Blame for addiction is misplaced

Staff Editorial

Teen addiction doesn’t always begin in a cloud of vapor in a secluded bathroom or with a beer at a party. It begins with parents and teachers skating around honest curiosity, in the promotion of “abstinence only” programs, in every movie centered around teenage life. It’s affected by growing up with stars like Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus only to see their struggles aired out in the media. Addiction is often sensationalized and made into something fit for a magazine cover, but the truth of why teenagers are so easily hooked is messier.

It is growing increasingly less difficult to get access to illegal or addictive substances, which contributes to addiction being on the rise, yet so many of the attitudes and treatments toward addiction remain the same. America in general is projecting an “every man for himself” mentality that extends to addicts. After all, isn’t it that person’s fault that they created the habit in the first place?

This makes it more difficult for addicts to get help, especially when the addict in question is a teenager without access to the same resources that an adult would have. Rehabilitation centers are expensive and can even make the problem worse if the attendee is unwilling. The same goes for therapy and medication.

One of the most important resources to stop and prevent addiction is education. Young adults are less sheltered than ever before with access to the Internet, but too many have to go searching for information themselves instead of being readily provided with it from trusted sources. Abstinence is taught as if no explanation is necessary, which is dangerous for kids who are at the same time hearing that their time to explore and create their own identity is now.

Media of all kinds places emphasis on identity, and the method prescribed to finding it is to take risks. Underage drinking and drug use are too often made to seem like a rite of passage and a way to socialize rather than decisions that have serious consequences.

The root causes of addiction — mental health issues, histories of abuse, insecurity and peer pressure — are ignored in favor of the glossier angle, making it all the more difficult for individuals to recognize addiction in themselves. Celebrity addicts are spun off as “crazy” and their stories are exaggerated for readability, which makes it harder for the everyday person to draw similarities. It makes it possible to write off 2007 Britney Spears as a junkie while ignoring everything that led her to the tipping point. People are able to deny that they have a problem because that problem isn’t as extreme or glamorized as the ones publicized in the media.

Adults often advocate for avoiding addictive substances all together, but most products are marketed to be addictive. Creating bad habits is inescapable, and more emphasis should be placed on keeping those habits from going too far rather than avoiding them all together. Curiosity is natural. Wanting to try smoking, drinking, etc. may be unhealthy, but it’s almost unavoidable. The problem arises when students are coming to school high every day or can’t process their own emotions without a bottle in their hand. Addiction prevention needs to focus less on scare tactics and more on giving verified facts on resulting health issues and other harmful side effects.

Addiction is complex, and it’s based on a number of factors, including genetics. It’s not just a matter of dumb kids getting into things they shouldn’t be, and that needs to be accounted for in the charges for substances as well as treatment options and social attitudes.