Parents' Page

Club Drugs And Your Kids

by Deb Young, CCAS

Every few years we are seeing the adolescent culture shift in its choice of what parents are prone to call the "really bad drugs." Currently, the media attention on "club drugs" has highlighted yet another drug - Ecstasy (XTC) - as the bad drug needing to be examined and eradicated. While I agree that this is a potentially dangerous substance that no kid should be ingesting, I think that it speaks volumes about what kids are looking for.

Imagine if you, as an adult, felt totally isolated, disconnected, and misunderstood. In addition, imagine that your only sense of validation was how well you performed in your profession. Now, imagine that one day a co-worker invites you to dinner to meet some new people and spend some time just hanging out. As much as you would be excited about the opportunity to establish social contacts, there would probably be at least slight anxiety about a new environment. Once you arrive, imagine that you are given a portent beverage that immediately takes away any social discomfort and gives you an instantaneous sense of connection with everyone in the room, male and female. You are suddenly self-confident, witty, and almost miraculously, you trust everyone there. You are even aware of strong feelings of warmth and affection for some of the folks you have just met. You belong. You belong here at this gathering of like-minded people and there is a complete absence of malice, hostility, or mistrust. The evening is memorable and becomes a defining moment for you in establishing friendships. The sense of isolation is gone.

Now, imagine that you call your big sister the next day and relay the events of the previous evening. She briefly listens to how good it felt to be there and then launches into a lecture of how you should cut yourself off from "those people" and never go back. She is furious, wondering how you could have been so stupid, gullible, and actually allowed yourself to think it felt good.

So - what will you do? Will you return to your disconnected lifestyle and avoid your co-worker or will you seek out that experience again, and keep it a secret from her?

I think that most of you can see where I'm going with this. Maybe not. If not, let me explain. Adolescents, like most adults, have a very strong need to "belong." They seek out "community" in whatever form it may take - team sports, church, peer groups, family, work, academics, music, or any combination of environments. It is this "power of community," as Peter Benson describes it, that compels kids to congregate, form strong attachments, and stay fiercely loyal to their friends.

If you can identify with the dilemma I encourage you to "imagine" - then allow yourself to identify with the dilemma of the adolescent who is bombarded with not only some of those same feelings, but has socially "normalized' substance abuse, and belongs to an opportunistic culture that consistently promotes indifference to boundaries.

The Club Drug phenomena basically satisfies several areas of developmentally appropriate adolescent need. Attending raves addresses the desire to feel belonging and feel connected. Adolescents attain that sense of connection long before they reach the club, and days beyond the all-night party. It is found in the planning, the anticipation, and the shared secrecy. Once under the influence ("rolling") there is a magnification factor of this pseudo-intimacy that most adults will never understand.

There is also the fundamental need in kids to just "feel good." Most kids are very up front about this - even kids who aren't acting out. This is very natural and appropriate for this developmental stage and part of why kids procrastinate, avoid conflict, and look for fun stuff to do whenever possible. Quite simple, using alcohol and other drugs feels good. Being in a place where there are no boundaries, no parents, and no consequences for acting out feels even better than good - it is euphoric.

Most adolescents have a need for an infusion of adrenalin from time to time. This is why they drive fast, break curfew, use the "F-word" in front of Grandma, allow their bodies to be pierced and tattooed, and spend copious amounts of time in planning and being preoccupied with the next party or rave. Knowing that they are breaking the rules with the possibility of being busted by parents or the police only adds to the adrenalin rush.

Another reason kids are so drawn to the rave/party scene is that very few families in our culture provide adolescents with the opportunity to create and participate in an individual rite of passage. What we have offered them instead is ample opportunity to replace this life-changing experience by defining it as their "first high," "first drunk," "first arrest," etc. Kids are very rarely provided with the chance to take the step from childhood into adolescence non-chemically. The raves and parties offer kids an arena to create a rite of passage in the most non-courageous state possible: under the influence. The bottom line is that this is yet another counterfeit for an otherwise life-defining moment in the world of an adolescent.

There is another area that has to be addressed when we start looking at the issue of "why" kids are showing up at raves and using these particular drugs. Ecstasy and other club drugs are a billion dollar industry. As this class of drugs continues to grow in popularity and cultural acceptance we all must look at the fact that kids and adults are basically being marketed to promote, purchase, and defend the "safety" of these chemicals. The rationalizations and marketing strategies are so savvy that listening to a rave promoter/participant describe the events occurring over the course of a night of partying almost lulls one into thinking, "How bad could this really be?".

Welcome to the drug industry's world of propagandizing kids and adults. If you want to sell a $30 pill that costs less than $5 to manufacture, you have to be convincing, keep your customers satisfied, and provide compelling evidence that it is non-addictive. (The cocaine industry relied on that very same promotional strategy for years. It was, and still is highly effective, and therefore very lucrative for the entire cocaine industry.)

Our kids are very willing but unwitting members of the most insidious pyramid scheme imaginable. This is nothing less than a greed-driven industry that markets kids with plenty of discretionary cash, lots of time, and experience with alcohol and other drugs. Those kids without sufficient funds become promoters and providers of club drugs. (Since these particular drugs appeal to kids of middle to higher socioeconomic status, we wouldn't dream of identifying them as "dealers.")

What is the way to run interference on this most recent form of "bad drugs?" The highest level of impact in any family system is parental change, hands down. Parents who see this as a "phase" or refuse to confront the issue of adolescent substance abuse are endangering their children. Get educated, get your head out of the sand, reconnect with your kids in a way that doesn't consistently reflect criticism, powerfulness, or self-righteousness. Don't tell your kids about your own days of "experimenting" with drugs. That is the same thing as writing them a permission slip to use and, quite frankly, you have no idea of the current concept of adolescent "parties." Your adolescent days of drinking and drugging are probably a walk in the park compared to the behavior of most drug-involved kids today.

Finally, be open and prepared to talk to other parents about your concerns. Finding out that your kid is using drugs does not mean that you are bad parents. Kids thrive on the secrecy maintained because of parental shame. Get over it and get honest with other concerned parents about your fears.

We are faced with the challenge of protecting our kids from the myriad of issues they encounter of a daily basis. We are also responsible for teaching them ways to address these issues head-on, rather than through self-medicating. Finding out your kid is involved with club drugs, or any other drugs, is not the worst thing that can happen. Ignoring or minimizing substance abuse, when you suspect it, may be the path of least resistance for you but it is clearly the most life-threatening path for your child.

Reference: All Kids Are Our Kids, Peter Benson

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