Has there ever been a harder time than now to be a young person struggling with a substance use issue? Drugs are everywhere and they are easy to find even when someone is not even looking. For whatever reason, the fear of the needle has subsided right along with the stigma of experimenting with heroin so there has been a huge influx of young people shooting dope all over, from the cities right on into the suburbs. As a result, most young people these days have known someone else in their extended social network who died of a heroin or other drug overdose or fatal drunk driving crash or other substance related tragedy.
Furthermore, in the current economy it’s tough for a young person who is trying to turn their lives around to get a job, especially with an arrest record for drug charges or other related criminal offenses. It’s even tougher in most areas for someone just starting out in life who has limited income to find affordable housing and quite often when affordable housing is found it is smack in the middle of a drug infested area often adds up to being just another relapse waiting to happen. These kids know that even if they stop using and they get on the right track, there are no guarantees of a successful career often because of a lack of opportunity. Young people who from the start chose to go to college are often themselves struggling so by comparison someone who went to jail for drug offenses or dropped out of high school because they were getting high may see little hope for making a reasonable honest living above and beyond minimum wage.
Sounds discouraging right? That’s because often it is for many young people trying to change and make up for their mistakes. Now imagine for a second a young person who is trying to get help starts hearing messages like these:
“At this point you should be happy you’re not dead!”
“Those people you are hanging out with are just going to bring you down along with them eventually”
“Jails, institutions, or death…that’s where this is all going to lead one day if you don’t stop”
“If you haven’t hit bottom yet, believe me, keep going the way you were and you will!”
“Sooner or later if you keep this up, the people who care about you are going to get tired of all of this give up on you and where will you be then?”
“I was young like you once and I thought I was smart too, but I’ll show you what happened to me!”
“You need to change that negative attitude soon or you are in for a rude awakening"
Surely, in many cases the above statements may be 100% true and many people will admit that they need a taste of reality in order to get motivated. It is absolutely important to start learning to think of the consequences. I am not trying to undermine that fact.
Nevertheless, these young people need more than just the wake up call associated with looking at the consequences and staring at reality. Those of us who are trying to help this generation of substance abusing young people must bring a crucial added ingredient to the mix. These kids have already had a pretty strong taste of reality and consequences along the way so they need something else if they really are going to change for the better and stick with it. As counselors, teachers, parents, and any others in a “helping" role, let us never forget the importance of handing out several daily "doses" of the powerful anti-drug of encouragement. Consider for a second, exactly what encouragement means:
Encourage -to inspire (someone) with the courage or confidence (to do something)
to stimulate (something or someone to do something) by approval or help; support
At the root of encouragement is: courage - the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Encouragement therefore is all about inspiring courage in others.
The concept of encouragement can sound like it’s a huge deal but in reality, some of the best ways to dole out encouragement is by giving out subtle “doses” a little at a time. For someone who is struggling a “dose” of encouragement can be a simple as:
>A comforting pat on the shoulder or a welcoming handshake
>Providing a listening ear or a well-timed phone call
>Electing NOT to lecture someone after a setback or relapse
>Accepting and praising small incremental changes (baby steps) even when there is obviously still a long way to go.
>Saying just a few positive words or sending an inspiring text message or email
>Remembering to smile even when things might look bleak or appropriately using humor to diffuse a tense moment.
The consequences are always out there and it is important not to overlook them as we teach others to avoid them. However, just as important as the consequences, is being a reliable source of lifesaving encouragement. Did you remember to give out a few doses today?