Alcohol and Other Drugs, 2013 Style by Erika Guy, Dean of Students
As a child of the '60s, I have certainly witnessed and endured more than my fair share of alcohol and other drug education and prevention programs. Here at Nobles, over the last decades, we have tried myriad approaches to this daunting task, never quite finding the appropriate formula or that magic bullet. We have used the first person narrative (the recovering user who has turned his/her life around), the “scared straight” approach (testimony from an incarcerated teen who killed his friend while driving drunk), the poignant and sad story of a grieving mom who lost her daughter to an alcohol overdose, the blunt and clinical account of an emergency room physician, and countless others. Each methodology has had its own impact and has evoked some response in the moment, but it seems that none is truly able to alter adolescent behavior very much. Now I know you may be thinking: “Didn’t Joann Deak explain all this via her description of the adolescent brain with its swollen amygdala and the underdeveloped frontal lobe?” Yes, I get all that, but I still feel that we need to continue to provide some education/information and some opportunity for reflection.
This year, we have added some of this into the Personal Development curriculum in the Upper School and as the PD faculty discussed how to approach this topic in 2013, we made some interesting observations about current adolescent use/abuse patterns. While certain similarities exist from days gone by (following national trends, alcohol use is still predominant, followed closely by marijuana use) what is quite different is the increasing use of what I call “performance enhancement” drugs. Lance Armstrong's performance enhancing drugs not withstanding, our students still dabble in substances. Take for instance, the cultural prevalence of the marketing of energy drinks:
“Energy drinks are the fastest-growing part of the beverage industry, with sales in the United States reaching more than $10 billion in 2012—more than Americans spent on iced tea or sports beverages like Gatorade. Their rising popularity represents a generational shift in what people drink, and reflects a successful campaign to convince consumers, particularly teenagers, that the drinks provide a mental and physical edge…”
(excerpted from article, "Energy Drinks Promise Edge, but Experts Say Proof Is Scant" by Barry Meier, New York Times, Jan. 1, 2013)
Recognizing that our kids swim in a cultural soup that touts the vital importance of performance and the value of a competitive edge, it is easy to see how they might fall victim to patterns of substance use (from energy drinks and bars, to over the counter caffeine boosts, to prescription amphetamines).
It is not an enormous leap to move from the use of energy drinks and power bars, to the abuse of a friend’s supply of Adderall, Ritalin or Focalin to help stay awake well beyond one’s normal bedtime to finish an assignment. We need to acknowledge that our kids live in a culture that relentlessly seeks a “leg up” on others, that says they need specialty coaches (both academic and athletic), and that they should employ ANY MEANS NECESSARY to get ahead.
Our kids do not remember a time when prescription drugs were NOT marketed directly to the consumer. They have more than a glancing knowledge via television advertising, with Abilify, Pristiq, Cialis, Celebrex, etc. They may not remember the specific symptoms or diseases that these meds treat, but they get the clear message that there is a drug for whatever ails you. Again, it is not much of a leap to assume that adolescents will look to find a drug for what ails them: fatigue, lack of focus, lack of achievement, lack of understanding, etc.
Our responsibility in all of this is to make our students aware of the kinds of dependencies that await them: if they forever look to substances to solve their challenges, they may ultimately become substance dependent and that is something we all want to avoid. Let’s work purposefully and together to counter that.
Thanks for reading,
Dean of Students