America’s love affair with drugs and the impact on youth

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Return to main Table of Contents: 2013 Winter Edition of Family Business Quarterly

Twenty-three-year-old Joe Simpson of Lincoln, Ca., featured here with his mom Debbie, invented a combination lock prescription bottle to keep kids out of prescription pills at home. His younger brother became addicted to pain killers and is in recovery helping others struggling with addiction. For more information go to: The Locking Cap

For this 2013 Winter Edition of Banana Moments, I chose to feature the book, Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know
– by Mark A.R. Kleiman and Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, (2011 Oxford University Press), because it offers a comprehensive examination of the pros and cons of drug policies related to regulation, prevention, taxation, and addiction around the question: are the policies effective? The authors conclude that the current drug and addiction policies “allow avoidable harm by their ineffectiveness and create needless suffering by their excesses.” (p. xxi)

It is a complex problem, and efforts to control drug sales, use and abuse are fraught with unintended consequences, and missed opportunities.  One example examined by the authors is the long  incarceration of street drug dealers, which is not necessarily stemming the tide of people willing to be dealers replacing those arrested. The short sentences are offered to the larger, kingpin suppliers who continue to recruit more street dealers. The net effect, the authors posit, is a relatively counter productive scenario in terms of human suffering and cost of incarceration. (pp.60 -61)

While there is very important work to be done with public policy regarding drugs, drug crimes and addiction, this edition of Banana Moments focuses on the role of parents, communities of parents and other concerned professionals and citizens in the lives of youth.

As a youth substance abuse prevention activist, over the past ten years, I have come to appreciate that the confusion and fear over the nature of drug and alcohol addiction – especially with minors – has created a code of silence among adults, and driven youth drug and alcohol abuse to levels so extreme it creates a new norm for addiction. In June 2011, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse declared youth substance abuse the number one public health problem in America.

What we know from our own teenage past and experience today as adults, is that we are immersed in a popular culture that promotes dependency on drugs and alcohol for whatever ails you (anxiety, depression, body weight, pain, chronic conditions) and having a good time (parties, celebrations). The television commercials for medicating depression and anxiety are the tip of the iceberg, as seen in this video advertisement.



On the parenting and education front, since 1990, the production of Ritalin and Adderall and other psychostimulant prescription drugs surged in response to increased demand to medicate kids with behavior and self control issues.

And it is not the drugs that are problem per se. It is the lack of wisdom in the application of our inventions that is the problem. As with any invention, it is the application that matters most. This couldn’t be more true for medication and smart phones. In the network culture, this dependency on medication is intensified in “friend” communities which make it easy to believe that prescription pills are safe because doctors prescribe them, or that you cannot “fit in” if you choose not to binge drink.

We know that we cannot operate children by remote control, or even with smart phones, but we can develop relationships that help children maintain priorities for an abundant life; this requires us to recover a heart and mindset that does not place our feelings in the driver’s seat of life.

Considerations to tame the emotional tiger

  • Seek first to understand why the kids are not alright. They actually have adult issues.
  • Understand the nature of drug dependency as a part of the universal human condition of being out of alignment, relating to the wrong thing.
  • We worry that our children will not measure up, and our children worry about our worries.
  • Teens are feeling fear of disappointing their parents
  • The temptation to self medicate (use prescription pills and alcohol) is tremendous.
  •  The more we hyper focus on the drug and the drug addict as a criminal matter, the lesson the children learn is the crime is to get caught. When in fact, abuse of drugs and or alcohol present an opportunity to strengthen the parent-child relationship, and encourage course correction for a healthy adulthood living in an empowered state of recovery.


Alan Baker, of Granite Bay, and I serve as co-chairs of the Steering Committee for The Coalition For Placer Youth in Placer County. Founded in 2008, CPY was funded by a federal Drug Free Communities grant to develop a comprehensive youth substance abuse prevention campaign rooted in local partnerships with parent and youth communities, educators, law enforcement, government and health care industry.

The aim of CPY is to engage all sectors of the community to understand the modern drug culture and the current issues facing youth contributing to substance abuse, and specific guidance for what we can do at home and in the community at large to reinforce youth decisions to be sober.

Some of the services CPY provides include:

  • Local youth survey data about beliefs and behaviors related to drugs and alcohol
  • Parent  presentations about helping teens confront the drug culture
  • Support prescription drug take back events
  • Community forums and events
  • Early detection and intervention training for health care professionals

Alan Baker, of Granite Bay, California
Co-Chair for the Coalition for Placer Youth Steering Committee

Baker introduced me to the Drugs and Drug Policy book featured in this edition of Banana Moments. It spawned a conversation about the challenging dynamics of public policy and legislation to control drugs and addiction, and the needs of individuals living with chemical addiction (which includes those who are incarcerated) and the value of prevention investments as a matter of public health.

“This book zeroed in on what has been concerning me,” Baker said. “That we are devoting resources and attention to programs that we as a society ‘like’, without being really honest and objective about whether or not they are effective.”

Prevention programs are tricky in this regard. While we know that there will be kids who are going to abuse  anyway, it turns out that prevention is still a good investment. Given the cost associated with abuse and addiction, such as treatment and crime, the prevention dollars have a high return. According to Baker, his review of the research shows for every $1 invested in prevention, $3 is saved. The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure holds true. And for the individuals who were encouraged to stay sober and avoid the complications of abuse and addiction, the investment is priceless.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

What you resist, persists

Probably the most edifying observation from our conversation is that being at war with an issue keeps the issue alive – it gives it play.  Baker refers to the mindset of  The Anatomy of Peace, a book published by The Arbinger Institute, which suggests that every victory or triumph over a problem starts as an inside job: your state of heart and mind. “When you are at peace with the issue, you will succeed,” Baker said.

In this video, Chris Wallace of The Arbinger Institute shares a story about a father and son. The father calmly told his son to take the truck after the son completely destroyed the car, (he left it in neutral and it rolled over a cliff).  “On the worst day of my life, my dad made things better, not worse,” is the quote that typifies having a heart at peace with your children.  When the son realized his dad loved him more than the car, he was overwhelmed with gratitude.   Watch the very moving video below.


This father-son story offers us a parable of sorts for dealing with the kinds of issues children face in a cyber-powered world.  Youth who are addicted to or abusing drugs and alcohol are having a lot of “worse days”. Many are keeping their addiction secret out of shame and fear of loosing love.  And those who are addicted, more than ever need help realigning their priorities away from getting high, and aimed towards their primary relationships: God, family, community.

Related: Parenting teens in recovery requires a heart at peace

Barry Lessin, M.Ed., CAAD


Barry Lessin, M.Ed., CAADC, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, offers insights based upon years of working with adolescent issues including drug addiction. He has formulated a proactive perspective for helping parents make a peaceful heart with the issues their children face – especially drug abuse and addiction. Read more…


Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner


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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.