I'm interrupting the virtues series of posts because this story came through on from the Daily Mail about the rise in suburban youth (code language for 'white kids from middle- to upper-class homes' in the US) abusing heroin:
The author describes how prescription pain killers are becoming the new 'gateway drug.' After all, they are plentiful in American homes and highly addictive. After my last bout of surgery, I was prescribed Vicodin, and had to ween myself off because of the withdrawals. The doctor gave me three refills on the prescription, but I only used half of the first refill because a) I hated the effects and b) I knew I was becoming physically dependent. I also knew I needed to get off of them while I was still in pain because if I used them while there was no pain, the risk was higher that I would start to experience the 'high' that many Vicodin patients have that cause them to fall into addiction.
Americans have an expectation of 'no pain,' and so doctors tend to over-prescribe and we over-use these powerful narcotics. Combine curious and over-stimulated teens with powerful opiates... now you have a recipe for disaster.
The article goes on to suggest that inner-city kids no better than to mess with heroin. That's stupid: for generations, heroin has been in the inner cities and the small farm-towns in California, brought up from Mexico through the illegal border crossings. Heroin has become a problem now in the suburbs because it is easier to get than prescription medications that offer a less-powerful version of the opiate high. When I was in college in Los Angeles, heroin was just starting to come on campus after students started bringing it back from their Tijuana party junkets. The local gangs soon added heroin to the inventory for student buyers.
The reason I am reacting to this article is that the notion of a 'gateway drug' really blames the drug rather than the condition of the person taking it. If the drug is the problem, why isn't everyone addicted?
I think we need to start looking at the 'gateway conditions' of addiction, both in youth and adults. On my short list, here are some of the gateway conditions that lead to addiction:
2) High levels of stress
4) Anonymity and privacy even in the home
5) Lack of purpose and identity
These conditions provide enough inner suffering that when drug is introduced, its power is immediately apparent. Its force numbs out the negative feelings described above and instantly creates a new reality for the experimenter.
When children see their grown-up models unable to handle life in a peaceful and mature way, they have almost no hope either to grow up themselves or handle physically-addictive chemicals.
Even 'Christian homes' where the parents think they are doing a wonderful job for their children by giving them lots of material goodies, forcing them to do homework, and even compelling them to attend Sunday school, really do little to help their children deal with the problems I listed above. In fact, most parents aggravate these conditions by looking at their children as 'things' to be managed rather than persons who need formation into adulthood.
More especially, when young people see adults afraid of pain and popping pills at the slightest discomfort, they get the idea that pain should be avoided above all else. This is the 'gateway disposition' that leads to addiction.
We should be less worried about the chemicals we expose children to and more concerned about the kinds of adults they are surrounded by.