D.A.R.E. and ‘Just Say No’ were well-meaning programs that actually resulted in doing a lot more damage than good. Here are the 8 most harmful lies we tell kids about addiction.
#1. Everyone will try to get you high, (including each one of your friends)
This lie is particularly bad for two main reasons: one, because it teaches your kid to be ultra-paranoid and to have trust issues and, two, because you’re sending them the message that everyone’s doing it…which most adolescents with fill in the rest of that thought with, “so why shouldn’t I?” Telling your kid or kids that ‘everyone’s doing drugs’ will make them think that there must be something to this whole drug experimentation thing, so why not give it a try. Let’s just say, this exemplifies the meaning-well-but-totally-backfiring intention of creating such a ludicrous lie.
#2. People who do drugs become addicts, which are horrible, evil people
Basically, this sort of lie is borne of and works to perpetuate the whole negative stigma of drug use and drug addiction. It’s especially detrimental if, say, your kid carries the addiction gene and later becomes an addict. Because they were told that people like them are pieces of sh!t, they will likely go into hiding with their addiction and be less likely to get help. This means that they are also more likely to die from their disease of addiction. If you are a parent who has bought and sold this lie to their child, which is better: having a child who struggles with addiction but is able to talk to you about it and eventually get help for it, or having a child die from their disease because they are too shameful to speak up? Think about it.
#3. You’re “throwing it all away” if you do drugs
This is a horrible threat. Making your child believe that their future is ruined if they develop drug addiction is basically like telling them, “Well, you might as well just continue doing drugs because your fate is sealed, your future is ruined.” So many kids grow up thinking that addicts are just a waste of space so, why bother, right? Quite the contrary, there are tons of super talented, incredibly smart people out there who also just happen to be in recovery from addiction. Having the disease of addiction means drastic lifestyle changes but, it certainly doesn’t mean your life is over.
#4. 2. Addicts are stupid, lazy people
In fact, addicts are probably some of the smartest, most motivated people. It’s just that, while in active addiction, their engaged in destructive behaviors that need to be turned into constructive ones once they get clean and sober.
It’s been found that there are actual changes in the brain of an addict that prompt compulsive drug use. Many people just assume that addicts are just too stupid to know better than to keep using. But addicts aren’t stupid. There comes a point (seemingly) of no return where the addict starts to believe that they need drugs just to survive.
Addicts also aren’t lazy. In fact, they are powerfully motivated people; it’s just that their drive is fueled by the compelling need of getting enough drugs every day to stave off withdrawal. It’s not easy to keep up with. In fact, it’s downright exhausting. It’s like having a whole other full time job.
Speaking of jobs…
#5. Addicts are homeless junkies who have nothing to offer
It might be true that, for many who struggle with substance abuse, their addiction results in homelessness but, there are many, many people who are what can be considered ‘functional alcoholics’ and ‘functional addicts.’ For example, even at the height of my addiction, I had a pretty decent job as a head teller for a major bank. I also owned my own car and had a nice place to live.
#6. Addicts lack willpower
Lacking willpower is a symptom – not a cause – of the brain changes that occur in cases of addiction. Failing to stop isn’t driven by a mere lack of willpower. Continuing to use is driven by changes to the structure and function of brain cells that have morphed into a “new normal” requiring a base-level of intoxication to function. It’s true that most people who are in active addiction lack the ability and willpower to ‘stay straight’ on their own and therefore need some form of treatment to help them on their way to recovery.
The truth is, addiction is a disease characterized by accelerating compulsive drug use despite negative consequences (i.e. negative impact on their personal, physical, social and psychological well-being) due to the progressive nature of tolerance.
And all of this is driven by a natural instinct of self-preservation and an understandably intense fear of withdrawal symptoms. Neuroscientists say that while people may start out using drugs to get high, tolerance causes addicts to continue to take drugs to avoid the extremely uncomfortable, even terrifying symptoms of withdrawal. The motivational power of this fear outweighs all of the rational reasons, such as willpower, that you would think would be enough to convince an addict to stop.
#7. Drug users and addicts need punishment (not treatment)
Threats of punishment like arrest and jail time, only work for rational people. These sorts of threats are largely ineffective at getting addicts to quit using. That’s because, again, addiction is a disease – one in which the emotional need for drugs far outweighs the threat of the negative consequences of drug use. And this is based in biology. Drug use actually alters the balance between the brain’s competing emotional and rational systems, resulting in over-valuing the short-term emotional payoff of continued drug use at the expense of long-term consequences.
#8. It’s a choice
Even though addiction has been recognized by the medical community as a disease of the brain for more than half a century, the misconception that addiction is a choice still pervades popular culture. That said. Addiction is not a choice. It affects people with a genetic predisposition to the disease. Taking that first drink or drug is, however, a choice. It’s important to talk to your kids and find out why they might be considering trying alcohol and other drugs rather than using scare tactics and hoping it’s enough to keep their curiosity in check.
If you want to learn ways to talk to your child about addiction or you are concerned for yourself or a loved one who you think might be struggling with substance abuse or drug addiction, please call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135. Here at Palm Partners, we provide 24/7 access to addiction specialists who can answer your questions.