“If you destroy our children, I will kill you,” President Rodrigo Duterte warned drug lords during the Armed Forces of the Philippines turnover ceremonies recently.
It’s a threat that, in all probability, was appreciated by many parents—more so if one’s family life has been, in one way or another, affected by the menace of drug addiction.
Killing off drug lords or putting them behind bars is one thing, but proactively preventing one’s child from falling into addiction is the other equally important part.
It all begins with being consistently present in the life of your child.
Respected child psychiatrist Dr. Cornelio Banaag emphasized to the parents he counsels: “Never be too busy to connect, and connect on a daily basis.”
Technology has made connecting so easy, but this isn’t enough. Dr. Ed Tolentino, former president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, said that parents must get interested and really involved in their children’s lives.
Meet their friends
“Take time to find out what their problems and concerns are,” he added. “Get to meet their friends. Find out what they do for fun and recreation, where they go, and if you have the chance to discuss in a non-threatening manner, find out what their views are toward use of substances.”
When I asked him why young people turn to drugs, he said that in many cases, drug use is normative and purposive, part of the rites of passage to adulthood.
“Majority of kids will try some substance, a minority will maintain periodic use, a very few will get addicted. Addiction happens when the brain is exposed with some frequency and intensity to substances of abuse, wherein there is a supra-physiologic (over-the-top) surge in the pleasure brain chemical called dopamine.
“After the surge comes the crash. That’s when the user feels fatigued, tired or even depressed. Thus, there’s the tendency to get that super high feeling to re-experience that ultimate pleasure, so the cycle begins.”
The number of addicted youth is staggering, if news reports are to be believed—thus the all-out war against drugs.
On why it cuts across all sectors of society, Dr. Tolentino explained: “The reasons are multidimensional. There’s the OFW phenomenon, social media, stress among the young, problems at home or in school. There are also certain mental health issues, like ADHD, bipolar disorder, that have co-morbidities with a substance use disorder.”
Thus, it is very important to have your teenager or your adult child assessed by a professional.
Psychiatrist Dr. Nora Volkow, who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States, is the great-granddaughter of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Volkow herself is associated with a revolution in the way drug addiction is now viewed.
She is responsible for assembling the scientific evidence and, more recently, as a government leader, in spreading the word about addiction as a brain disease.
“Although stigma persists (that addicts are failures, or weak-willed pleasure seekers), scientific knowledge is reducing it and making it possible to treat addiction more effectively than ever before. Addiction is essentially a biological dysfunction that interferes with one’s ability to exert self-control,” she noted.
Loss of control
“Studies have shown that only a fraction of people who try an addictive substance (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or other more dangerous drugs) once become addicted,” she added.
Volkow defines addiction as “a shift from controlled use to compulsive use, with loss of control over intake despite adverse consequences.’”
Even more interesting, recent research has shown that about 50 percent of addiction risk is genetic. Having a family history of alcohol or drug abuse makes one more susceptible than others.
Dr. Volkow said, “We don’t know much yet about how to modify genetic risk, but we do know that if you have a genetic vulnerability, we can provide an environment that can strengthen you against it. This is where the big challenge is: taking advantage of what we have learned, for example, to strengthen circuits in the brain that are involved in exerting self-control.”
In essence, the war against drugs begins at home. It’s important to know if there is a genetic predisposition in your family for addiction, or if your child is hanging out with someone who is.
How do you strengthen your child emotionally? How do you prevent the circuitry from going haywire?
“Change is coming” is a phrase that has been mentioned so often these last few months. We all need to do our part to make that happen. Involvement of law enforcement, and getting rid of the drug supply and the suppliers is one thing. Enforcing curfew, restricting alcohol use, these are all done with good intentions.
However, strengthening our children, being present for them, and really knowing them are the other battle front. And sometimes, because of all our modern stressors, unless we truly make a conscious effort to be present for our children, that will be the harder battle to win.