction. We demand better conditions to prevent child endangerment. We become active in efforts to protect young lives and to help nurture positive childhood minds and bodies. We do a decent job in protecting those sweet, young faces.
But then, somewhere along the production line, we foolishly assume that adolescents have achieved adequate moral training and have developed logical, intelligent brains that match their strong, maturing bodies. Of course, we must give these young adults more freedoms and opportunities to develop their independence; however, too many of us nurturers cut the ties of direct supervision and assume adolescents can "handle things on their own" amid many snares and dangers of the drug culture. I'm not just speaking of parents who shirk chaperoning duties. I'm also very critical of communities that leave maturation of their young people to chance, and relatives and friends who turn their backs on their duty of helping mold young citizens.
At what point does a person go from victim to perpetrator in their own self destruction? It surely must be different for each individual who becomes dependent upon substances. The point is that each "dirty addict" was once a "mark," an open target who was influenced by dark circumstances and who then made bad decisions that led to terrible consequences.
We, as a caring community, must work to limit shady environments and lead all teens through dangerous situations during their formative years (Most medical authorities now consider the critical thinking lobes of the brain to be underdeveloped until, at least, the mid-twenties.) Feeling sorry for those who fall into addiction is not enough. More time, money, and effort must be expended to make a difference.
Addiction is here. It is not going away because some feel immune to its devastation or because some choose to bemoan those who fall into its criminal enterprise and merely pray it stops. It's not going to end because politicians, health officials, and enforcement officers debate the effectiveness of the "war on drugs." It's not going to get better with the legalization of all drugs or a "let them kill themselves off" policy. It will only improve when the masses decide to buy into a philosophy that calls upon them to find new ways to deal with pain and problems instead of medicating them.
Just look at the way we view, treat, and talk about addiction in America. It is ironic how judgmental our society is about the disease, considering that we are bred and raised to have addictive personalities in every facet of our lives.
We idolize Hollywood stars and musical personalities that experience rehab as a normal way of life. We go gaga over those who practice extremes -- people who push everything "to the edge" of destruction. We think little about those who pound their bodies with alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, performance enhancers, sexual stimulants, diet pills, energy drinks, mood enhancers, and opioid pain relievers.
Doesn't the media, Madison Avenue, and our peers all urge us to become addicted to cigarettes, to food, to alcohol, to television, to obtaining the perfect body, to sex, to video games, to violence? We live in the fast lane and grab everything along the way that builds our egos.
We have become a super-sized nation of excess, and we’re steered from birth towards an obsessive-compulsive need to have more and more and more of "a need for instant gratification" lifestyle. Let's face it: we all have addictions we cannot shake, from the smallest ones to the most dangerous. And yet we live in a society that has minimal concern for positive change and less concern for those "losers" who fall victim to their own addictions.
Stop Treating All Addicts As Criminals Who Need Jail Time
According to the research, Changing Public Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, public opinion on crime and criminal justice has fundamentally shifted over the past few years. Today, the public favors dealing with the roots of crime over strict sentencing by a two-to-one margin, 65 percent to 32 percent. This is a dramatic change from public attitudes in 1994, when the Gallup Organization found 48 percent of Americans favored addressing the causes of crime and 42 percent preferred the punitive approach.
By two to one, Americans describe drug abuse as a medical problem that should be handled mainly through counseling and treatment (63 percent) rather than a serious crime that should be handled mainly by the courts and prison system (31 percent). The preference for a medical solution to the drug problem extends to some surprising groups: majorities of fundamentalist Protestants (54 percent) and Republicans (51 percent) believe that drug abuse is best handled by counseling and treatment, not incarceration.
According to the research, Americans believe that today's prisons are no more than "warehouses," providing little or no rehabilitation or reentry programs, that instead simply store criminals for a period of time and then dump them back on the street, no different than when they were first incarcerated.
My Bottom Line
One young addict saved represents not only a miracle of will power but also a priceless investment in the future of America. I know many of you don't believe this, but I also know that many of you would fight to the death to save an innocent young child. The difference between an innocent and an addict lies in the disease that ravishes their body and mind.
So often we hear that "nobody took drugs wanting to become an addict." And, although this is circular reasoning that does not excuse anyone from becoming dependent, the reality of the statement remains.
Why do I believe this? I personally know scores of people who have lost... lost their innocence, lost their families, lost their health, lost their mental capacities, and lost their lives. Were they weak and bent on becoming risk takers? Perhaps. Still, ask yourself how often have you been defeated, debilitated, and undependable? If you can answer "seldom" or "never," you are a stronger person than I am.
Our judgment of wrong does not matter as much as our ability to help effect change. The only saving grace for those who suffer addiction is treatment of their disease. A child, teen, or young adult with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or any other life-threatening malady would receive our utmost aid. You see, we make ourselves "hardened" to the circumstance and misbehavior of others. If that "bad" kid is one of our own, we have an astounding ability to work through critical judgments and save the child.
"Men of ill judgment ignore the good
that lies within their hands, till they have lost it."