Busting the myth that “All young people experiment with drugs”

Jon DailyJon Daly of Recovery Happens Counseling Center disputes the myth that All  adolescents & young adults ”experiment” with  drugs. Here is the reality, according to Jon:  Statistics show that the rate of drug use remains at a very high  level for young people (1).  Part of the  myth of “experimentation” is that drug use is a naturally occurring “rite  of passage” from adolescence in to adulthood. However, not every young person  has tried or will try drugs. In addition, not all will pass through their drug  use without experiencing negative consequences from their use.   Drug use is risky and unhealthy  behavior.  In today’s society even  “experimentation” can lead to car accidents, driving while under the influence,  unplanned sexual activity, date rape, and sometimes death.  Moreover, the word “experimentation” can be  misleading.  When we get calls from  parents seeking counseling for their adolescent or young adult child, we often  hear the words, “I think my son is experimenting with drugs.”  When asked how long the parent has been aware  of the drug use, the reply can be anywhere from weeks to years.  The parent’s response implies that “experimentation”  is a phase, when “experimentation”  is not a phase at all.  In fact, it is a “one-time  event. ” (2) Once intoxication  has been experienced, the experiment is over.  The user has achieved the results of the  experiment, “I like this feeling,” or ” I don’t like this  feeling.”  Subsequent intoxication  indicates misuse, abuse or addiction.

When  helping young people with substance use disorders, at the end of the day what  we are assess and treating is a “pathological relationship to  intoxication.”  The name of the drug  they are using is an illusion .  They  need to know they are not hooked on weed, they are hooked on intoxication and  therefore must see all intoxicating substances as the same. Take away weed from  the pot smoker and they drink and/or take pills.  Take away Oxycontin for the opiate user and  they use benzodiazepines and marijuana.   This is because they were not hooked on the particular drug, they were  hooked on “intoxication.”   The  focus of treatment for young people is to severe their pathological  relationship to intoxication so as to open up their capacity to have regulating  relationships with their counselor, support groups, rebuilt family  relationships and healthy peer groups.   Such social supports promote dopamine(3), and endogenous opiates (4)  which the user has been chasing on the streets, but can be created in health  relationships as they were intended to.   Helping them and the family to understand this and supporting their  growth in this way is the core of treatment after we have helped them to become  drug-free