Real Life, Part One
Mike got off the bus and headed into the school building. As usual, a tight knot was building in his stomach. Things were pretty rough at home, but coming to school was no escape. Teachers always seemed to be on his case, and there were a few guys in his homeroom that always gave him a rough time, pushing and shoving him, calling him names. He never seemed to be able to keep up with his classwork; this quarter’s grades were going to be pretty bad.
Homeroom and first-period class were pretty stressful. But Mike hung onto the knowledge that he had study hall in second period. Instead of studying, he was going to meet friends out behind the school for a smoke. They’d been drinking on weekends and holidays all year long—at one guy’s place and away from his parents. It wasn’t any hard stuff ,and Mike didn’t think that he had lost control, or that he was an “alcoholic,” but he liked the way he felt after he drank. It was like nothing mattered at all and he didn’t have to stress about any of the stuff he was dealing with. They smoked cigarettes too. Mike wasn’t particularly interested in it, but his friends were doing it and he didn’t want to seem “weird,” so he just went along, and, it was a small price to pay to have them buy all the alcohol.
But in the last couple of months one guy started bringing marijuana instead of regular cigarettes to smoke, and Mike couldn’t believe the difference—how great it made him feel.
Once he was out behind the school with his friends, Mike took the joint from the guy’s hand eagerly and drew in a deep breath. He could feel the knot in his stomach start to loosen already. Everything was going to be OK. In fact, this was shaping up to be the only place he really felt comfortable and accepted.
As they finished the joint and got their stuff together to go to next class, each one received the little bags of weed they’d arranged to buy, after handing over their money, of course. A faint twinge of guilt hit Mike. His allowance sure didn’t stretch far enough to cover buying weed—so, he’d “borrowed” the money from his dad’s wallet.
Sitting in chemistry class half an hour later, Mike stared at a page of quiz questions that meant nothing to him. Oh well, gonna fail this one, he thought, still stoned enough that it didn’t matter much. Distantly, he could hear an inner voice asking: What’s happening to you, Mike? You’re failing your classes, you’re stealing money to buy drugs, you can’t get through the day without a joint—where’s it going to end?
Higher Risk of Addiction
Substance abuse can really mess you up for life. In fact, if you’re a teenager, it’s actually much more dangerous to your brain! Here’s what two professionals had to say about it:
“The teen brain is a work in progress, making it more vulnerable than the mature brain to the physical effects of drugs. The potential for developing substance abuse and dependence is substantially greater when an individual’s first exposure to alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs occurs during adolescence than in adulthood.”
“Teen users are at significantly higher risk of developing an addictive disorder compared to adults, and the earlier they began using, the higher their risk. Nine out of 10 people who meet the clinical criteria for substance use disorders involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before they turned 18. People who begin using any addictive substance before age 15 are six and a half times as likely to develop a substance use disorder as those who delay use until age 21 or older (28.1 percent vs. 4.3 percent).”
What is drug dependence/addiction?
“As defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, drug dependence is a negative pattern of using a substance that leads to a number of problems, which may include needing more of a drug to get intoxicated (tolerance), difficulties that occur when the effects of the drug wear off (withdrawal), using more of a substance or for longer time than intended, and other life problems because of their use of a drug or drugs.”
Mike was starting down a proven path for people who experiment, and ultimately become addicted to certain drugs.
- Experimental usage: Alcohol or drugs are tried for the first time, often fueled by curiosity and/or motivated by peer pressure.
2. Casual users: Casual users have decided they enjoy being high but limit their use. Often they use only on specific occasions.
3. Regular users: When casual users become regular users, they can usually still function at work and school, but they are dangerously close to becoming chemically addicted. They may believe they can stop using but find themselves unable to do so for any significant period of time. People around them begin to notice signs of usage.
4, Chemical addiction: In the final stage, addicts are compelled to use, not for pleasure’s sake, but simply to feel normal. Those who reach this stage often deny the seriousness of the situation, even though friends, family and co-workers recognize the problem.
One of the risks of casual usage is easy addiction. Some are going to get hooked from the first time. And no one knows ahead of time his susceptibility. The best way to prevent addiction is never to begin.
Why Teens Use Drugs
Mike found himself trying marijuana, to avoid feeling the pressures of everyday life in high school. Of course, people try drugs for a variety of reasons.
Attractiveness of drugs. Smoking and drinking are widely promoted as habits enjoyed by sophisticated, fun-loving, attractive and sexy people — what most adolescents long to become. Illegal drugs are “advertised” by those using them in an adolescent’s peer group.
The high induced by drugs. If drug use wasn’t pleasurable, it would be relatively easy to keep teens and harmful substances separated. But the reality is that many teens enjoy the way they feel on drugs — at least for a while.
Attitudes of parents toward tobacco, alcohol and other substances. Teens learn what they live. Smoking, drinking and other drug-related behaviors among parents will usually be duplicated in their children.
Availability of drugs. Finding drugs is not difficult for teems in most communities, neighborhoods and schools.
Peer pressure. Peers play a huge role at each stage of a teen’s drug experience — whether resisting them, experimenting, becoming a user or confronting withdrawal and recovery. The need for peer acceptance is especially strong during the early adolescent years and can override (or at least seriously challenge) a young person’s values and commitments.
Curiosity. Unless a teen lives in total isolation, they will be aware of smoking, alcohol and drug use well before adolescence from discussions at school, watching TV and movies, or direct observation. Some curiosity is inevitable: What do these things feel like?
Thrill-seeking. This desire for excitement is in all of us to some degree and is what propels us toward certain activities: skydiving, roller coasters, movies (where sights and sounds are bigger than life), firework displays, sporting events and so on. Some of these are more risky than others, but none require chemical alteration of the senses to be satisfying.
Rebellion. Wayward teens may engage in smoking, alcohol and drug use as a show of independence from family or religious norms and values.
Escape from life/relief from pain. For many people — indeed, for most people in the world — life is just plain tough, and normal waking consciousness brings a constant stream of unpleasant sights, smells, sounds and sensations. The prospect of a chemical “timeout” may look very attractive. Furthermore, even when a person has plenty of creature comforts, the prevailing emotional weather can still be turbulent: kids and teens often feel anxious, angry, depressed, oppressed, stressed, bored, unfulfilled.
A conviction that “it can’t or won’t happen to me.” Many teenagers and young adults are prone to assume their own invulnerability or immortality, make shortsighted decisions, or shrug off the most fervent warnings about life’s pitfalls and perils with a smirk or the defiant pronouncement “I don’t care.”
Risk factors for teen drug abuse
- A family history of substance abuse
- A mental or behavioral health condition, such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Early aggressive or impulsive behavior
- A history of traumatic events, such as experiencing a car accident or being a victim of abuse
- Low self-esteem or poor social coping skills
- Feelings of social rejection
- Lack of nurturing by parents or caregivers
- Academic failure
- Relationships with peers who abuse drugs
- Drug availability or belief that drug abuse is OK
Consequences of Drug Abuse
- Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of any drug can impair a driver’s motor skills, reaction time and judgment — putting the driver, his or her passengers, and others on the road at risk.
- Sexual activity. Teens who abuse drugs are more likely to have poor judgment, which can result in unplanned and unsafe sex.
- Drug dependence. Teens who abuse drugs are at increased risk of serious drug use later in life.
- Physical violence. Teens who abuse drugs are at increased risk of acting out in uncontrollable or physically violent ways. This can lead to another consequence…
- Legal problems. Teens who abuse drugs are at increased risk of legal problems such as criminal charges and incarceration.
6. Concentration problems. Use of drugs, such as marijuana, might affect a teen’s memory, motivation and ability to learn.
- Serious health problems. Ecstasy can cause liver damage and heart failure. High doses of or chronic use of methamphetamine can cause psychotic behavior. Chronic use of inhalants can harm the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause respiratory distress and seizures.
Ways to recognize that a person is intoxicated or “high” on a drug depends on the substance with which he or she is intoxicated and include the following:
- Tobacco products: frequent smell of tobacco, irritability, discolored fingertips, lips or teeth, cigarette butts at curbside
- Cannabinoids (marijuana): reddened whites of eyes, sleepiness, excessive hunger, lack of motivation, excessive happiness, paranoia
- Over The Counter (OTC) Cold medications: sleepiness, rapid or slowed heart rate
- Inhalants: runny nose, smell of gasoline or other solvent, confusion or irritability
- Depressants: sleepiness, lowered inhibitions, poor coordination, slowed heart rate or blood pressure, dizziness, coma, death in overdose
- Stimulants: rapid heart rate or blood pressure, irritability, excessive happiness, less need for sleep, paranoia, seizures
- Narcotics: less experiencing of pain, excessive happiness, sleepiness, slowed or stopped breathing, coma, death in overdose
- Hallucinogens: trouble sleeping, blurred perceptions, paranoia
- Dissociative anesthetics: higher blood pressure and heart rate, memory loss, nausea and vomiting, irritability, aggressiveness
- Club drugs (for example, Ecstasy): feverish teen that does not sweat, finding multiple lollipops or other hard candies, the teen seeming to love everyone and/or have an excessively happy mood (euphoria)
- Others (for example, anabolic steroids): increased irritability or aggressiveness, rapid increase in muscle definition, thinning or loss of head hair, marked increase in acne over a short period of time, finding needles
What the Bible Says
Since most of these drugs were not in use at the time the Bible was written, the Bible does not specifically refer to drug abuse. The Bible does, however, warn us against intoxication from alcohol:
- “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness” (Romans 13:13, NIV).
- “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV).
We can safely assume that the same warnings against drunkenness also apply to getting high or stoned on drugs, which impair the judgment in many of the same ways alcohol does. In addition, the Bible places a high value on our physical health. Our bodies, we are told, belong not to us, but to God, and are to be treated with respect because of this:
- “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV).
- “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NIV).
- Dear friend, I pray you may enjoy good health…even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 2, NIV)
In addition, drug abuse has a spiritual effect; a mind which is not clear and in control cannot respond freely to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and cannot make good moral decisions. Drug abuse impairs judgment, and clear judgment is essential if we are to live according to Jesus’ example.
What the World Says
Society sends conflicting messages about drugs. In many countries anti-drug campaigns urge young people to “Stay Drug Free” and “Just Say No.” At the same time, the media glorifies entertainment and sports heroes who abuse drugs and alcohol and portrays the drug-using lifestyle as “cool” or attractive.
Add to that the prevalent idea in our culture that our bodies belong to us and we can do anything we want with them—as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.
The combination of the dangerous postmodern idea of truth and absolutes rejects God, absolute truth and His moral standards and instant-gratification, self-centered and hedonistic “YOLO” outlook in society saying, in effect: “you only live once and you should have as much fun as you can and do whatever you want. What’s right and wrong for you may not necessarily be right and wrong for me.”
In the United States and in many other countries, legalization of certain drugs, especially marijuana, is a controversial topic. If you want to get involved in this debate, you need to research the question thoroughly.
What Can I Do?
The best treatment for drug abuse is prevention. If you never try illicit drugs, you can never become addicted. Many young people are convinced they can use “soft” drugs occasionally, for recreational purposes, without become addicted or going on to use “harder” drugs. While this may be true for a small percentage of teens, but really, it’s a terrible gamble to take with your precious life, health and the relationships and feelings of those you love and who love you.
You can do exactly what you’re doing right now: learning about the true information about the real dangers, consequences about drug use and abuse. Notice I said the “true” information; because society, friends, the culture and the media—many times—will paint an unrealistic picture about substance abuse, but make a habit to connect with trusted adults who will love you enough to tell you the truth.
Positive Peer Pressure
The Apostle Paul, when writing to church members, could say “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV). Ask yourself this question: “what is the best way for me to be the best example? By the way I live or by the words I say?” The simple and powerful truth is: the best example that you could share is the positive peer pressure that you exert by living a life that glorifies Jesus and by making sure that you hold your friends accountable for their choices.
Choose the Right Friends
What if many or most of your friends are in that minority–they are using drugs and expecting you to do the same? Though the answer may sound harsh, the best solution is to find new friends. Certainly, some of your drug-using friends may respect your drug-free stand, and you can continue to be friendly with them. But if your main social group is made up of people who use drugs, and you continue to socialize with them on the assumption that “their values won’t affect me,” or “I can be a good influence on them,” you are likely to find that the opposite will be true. You need a strong social network of friends who, like you, have chosen to remain drug-free.
Many teens, like Mike in our story, turn to drug use as a way to escape problems at home or school, or feelings of low self-esteem. Sadly, research suggests that these young people are also the ones most likely to become addicted to drugs. They have nothing positive in their lives to stop the downward spiral into heavier drug use and addiction.
Even if you don’t know what to say, say something anyways! Talking to someone you know and love about their problem and then talking to a trusted adult is the best and truest way to send the message “I love you and care about you enough to help you!”
It will be tough and that person may be angry at you for awhile—sometimes even longer—but I know you would rather have them be healthy and alive and angry rather than addicted, or worse off: dead or permanently disabled, just because you didn’t want to hurt their feelings or for them to be mad at you. Remember: some secrets are ok to keep but if someone you know and love is using or abusing drugs, say something!
It’s My Problem!
If you feel depressed or under stress and have wondered whether trying drugs might make your problems go away, you need to know that there are better solutions. Find a trusted adult and, if possible, a couple of trustworthy Christian friends who can support you as you seek help. You may want to take advantage of counseling help to deal with depression, family breakdown, loneliness, or suicidal thoughts. Or you may need special help to deal with school problems such as a learning disability or bullying. Whatever your problem, you don’t need to be ashamed of seeking help. A parent, friend, teacher, mentor, pastor, youth leader or family doctor may be able to guide you toward the resources you need to begin solving your problems. Most important, give your life to God and rely on His strength. You will be finding real solutions rather than the temporary escape offered by drugs.
What if you’ve already used drugs–or if you’re already an addict? The best way out is to stop now! If you have been using drugs occasionally and casually, you need to know that there is a real danger of addiction, harder drug use, and permanent damage to your mind and body—not to mention the damage to your character, present and future relationships and job and educational prospects…and legal problems as well like criminal charges and jail time!
Quit while you still can. Leave the circle of friends with whom you did drugs, and find new, more supportive friends who can help you stay clean.
If the idea of quitting is not so easy for you–if you suspect you are already addicted–you need someone else’s help. The first and most powerful source of help is God. Ask for His power to set you free from the power of drug addiction.
Remember, though, that God works through human agents to heal and help us. Don’t be afraid to turn to a counselor, a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous, or even a live-in treatment or rehabilitation program for help. The process will be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as living out your life as a drug addict would be. Help is available. Again, talk to a parent, mentor, friend, teacher, pastor, doctor or counselor to find out what resources are available in your area to help people who want to break free from addictions.
Real Life, Part Two
All night as he lay in bed, Mike thought back to that moment in chemistry class when he’d suddenly caught a vision of where his life was heading. He couldn’t believe he’d actually stolen money to buy marijuana and he realized that he was needing both the alcohol and the marijuana on a regular basis—even seriously thinking about buying some alcohol of his own and drinking it at home! Now, with his high gone and his mind clear, he realized what a dangerous road he was walking.
“Is there another way out, God?” he wondered. Mike had been raised a Christian, but he’d never really talked to God for himself before. Now he wondered if God might have the answers.
“I don’t want to be some burned-out drug-addicted homeless person on the street, God,” he went on; this time actually saying the words out loud: “Please help me find another way of dealing with things.” Mike looked at the flyer for his church youth program that had been lying—ignored–on his desk for weeks now. Maybe this Friday night he’d go to the youth activity instead of hanging out with his friends.
The youth pastor seemed like a nice guy–someone he could talk to, maybe even confide in. Mike felt like a huge weight had rolled off his shoulders. He was sure God was going to help him find another way out.