When it comes to steering kids away from drugs, parents should model “proven values” according to Dr. Joe Lee, a recent visitor to Hazelden Betty Ford, one of the nation’s top three treatment facilities.
“Early prevention in grade school kids actually has nothing to do with drugs,” Dr. Lee says. “In our preventive classes we teach them how to cope, communicate, and be empathetic.
“Parents should teach their kids how to get along with other people, how to be resilient, and how to be good citizens. And those skills, believe it or not, later on, reduce recidivism of all kinds. The result is better school grades, less behavioral disruptions and less substance use, even for our high-risk populations.
“The beauty of this for the parents,” Lee says, “is that instead of getting lost in the drugs or no drugs dialogue, or should this chemical be legal or not you can promote and model the positive values.
“I had a conversation with my six-year-old in the car, driving him to school, Lee said. One of son’s friends was leaving school at the end of this year, and he was wondering about doing a goodbye card for his friend.
“It was our first conversation about empathy.
“ I said, ‘Gabriel, if you were the one leaving school at the end of the year, what would you like your friends to do?”
Hazelden staff member, William Moyers, himself a recovering alcoholic and author, as well as tour guide for Lee at Hazelden, asked if his guest felt that we, as a nation, are an empathetic society
Lee responded, “I think as people we are capable of empathy” but added “we tend to be selfish at times.”
“ I just did a grand rounds in synthetic marijuana,” Lee continued, “and now kids are buying things online.
“It used to not be, but with crypto currency like Bitcoin, kids are buying all kinds of substances online.”
Bitcoin is a highly speculative currency accessible on line.
“I see a lot of parents coming to me for answers,” Lee said, “and I tell them to be informed if you can but there’s no way you can keep up.
“One of the reasons I think empathy is not penetrating our culture is we’ve kind of missed that it can’t come on its own. And so, a lot of the kids I work with were actually working on humility and we’re working on having them accept grace. And when you have grace and humility, empathy is possible.
“When you don’t have grace and humility, empathy is hard.
“Once you walk in enough people’s lives, you understand we’re all fallible. And that we all need unmerited forgiveness. And second chances. And third chances. And fifteenth chances. Because that is human nature. And—and accepting that grace allows us to pass that gift onto other people.
“So, empathy sometimes isn’t where we start. Empathy is the gift we get for a lot of things that we do in life because we approach it through a certain sense of humility and grace.”
Almost a decade ago, Dr. Kitty S. Harris, director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University, put the subject of addiction and recovery in perspective for me and many others.
Dr. Harris said,“Instead of a goal of simply abstinence, we are advocating the goal of a totally transformed life, a life free from addiction and filled with opportunities for full and complete participation in society.
“As someone who has worked with individuals struggling with the disease of addiction for almost three decades, I know that recovery can and does change the lives of individuals and families impacted by addiction. I also know that recovering people are one of our greatest assets in the battle against the epidemic of addiction facing our country.
“As we make this transition, it is helpful to see how far we have come in our understanding of both addiction and recovery and how this understanding has influenced our profession and practice.
“It is now widely accepted that alcoholism is a disease and that abstinence is the cure.
“From this early conceptual work, our field was given the bedrock on which we now base much of our profession and practice. We still adhere to the ideas of Dr. Benjamin Rush that abstinence is the most effective cure for alcoholism.
“We have offered the rigor of scientific inquiry into evidence-based practice. We understand the importance of individualized treatment, and we have advocated tirelessly for underserved and disadvantaged populations. We have invited adolescents and young adults into the realm of recovery and have designed counseling and treatment interventions expressly for them.
“We have worked with the criminal justice system to get incarcerated addicts the help they need to decrease recidivism [relapse into previous behavior]. Most importantly, however, we have pushed for the continuum of care and recognized recovery is an equally critical part of this system.
“Recovery-oriented systems of care will be our greatest contribution. Our counseling, treatment, and research focus is moving away from a triage model. Instead, we now understand that addiction is a chronic disease necessitating a lifetime of change.
“The greatest by-product of our contribution will be the reduction of stigma associated with addiction. Recovery-oriented systems of care integrate families, communities, employers, faith-based organizations, and our governments into the process of treating the addicted person. By involving the entire system, we teach society that recovery is a reality and that it benefits everyone when a recovering addict rejoins his/her community.”