[Week 36 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Honest basics about substances
What would an honest discussion of drugs and alcohol look like? If you are having a conversation with one of your children, it may depend on their age and maturity. Young children don’t need to know the brutal facts about everything. However, much about drugs and alcohol can be covered with some very basic principles.
- There are many kinds of substances in this world that we have the option of using
- Not all substances affect all people the same way
- Use of substances may be situation dependent
- Laws do not make substances good or bad
- Religious rules need to be separated from inner character
- There is nothing inherently immoral about using a substance for enjoyment
- The mode of consumption of a substance is morally neutral
We often think of consumption of substances as eating or drinking them, but many substances can be breathed in (essential oils) or applied to the skin (lotions and perfumes). Currently, personal injection is largely limited to what has been prescribed by governmentally approved sources.
Unfortunately, certain ways of partaking of a substance have become stigmatized. Some of this is due to political propaganda. Some of it is due to the effects of criminalizing substances. Some of it is due to the tendency of people to find ways to feel superior to other people.
How to examine adult biases
Before beginning such a conversation with a child, an adult needs to examine his own substance choices and assumptions made about them. Hardly anyone can say that even eating is simply for fuel. We not only eat because we are hungry, but we eat what tastes good and what makes us feel good after we have eaten it. We eat or drink some things just to be social or just to make us happy.
Some substances are specifically consumed because they energize our mental state (caffeinated drinks) or help us sleep (anyone who travels globally for business knows how important this can be). Does it make a difference just how much the mental state is affected? Who gets to decide this and how will it be measured? For instance, I have such naturally low blood pressure that a few minutes in a hot tub can make me as goofy as a few alcoholic drinks makes someone else. Should hot baths be banned?
We should also be careful to research what we think we know. There is a series about the drug war on the Historical Controversies podcast (published by mises.org and presented by Chris Carlton) that will challenge most people’s “knowledge” about drugs and their prohibition. The Roots of Drug Prohibition is the first in the series and a good place to start.
Every generation thinks they finally understand foundational science, but it often ends up that much less was understood than supposed. In view of this, there should be a lot more humility about how other people use substances. Additionally, we should be very slow to believe government propaganda that gives some people violent power over others. We should also remember that cultural perspectives of substances have vacillated in some interesting ways over the centuries. Here is a concise history of beer as an example. My favorite is that if an Egyptian gentleman offered a lady a sip of his beer they were betrothed.
The LCI podcast (Libertarian Christian Institute) recently aired an episode that suggests a more compassionate and Christian approach to substance use and letting people make their own choices. The episode is centered on cannabis, but also examines assumptions about illegal drugs that Christians have. Faith and Cannabis with Jason Rink is an easy listen that civilly challenges the status quo.
Is potential abuse an excuse?
The most basic question about substances is why does someone partake of them. Are some reasons less acceptable than others? Do some people get to decide that some reasons are bad enough to make consumption illegal? Is there a level of potential abuse that justifies making use criminal?
Anything in life can be abused to a harmful degree. Even sleep can be indulged in to an excess that ruins lives and health. With enough laying around, the body gets extremely weak and the joints will freeze from lack of use. Plus, sleeping is the ultimate numbing of the mind. There are physical limits to how much one can indulge, but this is true with anything that is abused. The body can only take so much.
The idea of moderation is important in most aspects of life. What moderation looks like for a given person may vary. A moderate amount of sleep for a pregnant woman is probably going to be different than a moderate amount of sleep for a single man with few responsibilities.
From time spent reading to how many avocados someone eats, what may be good for one person may be detrimental to another. I have seen people use reading as an excuse to not get other important things done. I have seen people avoid reading when it would have been very useful for them. I’m pretty sure no one wants to make certain amounts of reading a legal issue.
When is it just poison?
Are some substances just so bad that no one should ever use them? Are the effects so mind-altering that they should be banned? The ancient saying “the poison is in the dose” is a clue here. Many substances can be helpful or enjoyed at certain doses, but are life-threatening in other doses or circumstances.
What is extremely harmful to one person may be helpful to another. It is arrogant to think that one person or one select group of people is knowledgable enough to make these decisions for everyone. It would be much more helpful to share what we have learned than to punish people for making their own choices.
Consider the common flower called “foxglove.” Its medical name is digitalis and we are only supposed to legally take it with a prescription. It can help some people with controlling erratic heartbeats. It can also be quite toxic if it builds up in the body. Even as a new student nurse, I was able to identify symptoms that saved a patient from severe complications of the medicine.
What I also observed was that the patient was relying so much on the prescribing doctor (who rarely saw the patient), that he neglected to inform himself about what he was consuming. Experts have their uses as sources of information, but we need to be responsible for making decisions that are best for us.
What if the only reason for consumption is how it affects the mind?
Have you ever driven a car while you were upset? Or been distracted because you are in love? Tried to sleep after an argument? Or felt relaxed after a good walk? Substances are not the only things that affect our mental state. If a substance affects our mental state, does that make it inherently bad?
If you answer yes to that, then you have to examine anything else you do because it makes you feel good or if it affects your ability to make certain decisions. Just because you shouldn’t make important financial decisions at the same time you are cheerfully singing karaoke, doesn’t mean singing karaoke is bad. It just means you might not be in a serious frame of mind. There are many things we don’t do at the same time.
Sometimes we need to devote our senses and our mental capabilities to something vital. Sometimes we just need to relax and have fun. Using a substance to help relax or have fun may be the very thing that refreshes someone so that he can be better at making important decisions later. It is well known that a merry heart IS good medicine.
Good company makes all the difference
We should make our children aware of social and legal complications related to certain substances. Just because we disagree with laws or cultural biases doesn’t mean we won’t be impacted by them. We want our children to be informed and wise.
Part of this is choosing good company. Help your children to evaluate other people’s character. Using or not using a substance often has very little to do with someone’s inner qualities. A tea-totaler might be a scoundrel. A person who drinks alcohol could very well be an irresponsible bum. It is important who they choose to trust for serious issues. But it is also important who they relax and have fun with, because character affects how fun is pursued.
The truth about alcohol and drugs is that these substances can be used appropriately and in moderation. They are not the be-all-end-all measure of someone’s character that some people make them out to be. In fact, the real measure of someone’s character is probably whether or not he feels self-righteous about avoiding substances that have nothing to do with morality and may very well be good for some people.