Talking to Your Kids About Drugs

Alcohol is a Drug

After reading the Howard government’s pre-election booklet Talking to your kids about drugs you might think that alcohol is not a drug. Of course, this is not so. Alcohol is our most dangerous drug because it is so readily available and because we culturally misuse alcohol. However, the alcohol industry has purchased a privileged position in the drug debate.

The Australian media regularly portray excessive use of alcohol as patriotic and heroic, repeatedly showing Australian sporting teams (like the Storm and Geelong) celebrating victory by drenching themselves in alcohol. By contrast, a footballer caught with a Valium tablet is regarded as an evil beyond the pale! Political parties reflect this double standard. They also celebrate their victories with alcoholic binges, while John Howard spends tens of thousands of dollars, lavishly entertaining his guests with expensive alcoholic drinks.

Both the media and the political parties receive enormous amounts of money from the alcohol industry in the form of advertising and political donations. For example when Peter Hurley, the South Australian President of the Australian Hotels Association, the AHA, was appointed by the Howard government to the ABC Board, the Melbourne Age revealed Hurley had increased the coffers of Australia’s governing party through ‘liberal’ private donations as well as by organising donations to the Liberal Party by the Hotels Association. The Deputy Chair of the ABC Board, John Gallagher QC, also has links with the Hotels industry.

Through its influence with politicians, the alcohol industry controls strategic chokepoints in the public media. Through the power of its advertising dollar it exerts enormous influence on the commercial media and so Australia’s extensive alcohol problem goes underreported.

 

Drug Taking is Normal

Even if we accept the fiction that alcohol is not a drug (and we shouldn’t), surveys of the 20-29 year old population repeatedly show that drug taking is normal. For the past two decades, surveys have shown that the majority of the 20-29 year old population has used cannabis at some time. The use of ecstasy and speed is also prevalent. Although illicit drug use is routinely portrayed as deviant behaviour, the fact is that 20-somethings who don’t take drugs are the deviants.

Like sex, drugs are an activity most young Australians will explore. The War on Drugs has proved counter-productive, creating a ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome that has glamorised drug use amongst the young. The result has been the emergence of the twenty-something lifestyle, famously characterised by sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

 

Tough on Drugs is a Cynical Misuse of Drugs Policy

For politicians like Howard, the failure of their drugs policy has been a good thing because it has meant that they have been able to scapegoat drug users in their crusade against the ‘evils of drugs’ for three decades. Back in 1976, Howard was in control of the Narcotics Bureau during the Fraser government. Howard and Queensland premier Bjelke-Petersen launched a massive police and navy raid on an isolated hippie colony in north Queensland called Cedar Bay. Houses were burnt down and gardens were destroyed as the Queensland police went on a rampage. Bjelke-Petersen and Howard defended their action, proclaiming they were “Tough on drugs” and harsh measures were needed to drive marijuana smokers out of Queensland!

Of course, this didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Nonetheless, the Liberals repeatedly claim victory in the war against drugs with the aid of dubious statistics. However, the truth is that every year more people go to jail for drugs, every year we spend more on drug law enforcement, and every year there are more drugs on the street.

The Talking with your kids about drugs booklet is another recycled effort, a repeat of a similar pre-election campaign in 2001. Such efforts have been repeatedly unsuccessful, nothing but cynical appeals to parent’s unconscious fears about their children and drugs to garner votes. It also generates confrontation between parents and children, causing them to blame each other or the ‘drugs’, rather than Howard for the appalling results of our drugs policy.

Rather than solving drug problems, Tough on Drugs has greatly increased our problem. More young Australians have died through drug overdoses during the Howard years than at any other time in our history. Indeed, during the Howard years drug overdose deaths became the second greatest cause of death among young people after road accidents!

However, like the War on Terror, an endless War on Drugs has been a boon to Howard because by making the problem far worse he has been able to frighten the public to give support to his extreme measures. Like the Chaser team, Howard’s War on Everything has proved electorally popular in previous elections and the major motivation of a booklet like Talking to your kids about drugs is to convince voters to re-elect the Howard government.

 

Use Common Sense

Rather than instructing the young with Liberal Party inspired anti-drugs hysteria that will be derided by their peers, the best approach is to encourage common-sense attitudes to drugs.

Humans have been exploring drugs for millions of years, and a large part of our medical knowledge has been derived from this pursuit. Exploring drugs can be fascinating and rewarding, but with all such explorations you need to be informed of dangers, and with drugs the two major problems are overdoses and addiction.

 

Dosage

The most important question you need to understand is this:

What is the difference between a drug and a poison?

The answer is: Dosage.

Every drug has an effective dose, and every drug has an overdose. Even drugs like strychnine and arsenic which are well-known poisons in large doses have non-lethal levels where they have a stimulating effect. Indeed, in past centuries, because drugs like coca and cannabis were unknown, drugs like strychnine and arsenic were used as recreational drugs in Europe and arsenic was a drug of abuse in nineteenth century Europe and there were arsenic addicts! (Some even argue that Napoleon was an arsenic addict.)

Maybe your poison isn’t arsenic, but it is important to understand that nearly every drug is a poison at certain levels. Of course, this famously does not hold for cannabis, but this is why cannabis is regarded as a ‘soft’ drug. Nearly every other drug can be lethal at high doses. The famous last words of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, were: “I’ve just had eighteen double whiskeys. I think that’s the record.”

 

Avoid Drug Pigs

The most stupid animal in this regard is the ‘Drug Pig’. In Australia, drug pigs are numerous and you may be unfortunate enough to know several. These misguided young people actually believe that the more drugs you take, the more heroic you are. Nothing could be more dim-witted. The more drugs you take, the closer you get to an overdose and the further away you get from the effective dose. Drug pigs are ignorant and naïve users who do not know how to use drugs sensibly and the most levelheaded use of health dollars would be to target and educate drug pigs.

The drug pig attitude seems to be particularly prevalent with alcohol and even intelligent people, like Dylan Thomas, drink themselves to death. With drugs, less is good, while more is often fatal.

 

Addiction

Sadly, addiction is often inevitable with drug use, and certain drugs like cocaine and heroin seem to be particularly addictive. For this reason, it is best to avoid repeated use of these substances. But even soft drugs like tea, coffee and cannabis are addictive. If you are using drugs, you need to recognize the problem of addiction by limiting your drug taking behaviour, by setting boundaries such as the 4.20 rule (not smoking before 4.20pm), or by periods of abstention. Addiction results from repeated use so you have to break the pattern of repeated use by abstention or by substituting another drug.

 

Dr John Jiggens.

“Talking to Your Kids About Drugs”, StickyPoint Magazine Issue 04 (2008)
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