I have vague memories of my parents giving me the typical lectures when I was a teenager about the dangers of using drugs, particularly the illegal kinds. Most of the talks went in one ear and out the other.
Frankly, the topic was not too much of a big deal to me – I didn’t really know anyone personally at that age who was doing anything other than smoking or occasionally getting drunk. Sure, there was an “element” at my school comprised of kids who were physically in their teens but mentally going on 30 due to their life circumstances – these were the drug users, heavy smokers and drinkers, and the ones who were sleeping around. I avoided these kids.
For some strange reason, I felt that my then-seemingly safe, middle class upbringing separated me from people who had such problems. As well, I had numerous parental urgings to protect myself from their potentially negative influence. What was not obvious to me then but has become apparent in reflection, was that many of these kids also came from families that were middle class and considered by the greater society to be “nice” – at least on the surface.
Good kids are perfectly capable of doing bad things. Smart kids can sometimes make dumb choices. Coming from a family where the parents are still married, material possessions are plentiful, and one goes to bed every night with a full stomach does not make one immune to addictions. People with too much money and too much spare time can end up in a world of trouble. Just look at Hollywood.
What makes someone pop a pill, or pick up a needle, pipe, or even a joint for the first time? I don’t know. What I do know is that we live in a society that likes to compartmentalize social problems for reasons for convenience. It’s easy to label all drug addicts as street people, the poor, or the mentally ill. However, that is simply not the case. There are AA and NA meetings held near where I live – sometimes I see the people coming and going. Some of them are tattooed and pierced, some look like they have been through the wringer, and others look like they just stepped out of the office.
Right now in Alberta our oil boom is resulting in some segments of the population getting suddenly wealthier. It is also bringing to our area transient workers dealing with isolation and loneliness. If our agencies and social programs only reach out to the “obvious” users of treatment programs, drug and alcohol abuse will continue to rise. The best way we can all help battle addiction is to get an attitude adjustment and accept that substance abuse affects all parts of society. It’s only a start, but a necessary one.
Paula E. Kirman is also the Editor of Boyle McCauley News and has an interest in inner-city issues. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.