Substance abuse and addictions do not occur in a vacuum. It is not merely the result of vulnerable kids becoming involved with the wrong crowd. If only it were that simple. In fact, substance abuse is more a symptom of the real problem than “the” problem. The real problem falls in one of three categories: abuse, neglect, or failure to discipline.


Physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse will inevitably lead to later scars. Even people who cope well and rise above it are forever hurt by their horrible experiences. For some individuals, the best way to blot out the pain is substance abuse. When chemicals anesthetize emotions, a person can go on with life. There isn’t much quality to that life, but it is bearable.


Neglect does not mean leaving a child without food-although that too happens. Neglect may simply mean being too busy to have formed a relationship with one’s child. My hunch is that Noelle Bush’s history involves this category at least [She is the daughter of former Governor of Florida, caught with drugs]. As children grow, parents become models for them of how to function in the world. Children also discover who they themselves are through the feedback they get from their parents. When the small girl constantly picks out the frilly clothes, her parents may say, “She’s all girl.” Those remarks help that little girl define her personality. Parents who ignore their children not only fail to give this feedback that is vital to their personality development, but instead give a most undesirable message: You are not important enough for us to pay attention to. So the child learns that he doesn’t know who he is but it doesn’t matter because he is not worth knowing anyway, a sure formula for drug addiction.

Failure to Discipline

The latter half of the twentieth century saw a rebellion against the harsh discipline of the earlier half. Starting with women’s liberation in the 60’s came the un-parenting of the 70’s. With their own scars not healed, these parents fear discipline because it so resembles abuse. After all, the child will appear to be unhappy if he is punished for rudeness, academic laziness, or not following household rules, and the child’s happiness is paramount. These misguided parents do not understand that withholding discipline is actually as abusive as withholding food. A well-brought-up child is happy, responsible, self-sufficient, motivated, and has a clear sense of boundaries so that she will not be taken in by the lures of alcohol and drugs. She will shrug off appeals from those quarters, knowing in her heart who she is without needing artificial bolstering.

Adult children and the parents of young children need to take responsibility for the drug problems that plague our society. Abuse, neglect, and failure to discipline must be replaced by huge quantities of love, attention, kindness and sensible discipline.

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