With the arrival of the new school year, a lot of parents may be thinking, "Oh, good, the kids are off the streets, out of our hair and safe in school." Well, if you are hearing what I hear all day from your children about how easily they score drugs and alcohol, you might not be so quick to ship them off to class without a serious, heart-to-heart talk. You might even be surprised to learn the biggest danger of easy drug access is as close as your own home -- in your bathroom medicine cabinet.
The recent legislation allowing for civil action to be brought against California's adults who provide alcohol to underage teens is a good start at saving young lives, but the real protection has to start in the home. We need real conversations, clearing and cleaning out the liquor and medicine cabinets as preventive measures for potential abuse by our children.
I recently celebrated 26 years clean and sober. When I tell people that I was shooting up heroin when I was 16 years old, the look on their face is that I must have grown up on the wrong side of the tracks or in some urban ghetto. Well, that just wasn't the case. I went to the best schools and had everything a kid could want, but it wasn't enough. Privilege gave me a sense of entitlement and became a curse for me.
In my practice as a drug and alcohol addiction expert, I see 16, 17, 18 year old people whose parents have provided them free range, food, shelter, clothing, a luxury car with insurance. Everything they need, except a sense of self-esteem. They are on the edge of adulthood, yet they do not know how to be productive and responsible. Our value system in this country is totally backwards. We create self-obsession over materialistic objects. Before you give your child the latest cell phone and lap top for the first day of school, I strongly urge that you talk tough with them about the consequences if they use drugs and alcohol. We are witnessing a national crisis with scores of young people who are ravaged by the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. It's resulting in the loss of friends and family and in too many cases, the ultimate loss of precious lives.
In this day and age with the access to illegal drugs and liquor at our schools and off the Internet, we can't afford to have the 'back in the day' attitude that it's okay to experiment with booze or narcotics. The rising abuse of prescription drugs by teens and young adults is epidemic. Many of these kids are getting the drugs from their own parents' medicine cabinets.
The warning labels on prescriptions to take with food or not drive or operate machinery should also read: "Keep under lock and key from your children!" Parents have Vicodin, Oxycontin, Valium, Xanax, Soma, Ambien right next to their toothpaste.
Emergency rooms all over the nation are filled with young people overdosed on assorted sedatives and painkillers obtained from their own homes and those of their friends. In 2004, 1.3 million drug-related emergency room admissions were related to overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. That doesn't even come close to the numbers flying high under the radar. Over 4 million young people have reported taking prescription painkillers and stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin. Added to their Ziploc baggie stash from home, illegal substances such as cocaine, ecstacy and marijuana obtained in the student parking lot or on the school campus corner, and your child is all set for reading, writing, arithmetic and addiction.
We have to give our kids a clear message that we are cutting off the supply and recognize that, as parents, we have to establish boundaries and maybe even look in the mirror as we put locks on the medicine and liquor cabinets. Alcoholism and drug addiction is a family disease.