This week, for the second time, I heard former pro basketball player Chris Herren talk about his battle with drug addiction. Herren, a former member of the Boston Celtics, spoke about his illness and its toll in a stirring talk at Monomoy Regional High School on Monday.
While much of what Herren said struck me, one comment in particular stood out. A question he'd ask if his own kids started using illicit substances: why?
Herren said this is a question not enough people, not enough parents, ask, and he's right. He was also correct when he surmised that behind the why for so many young people who abuse drugs and alcohol (because yes, binge drinking on weekends is still alcohol abuse) is a profound struggle with one's self esteem.
High school has always been a formative time for young people, and thanks to technology, it's even more challenging to figure out the answer to the age-old query “Who Am I?” Doubt in oneself can lead to unhealthy and even dangerous choices, which means that staying on top of the “why” is vital to helping kids navigate this difficult part of life.
It's time for adults to help, and I don't just mean reaching out and offering a listening ear. It's time for adults to stop glamorizing the party lifestyle, effective immediately. What am I talking about? Open a popular magazine and in many cases you're going to find ads for some type of alcohol often being promoted by someone idolized by young people, a famous athlete, film star, or musician.
It's the same on television and even online. Reality television shows (I'm looking at you, MTV) feature twentysomethings so hopelessly drunk they can't stand up, yet still making it seem like “the” life. Carefully crafted ads, often with sultry undertones, practically scream, “Drink this! Drinking is cool!”
Lending credence to that idea are the scores of concert-goers, sports fans, backyard barbecuers, and countless others who seem to believe that the only way to enjoy an event, any event, is with nothing less than seven percent alcohol by volume.
Did you know that in spite of all the stories on opiates and opiate addiction, the leading cause of substance abuse deaths on Cape Cod is alcohol? The Cape is a hotbed of alcoholism, and if you don't believe me, take a walk along any roadway from Ptown to the bridges and count how many nip bottles you find. The number is, well, sobering.
The good news is that it only takes one. It only takes one adult, one parent, one older sibling, to put down the beer or wine or shot or cocktail to set an example. To walk the talk. To truly convey through actions that there are other alternatives out there. There are plenty of ways to have a good time on our little sand spit without a buzz. Before we find ourselves pleading with our kids to tell us “why” perhaps it's time to make being sober the coolest choice of all.