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February 6, 2014

HUDSON: It’s everybody’s problem

— Henry David Thoreau said it best: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Most people don’t want to think about it. Addiction is ugly and scary. It is undermining our society in a slow-fade fashion.

The majority of crime is now caused by it. Families are destroyed by it. Addiction will forever alter the self-worth of the children involved ... why would their parent choose a drug instead of their own child?

Recovery from it is limited, but addiction isn’t going away. In fact, it is increasing in Southern Indiana. Laws have changed, making prescription painkillers (opiates) difficult to abuse. Those quietly addicted to pain-killers are now desperate for that same high and are doing something they swore they would never do — picking up a needle and shooting up heroin. These are often refined, employed professionals headed down the slippery slope of desperation.

Our hospitals are seeing more overdoses than ever before — primarily from heroin use. Finding current data on the numbers locally is difficult, due to how coroners categorize death in their reporting system to the Indiana Department of Health. But if you speak with any law enforcement officer or ER health care worker, they will emphatically agree that there’s been a substantial rise in deaths of young adults due to heroin, as well as other drugs.

Judging those in the battle of their lives with the disease of addiction and placing them in the category of “that doesn’t apply to me” is easy, until it happens to someone you know. Discounting that person’s value doesn’t cause you pain, until you watch their children suffer when their parent dies from an overdose. Wearing blinders to deny its existence can work for a time, until your world suddenly crumbles around you when they wrap their car around a tree. Carrying a grudge toward a parent because of the pain their addiction caused you when you were growing up can cripple you by robbing you of the freedom to live your life.

We know a few things about the disease of addiction. We know it is actually a brain chemistry issue. Many use substances to feel normal, because without them they believe they cannot function. We know some use substances to fix their feelings — to cover a trauma from their past rather than face the pain.

Some try to fill a hole inside of them — something is missing and the substance numbs that pain. In our society, we are conditioned to reach for an instant answer in pill form, rather than actually feeling the emotional pain, working through it and becoming even stronger by doing the tough emotional and possibly spiritual work.

Many of those who have faced their addiction head-on have been successful in a multitude of treatment options, including “detox,” “rehab,” “intensive in-patient,” “intensive out-patient,” etc. Those who attend the 12-step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) will tell you that a strong spiritual life is the answer — that we do not have control over much of anything, so turning it over to a higher power is the solution. It would be difficult to argue with the millions of people in these programs throughout the world since the 1930s who’ve learned to control their addiction and remain in recovery.

Instead of burying our heads in the sand or denying that we have a problem here, we need to face the facts — there are simple but significant things we all can do for ourselves, our children and our community. The first is to be responsible adults, using prevention efforts for our children’s sake. This means we need to model responsible behaviors with substances — including tobacco and alcohol — develop strong communication skills so we can talk to our children early and often about the dangers of substances; learn how to listen to them so that they feel valued and important; point out the mixed messages they are getting from our culture; and be a safe person to come to with questions, concerns and problems they are facing. Work with them on their social skills. Be their ally, and have their back. Don’t be afraid to say “no” and hold them accountable for their actions.

Remember, we are raising future adults, so help them become good ones. Set up consequences for discipline issues — that is how the real world works. Help them to find who they are: their talents, their strengths, their special purpose, rather than what we want them to be. Research shows us that children with strong and practical life skills and a strong sense of purpose are less likely to experiment with substances.

Enabling behavior that leads to addiction is treacherous. It is time to realize it is a different world now. Adolescents and teens don’t drink or smoke to relax — they drink to get dangerously drunk and smoke marijuana to get “totally wasted.” Sometimes they use someone else’s prescription pills for ADHD to study, then smoke marijuana to calm their nervous system back down.

They don’t realize the irony of how marijuana actually diminishes academic success. What you consider to be the rites of passage you experienced when you were growing up could set your child up for abysmal failure now. Excusing their behavior because you currently use, or used substances at their age, could be their death sentence. Bottom line — if you could fast-forward to the future to see your child dying of a heroin overdose as a young adult, what would you do differently today?

Another important answer is to ask for help when you need it — for you and your children, as early as possible. Students are learning in elementary school that it is brave and smart to ask for help; the stigma of having to handle life all on your own is also history.

If you are facing any addictions or demons in your life, your children will most assuredly pick up the tab if you don’t manage your own issues. That is an inheritance that no one deserves. Model the courage and strength to ask for the help you need — our community is rich with resources, classes, social service providers, treatment options, churches, support groups and 12-step programs.

No, addictions to substances in our society will probably never go away completely. But you can push back by being the parent, relative, friend or simply a caring person who takes a stand for what you believe is healthy and best for all children, and by being someone they can call a positive influence through your words and your actions. You can lessen the quiet desperation by being a messenger of hope, support and encouragement. You can make the difference.

— By Susan M. Hudson, M.Ed., CPP, is program director at Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services,  a nonprofit community agency located at 400 E. Spring St. in New Albany.


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