Why Saying No to Drugs is Not Enough

Empowering teens to consider their own path to recovery.

mom-childWhether driven by parental concern, school intervention or the criminal justice system, our response to teen substance misuse continues to be dominated by punitive and coercive measures, zero-tolerance strategies and enforced abstinence. For decades, Dr. Robert Schwebel has disseminated the evidence base behind another approach—working with teens to consider the choices they make about substance use. Here he relates an early clinical example that highlights the underlying wisdom and value of helping young people create their own approach to recovery…Richard Juman

Parents can’t make kids quit using drugs and neither can the courts. It’s time that counselors face the truth and realize that they, too, can’t make kids quit. We have no magical powers. Furthermore, it’s not the job of counselors to dictate or control behavior. Our responsibility is to help the people we serve become aware of their options, expand their options, consider their own values, and make their own informed choices. So, in 1990 I began writing The Seven Challenges program to help adolescents and young adults make their own decisions about drugs, and for that matter, the rest of their lives. Over the years, we have found that, ironically, this is the most powerful way to influence the behavior of young people—far more effective than pushing an agenda that the youth will resist.

We help the youth weigh the costs and benefits of their various options, and when they decide to make changes, support them to succeed in the goals they set for themselves. Because “harm-based counseling” and the “mad rush for abstinence” have permeated the field for so long, it is very hard for the counselors we train to understand that people have to make their own decisions about drugs and that this includes understanding the benefits they get from drugs, which they would have to forsake if they were to choose to quit or cut back. This is part of an informed decision. It’s hard for counselors to resist pounding away about the harm and pushing their agendas.

The final obstacle in accepting a decision-making model is almost always what journalist Ann Fletcher has called the “drug du jour.” Counselors will agree that “Yes, people have to make their own decisions, except what about heroin?” (The current drug du jour—in the past it might have been crack or OxyContin, or meth.) With this drug, they say “we have to focus narrowly on the harm. We have to insist upon abstinence. People who are addicted to heroin can’t make their own decisions about it.” With fear about the “drug du jour,” counselors want to revert to their old ways, naively believing they have the power to make people quit and that it is appropriate. We try to help our counselors and trainees calm themselves down from the media hype and social hysteria. Read more “the fix”…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.