Attitudes on Drug Risk 2: Lies to Children

I'm following up on some blogging resulting from a recent post of mine on the effect Len Bias' death (apparently) had on population level perception of the riskiness of trying cocaine. This will verge on the type of link-vomitus that is much despised by the PhysioProf, so consider yourself warned!


[Update 2/6/08: Overmistress Ginny is running a survey on "scared straight", go play on Page 3.14]
Abel Pharmboy started off with a meaty followup to his comment on a news article reporting on the abuse of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient of Benadryl®. He then used that to discuss some other trends in abusing over-the-counter cough-suppressant preparations containing dextromethorphan. Abel next made the mistake of musing on the topic of how parents might want to deal with the topic of recreational drug use and risk so as to appropriately guide their children.
Game on, my friend, game on.
First, despite Abel's supposition, I have no special insight. I recognize at the outset that we typically have N=1-4 experiments available to us, the consequences are high, the variance is tremendous and we are seriously contaminated by our own adolescent substance-use experiences. The population-level experiments are of use, but only limited use, in shaping our parental choices. I am perhaps more likely than average to obsess think about this stuff, but I'm searching for the answers that I will quickly require as much as anyone.
I had a few thoughts on this awhile ago under a post entitled "Lying to Children About Drugs". I think the biggest problem in this area was expressed as this:

My difficulty is that when teenagers catch you in the lies-to-children you tend to lose credibility. Thus, if they figure out you are lying before you update the lies-to-children to lies-to-adolescents or lies-to-non-scientific-audiences, you may have lost your opportunity to do so.

I think many of us parents who are scientists with a reflexive orientation that "the truth will always win out" and those of us ex-adolescents who feel that "nobody, nowhere, nohow was tellin' us what to do and btw, all that DARE and Just-Say-No was transparently false and manipulative" may share some element of this problem.
DuWayne Brayton lays down a very well-considered parental approach on his Inalienable Rights blog. I may not agree with everything he has to say but there is lots here to launch that internal conversation with yourself or that conversation with your spouse, or even your pre-teen. In truth, this whole post was an excuse to direct you to that post so go read, eh?
I think perhaps the one major concern I have is with DuWayne's approach to being totally honest and communicating realistic assessment of risk to your kids. And it is more a concern of application rather than the fundamental approach. He would apparently like to be able to say things such as "If you absolutely are going to get high, try smoking weed rather than huffing glue, would ya?". I would like to be able to do this as well, I for damn sure have a preference list of things I'd really, really, really rather my kids didn't choose to ingest, given that they are going to seek to get high. I'm sure most of you have your scales as well.
My concern has to do with our inability to really understand "rare" events on the scale of 10%, 1% or .1% incidence. This is combined with the pronounced adolescent lack of appreciation for mortality. Take the Len Bias affair. Before and after this event, the state of scientific knowledge about cocaine and acute cardiac arrest was probably the same. I.e., that in some cases cocaine can cause death, yes even when taken in some reasonable approximation of a "normal" recreational dose. At the time there was a lot of discussion about the extent of Len Bias' experience with taking cocaine but my memory on that is pretty hazy. Parents' conversations across the US, if not the world, regarding the risks of cocaine most certainly changed. Because their appreciation for the "rare" outcome of acute heart failure was changed due to the all-penetrating media attention. Likely to an overestimate, one would hypothesize. The Leah Betts / MDMA story in the UK has some similar features- you might as well Google it because you'll need to assemble an impression yourself from all the advocacy-site complaining about the PR on this one.
Getting back to the point, DuWayne's approach relies on the assumption that we, as parents, actually understand the "real risks". As they apply to our children. In the context of their actual lives in society. Acute death is only one factor. As DuWayne's post notes, the potential for lasting cognitive impairment following interference with normal brain development is another risk. Becoming dependent on drugs. Secondary risks for acute trauma (car accident, diving into shallow water, ..). Other associated risks like, say, unprotected (or "protected" for that matter) sexual activity.
Lucky for you, DearParents, you have employees out there working as hard as they can to give you better and better answers to your questions. Those employees are, of course, your taxpayer funded scientists.

35 responses so far

  • Interrobang says:

    On the other hand, to further complicate the issue, if there's anything humans as a class are bad at, it's risk estimation. Grab a random hundred people off the street and ask them which they think is more dangerous -- driving, or flying. See how many correct answers you get. If there are more than a creationist can count with their shoes off, I'd be very surprised. I am going to trust you're familiar with the availability heuristic...

  • bsci says:

    I have 8-10 years before I need to actually worry about what to say to a child, but I feel the key is to stress the positive. Perhaps I drank too much of the DARE koolaide, but I really buy into the idea that altered states are not necessary. A person should be able to enjoy life without requiring drug-based highs. (Clinical depression or other issues are an exception and probably explain at a large subset of regular illegal drug users.)
    I think the scientific argument that ages 10-20 are probably some of the years where you can best learn everything from academic subjects to the best way to throw a ball. Time spent on drugs is time not spent doing more interesting things.
    I also really dislike the argument that teens will do stupid things and you shouldn't get angry. I never used illegal drugs and I've never been drunk and I am far from the only person I know. I just have no interest in it. I think the people who put forward this argument are those who casually used drugs and are trying to rationalize their own actions with what they want from their kids. Awareness of parental disapproval as the main negative pressure doesn't prevent all drug use, but it definitely doesn't hurt.

  • Rugosa says:

    I don't disagree with everything you say, bsci, but you're using the Brussels sprout arguement - "I don't like Brussels sprouts, so I can't imagine why anyone would want to eat them." Don't be surprised if your own kids turn out to like Brussels sprouts, or at least be curious about what they taste like.

  • bsci says:

    Rugosa,
    I don't think that's my argument. I'm not saying it wouldn't be enjoyable. I'm saying it's not necessary and there are negative risks. Also leading by example does mean something.
    That said, I do like brussels sprouts when they are lightly sauteed with a bit of olive oil and pepper. When overcooked, they are quite disgusting.

  • Dunc says:

    If there's one thing that people in all cultures at all times have shared, it's a desire to get high.
    Having sex is not actually necessary, and it has all sorts of risks, yet arguing that abstinence is the best approach to dealing with those risks is clearly not effective. Lots of people want to do it, because it's fun, regardless of whether you consider it "necessary".
    Achieving altered states of conciousness may not be "necessary", but it can be both fun and interesting. If you limit your experiences to only those which are "necessary", you're missing out on a lot of what life has to offer.
    Disclosure: I have used a great many recreational drugs, both legal and illegal. I continue to use several. I feel my drug use has, on balance, been a positive thing in my life.

  • daksya says:

    If we take the 1999 paper in Circulation as definitive, then the excess acute risk of heart attacks due to cocaine ingestion is, in relative terms, 24 times, and in absolute terms, statistically 30 per million within the first hour, i.e. of 1 million people who consume cocaine now, 30 will have a heart attack, who wouldn't have otherwise, in the hour following use. In the next 3 hours, there's an elevated risk but which reduces rapidly, and results in roughly 5-6 excess attacks. After 4 hours, the risk of MI returns to base levels. So, that excess risk works out to roughly 1 in 30,000. Of course, the study didn't ascertain route of administration, and I'm not sure how well they controlled for polydrug use, especially alcohol.
    Re: the "necessary" argument, necessary for what?

  • bsci says:

    Dunc, You are projecting your own experiences on all of humanity. That is explicitly what I am not doing. I understand why some people might enjoy it, but I have no desire and I know many others that also have no desire.
    Just because you have "a desire to get high" doesn't mean it is "one thing that people in all cultures at all times have shared." I'd venture to say that it's not even close to that pervasive. You cannot link the desire for sex with the desire for mind-altering drugs (and conversely like the abstinence programs for both). The desires have fundamental differences straight down to the neural and hormonal levels.
    As for the positive effects on your life, how about your drug using friends? How many have slipped into a serious addition? Did you help them? How many got injured or killed based on a direct or indirect affect of drug use? No real scientist says drugs are bad for everyone, but the argument that regular mind-altering drug use is a reasonable way to spend ones life is ignoring the fact that this will clearly hurt a subset of the population.

  • daksya says:

    bsci: You are projecting your own experiences on all of humanity. That is explicitly what I am not doing.
    Actually, you are, when you say this:
    A person should be able to enjoy life without requiring drug-based highs.
    Some may be able to, and some may not. But your assertion results from projecting your life experience onto all others i.e. the generic 'person'.

  • bsci says:

    daksya, I specially included an exception for clinical depression and other mental health issues. If you think my statement is false, do you agree with the converse that "There are healthy people who are incapable of enjoying life without drug-based highs"?
    I also did not say the desire to get a drug-based high is irrational. I understand why some people enjoy it, but I don't think mind-altering drug use is a prerequisite for enjoying life.

  • PhysioProf says:

    A person should be able to enjoy life without requiring drug-based highs.

    A person should be able to enjoy life without watching teevee, eating any food besides oatmeal, wacking off, drinking anything besides water, reading anything but the bible, doing any exercises besides wind-sprints, using the telephone, going to any Web sites except for http://www.whitehouse.gov, and writing anything other than poetry.
    HTH, HAND.

  • Dunc says:

    Just because you have "a desire to get high" doesn't mean it is "one thing that people in all cultures at all times have shared." I'd venture to say that it's not even close to that pervasive.

    That is emphatically not what I'm basing that assertion on. I'm basing it solely on the observation that every single culture that I'm aware of has some socially-sanctioned means of inducing altered states of consciousness, even if it's just spinning round in circles or standing in the sun for hours.
    Many psychologists studying the matter have concluded that the desire to alter consciousness is a universal human trait. (Sorry, no cites - I don't have institutional access to papers)
    If you know of a society which does not have any culturally-accepted means of altering consciousness, I'd be fascinated to hear about it.

  • Dunc says:

    As for the positive effects on your life, how about your drug using friends? How many have slipped into a serious addition? Did you help them? How many got injured or killed based on a direct or indirect affect of drug use?

    Well, if we're talking anecdata, the answers would be "several, but they all made it back", "yes, as far as possible", and "none, unless you count very indirect effects, in which case one death (due to getting on the wrong side of the wrong people). Or unless you're counting mental health issues as injuries, in which case several, largely treatable."
    Life is a risky business. Everything has risks. I used to be a solo rock climber too - now that is a risky pastime. Much more risky than drug use.

  • daksya says:

    If you think my statement is false, do you agree with the converse that "There are healthy people who are incapable of enjoying life without drug-based highs"?
    Sure, for appropriate value-judgments of "healthy". You simply end up defining healthy as (a subset of) those who don't require drugs.

  • ddt says:

    bsci wrote:
    "I also really dislike the argument that teens will
    do stupid things and you shouldn't get angry."
    Well... They WILL do stupid things. Teenagers are hardwired to take risks; it's a natural part of development. Many of those risks are, from a rational objective perspective, quite stupid - what rational reason is there to jump from high bridges/cliffs into quarries and rivers, or drive cars too fast, or date "bad boys" (or girls) or undertake any number of unproductive risky behaviors that most teens do? It should not be suprising that psychoactive drug experimentation is bound to be part of this. You might as well get angry with them for developing body hair and B.O. as get angry with their risky behavior. The better question is what's the most productive response to nudge them in the direction we'd like (ie away from the potentially most-damaging activities).
    "I never used illegal drugs and I've never been drunk
    and I am far from the only person I know. I just have
    no interest in it. I think the people who put
    forward this argument are those who casually used
    drugs and are trying to rationalize their own
    actions with what they want from their kids..."
    Leaving the illegal aspect aside (see the recycled "why are alcohol and nicotine legal, but not [insert drug-of-choice]debate), have you ever had a cup of coffee/tea/soda as a pick-me-up? Taken a benadryl or sleeping pill for insomnia? Do you enjoy rollercoasters or scary movies? We manipulate our sensorium in numerous ways, ask any two-year-old who's spun in circles until he fell down. This argument is not a rationalization but a recognition that there is something biological driving teenage risk-taking and that getting angry will be as likely to reinforce the behavior (remember, they're also tending to rebel from authority at this stage as they develop independence) as curb it. For those interested, I recommend "The Primal Teen", by Barbara Strauch.

  • bsci says:

    Dunc,
    If you know of a society which does not have any culturally-accepted means of altering consciousness, I'd be fascinated to hear about it.
    This is such a broad and meaningless question that I don't see how it has any relevance. Because some people spin in circles and others get an endorphin high from exercise justifies others who take mind-altering drugs. In fact, I try to alter my consciousness every evening through sleep. There are a few gaps in your logic here. How about finding me a culture that only provides chemical ingestion methods to alter consciousness? Yes my question is just and ridiculous as yours.
    As for rock solo rock climbing, I'm getting a better feel for your risk taking personality. Yes, you like to risk your life in unnecessary ways on a regular basis. (Rock climbing with a partner was clearly too safe for you). That's great, but I don't think you can generalize your interests on the rest of humanity and I definitely hope to don't try to be a role model to my child.
    Daksya,
    I agree that my comment is heavily based on the definition of "healthy" and I was thinking of noting that in the original comment. Still, can you give me a generally accepted definition of "healthy" that includes people who need to take mind altering drugs to enjoy life?

  • DuWayne says:

    One minor clarification.
    "If you absolutely are going to get high, try smoking weed rather than huffing glue, would ya?".
    Would be more along the lines of; "Huffing spray-paint is a lot more likely to kill you quickly than smoking pot is." Or; "Huffing air freshener is going to kill off the brain a lot faster than smoking or drinking. While smoking and drinking can impair your brains development, huffing air freshener is markedly worse. On top of which it can also cause acute respiratory failure."
    bsci -
    I think you're missing my point. When we base our strategy on abstinence only, we are doing nothing less than gambling with our children's lives.
    Take me for an example. My parents did everything "right." Self-confidence, check. Drugs are bad, don't do it, check. They cause addictions and sometimes kill, check. They were also both non-drugging, non-drinking sorts of folk. Then I noticed that some of the kids I knew, kids I was friendly with, did some of these drugs. Not only were there no addicts among them (that I knew of at the time) but no one appeared to have had any problems at all with it. On top of that, no one told me that people with ADHD are pretty damned prone to substance abuse issues.
    So by thirteen I was really wondering about the marijuana, which several kids in my grade claimed to have smoked. I though there was something strange about me, because apparently I was one of the very few kids my age who wasn't smoking it (yes, I was completely unaware that kids would lie about that or their sexual activity). Then I decided to try it, around the same time a cousin convinced me to try a tobacco cigarette. By the time I was fifteen, I was smoking the tobacco like an addict, while smoking pot and drinking when I could get away with it. I had also used LSD, shrooms and methamphetamine. Not to mention having also developed a huge thing for coffee.
    I ended up doing all right, but that's after having gone through several years of pretty intensive substance abuse. I know kids I grew up with, who ended up with pretty serious problems, from AIDS to drug addiction, sometimes more than one problem. These are people who's parents did everything "right."
    I am not suggesting that people express the least bit of approval. If you deal with things by getting angry, instead of putting that to the side, when disciplining your child, then by all means be consistent. You can do all of that, and still provide your child with tools to be safe. You can even do it like my LDS brother, who couched it in terms of; "if you know your friends are having sex, or doing drugs, this is what they should know." When they were even older, he explained that while he prayed they would never fall into certain behaviors, he knows that a lot of kids do anyways. That while it is not just an affront to God, it is an affront to themselves, to participate in such activities, there are things that people can do, to minimize the risk of the very worse consequences of such behaviors. He tends to believe pretty firmly that his kids have maintained a certain "purity." He absolutely knows that even if they haven't abstained, they at least haven't fallen prey to the consequences that the children of many of their LDS friends have.
    Just assuming that telling them not to do it is going to be effective, is naive at best. One of my closest friends in middle school, is a meth addict who was in bad shape the last I saw of him. I actually talked to his parents about it and they were shocked at the idea that I thought he was a drug user. They saw him once a week like clockwork. He was in a bad enough way that it was quite obvious that something was seriously wrong, including rotting teeth. But they just couldn't believe that I would even think he was a drug user.

  • daksya says:

    Still, can you give me a generally accepted definition of "healthy" that includes people who need to take mind altering drugs to enjoy life?
    1)"Generally accepted"? By whom? The US or the West? Of course not, the US is a prohibitionist culture, and so is the rest of the West, by pressure, both domestic and international. So, that "generally accepted" qualification is disingenuous. Except for alcohol.
    In other cultures? Sure. In India, marijuana as bhang was and is a part of the culture, even today. Smoked pot was banned in 1959 only due to UN pressure. Bhang was supposed to be banned in 1961, but due to tradition, there are still shops in Northern India allowed to sell it, and the population-at-large consumes it on holiday occasions. In Morocco, pot use is pretty widespread. There are legally recognized organizations in Brazil which revere DMT preparations and gather every other week for ritual use. Similar to the legal peyote use by certain Native American tribes in the southern US. Coca leaf use in South America is also pretty old and accepted within that culture.
    2)Your challenge asks me to identify those who "need" drugs to "enjoy" life. Ignoring that I think this criteria is besides the point, that's a very broad and vague condition. With a typical lifespan of 70 years, what proportion of one's waking life does one have to like in order to be able to say that they have "enjoyed" life? Who decides whether a certain experience is enjoyable? To me, only the experient. So, I can't really answer your question, except for my own self.
    Of course, I'm ignoring that you have conflated the various classes of psychoactive substances into the one word: drugs, and reduced their intended utility to a single vague effect: enjoy, whereas drugs can range from mild to intense; not addictive to very; minimally toxic to very; euphoric or not; socially conducive or not.

  • Dunc says:

    As for rock solo rock climbing, I'm getting a better feel for your risk taking personality. Yes, you like to risk your life in unnecessary ways on a regular basis. (Rock climbing with a partner was clearly too safe for you)

    If you think you can assess anyone's personality on the basis of two blog comments, then you're an idiot. Plus you clearly don't know much about climbing. When I was soloing, I wasn't pushing my limits. By far the most dangerous climb I ever attempted was a 3-man winter ascent of Bidean nam Bian. And nowadays, I'm actually quite risk-averse.
    The point I'm trying to make is that all sorts of enjoyable activities have risks - often very serious risks. I simply don't see what is so strikingly different about using drugs that any kind of risk / benefit judgement has to go out the window, nor do I see what makes you think your choice of enjoyments is morally superior to mine.

  • PhysioProf says:

    The point I'm trying to make is that all sorts of enjoyable activities have risks - often very serious risks. I simply don't see what is so strikingly different about using drugs that any kind of risk / benefit judgement has to go out the window, nor do I see what makes you think your choice of enjoyments is morally superior to mine.

    Didn't you get the memo? Drug are bad, m'kay?

  • bsci says:

    daksya, I made a broad general statement. "A person should be able to enjoy life without requiring drug-based highs." You said that I was projecting my own experiences on all of humanity. I said give me examples where this isn't true. You responded that my original statement is too broad and vague. This is getting circular. Yes, the original statement was intentionally broad. It wasn't some deep statement and it wasn't me projecting my experiences on others.
    daksya, dunc, and PhysioProf,
    I've never said that all people should never take mind altering drugs. I know there are many cultures that including these drugs from alcohol to peyote. (There are also many cultures that include various forms of significant corporal punishment as part of child raising and I doubt any of you would jump to defending this)
    What I did say is that there is no NEED to take mind-altering drugs and I don't use them and I don't want my children to use them. Why is this such a controversial statement?

  • Dunc says:

    It's controversial because, as many people in this thread have tried to point out, you don't NEED anything other than air, water, and the most basic of foods. For bodily survival anyway - I would argue that the experience of pleasure is necessary for mental health.
    None of us (as far as I can see) are arguing that there is a need to take "mind altering drugs", whatever your definition of that remarkably murky and imprecise category may be. However, I am arguing that there appears to be a more-or-less universal human desire to experience altered states of consciousness, and that the use of psychoactive substances is one extremely popular means of satisfying that need.
    Necessity is an irrelevant consideration when discussing pleasure-seeking behaviour. Pointing out that drug use is unnecessary is no more enlightening than observing that art is unnecessary. It's the "unnecessary" pleasures that make life worth living.
    You also appear to be making an argument that there is something intrinsically undesirable about the use of psychoactive substances which is completely separate from any consideration of the actual risks and which places such behaviour in a completely different category from any other potentially risky pleasure-seeking behaviour. Furthermore, you appear to object to the idea that anybody might judge such behaviour to have been a positive experience.
    Let me tell you a little story about how I got into using drugs, which might also throw some light on the original topic of the post. Like many teenagers, I wanted to experiment with novel and transgressive behaviours. Since drug use was about the most transgressive behaviour available that didn't contravene my own moral sentiments, that was the obvious choice. Upon trying my first joint, I discovered two things: firstly, none of the Dire Consequences I was warned about transpired; secondly, it was a lot of fun. These two discoveries immediately destroyed any credibility of the "Just Say No"-style drugs "education" I had received. Being a teenager, I was unfortunately prone to rather simplistic "all-or-nothing" thinking, so I concluded that everything I had been taught about drugs was wrong. It then took about 15 years of experimentation to figure out what the real risks and consequences of the various drugs I eventually used actually were.
    My point? In many cases, the "scare 'em straight" approach not only doesn't work, but it is actively counter-productive. And that's where we get back to my original analogy with abstinence-only sex (mis-)education.
    Now that I am an experienced drug-user and well aware of the various serious risks, I feel that we are really going in exactly the wrong direction with both legal prohibition and abstinence-only education (abstinence from drugs, that is, not sex). Not because drug use is risk-free, but precisely because it is risky. And the only effective way to manage those risks is through regulation of drug markets and realistic, honest education - neither of which are possible in the current climate.
    "Just Say No" has no fall-back position once somebody has said "yes". And many, many people will.
    I apologise for the somewhat excessive length of this comment, but I feel these matters are important.

  • daksya says:

    What I did say is that there is no NEED to take mind-altering drugs...Why is this such a controversial statement?
    Depends on the scope of your assertion. NEED for whom? If it's the generic person, then you're indeed projecting your experiences to all of humanity. If it's not, then your statement is misleading and needs to be qualified. Your 'mental issues' exception above is a circular one, reducing to a tautology viz. no one except those who need them, need them. To avoid that, you restrict its application to 'healthy' persons, and then delimit the definition of 'healthy' to popular consensus ("generally accepted"). In the US, a prohibitionist society, that's a disingenuous argument. And in practical term, it simply shifts the question from "Does a person need drugs?" to "How many persons have 'mental issues'; how is that determined and by whom?"
    Which brings me to the much more important issue of needs and its relevance to the discourse on drugs. Trivially, something is needed if it's necessary. But necessary for what? Is food needed? If so, for what? To stay alive, and preferably, to do so in a satisfactory state. Then, is staying alive needed? Almost all persons want to stay alive, and in service towards that desire, try to do what they think is needed. Needs are contingent to goals. So, the crucial question is who sets the goals and for whom? If it is upto each person for themselves, as I hold, then your assertion is irrelevant to the issue of drugs, even if it were true.

  • bsci says:

    Dunc,
    Before complaining that I'm making vague statements, is it possible to make a statement more vague and meaningless than, " I would argue that the experience of pleasure is necessary for mental health." You seem to conflate pleasure with pleasure derived from mind-altering drugs.
    I don't plan to lie to anyone and I will be upfront about the risks (or lack thereof). I personally feel that, for most mind-altering drugs, the risks outweigh the benefits and that is what I plan to teach my children. This is not a "scare-em-straight" method, but it is honest discussion and listening.
    I get the feeling you are projecting your dislike of the total abolitionist approach on me when it doesn't really fit.
    daksya,
    I agree that this is getting more into tautology. Still, I feel the key point of that phrase was that this was focused on my own behavioral choices and what I plan to teach my children. Do you disapprove of someone mentoring their children to not use mind-altering drugs?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well, that got interesting, now didn't it? Not much to add from me, except to note that Dr. Free-Ride jumped in with a post here in case anyone missed it.
    DuWayne has a comment up a ways that I just rescued from the filters.
    Hopefully we've boiled down the essential positions of bsci, Dunc and daksya and can get past the tendency to overgeneralize from what someone has written in a brief comment without using stultifying qualifiers and parenthetical statements.
    bsci has a good point that most of the post language from me, Abel, DuWayne and now Dr. F-R assumes that kids are going to be interested in trying drugs and are, in a lot of cases, are going to try one or more psychoactive substances. In this we are supported by the data in the sense that 50% of 12th graders have tried an illicit drug, 73% have tried alcohol and 56% report having "been drunk". Sort of.
    In the glass-half-empty/full sense, bsci is right too. There is nothing wrong at all for a parent to strive for an "abstinence" target and many are successful in this. I suspect that many of us expressing the "inevitability" tone may still have "abstinence" as our target. It is just that we feel that the unyielding version of the parental "abstinence only" message may be counterproductive.
    bsci, I was struck by this comment, however.
    I personally feel that, for most mind-altering drugs, the risks outweigh the benefits and that is what I plan to teach my children.
    Really, I'm not trying to be snarky but how on earth do you know what the "benefits" are if you've never so much as been intoxicated on alcohol? This is where I would fear to lose the audience completely. I imagine the response of that smart-alec teen "Let me get this straight, Mom and Dad, you've never been drunk but you're telling me all these drugs my peers are taking can't possibly have any upside? bwaaaahhhaaaaahhhaaaa...."

  • bsci says:

    I'm not sure the source of your states, but I think your numbers speak in favor of my opinions. 50% of teenagers have NOT tried an illicit drug and 43% have never been drunk. When people say teenage drug use is pervasive and you can't encourage your children away from it, these numbers tell a very different story.
    As far as not knowing the benefits, I also haven't experienced the benefits of skiing off trails in unpatrolled areas. I feel in that cause, I have a good picture of why it would be enjoyable, but I also know the risks. You can call me risk-adverse, but Dr. Free-Ride's comment that parents have full rights to be extremely risk adverse with their offspring rings true with me.
    I feel that the risks outweigh the benefits, but not that there are no benefits. As such I can honestly talk about people I know who enjoy drugs, but also make sure they know it isn't a zero sum game. I think DuWayne's story is exactly the type of honest assessment to tell a child. He started drugs based on some misassumptions and saw many peers also using drugs with no problems. Years down the road he had an minor addiction and several of his friends had serious drug problems. The lesson is that the harm doesn't come equally to all drug users, but the effects aren't always visible in the short term.
    All this said, I wouldn't disown a child for smoking one joint and I'd probably rank that as less significant than lying about something important or taking up cigarette smoking.

  • DuWayne says:

    bsci -
    I should point out that I am not a teetotaler today. I haven't had a drink in over a year, but I have absolutely no problem with the idea of having a drink. I occasionally smoke pot, though probably only a few times a month. I would be perfectly thrilled, if my kids never decided to drink or do drugs. My actual goal however, is to see my boys through adolescence sober. I'll happily settle for them surviving the whole ordeal with most of their brain cells intact. I would also consider it failure if either of them acquire an STD or make me a grandpa before I'm fifty.
    I also am trying to ensure that if they do choose to use drugs as adults, that they are going to have the tools to minimize the risks. This is not to say that I am not keen on also reducing their risk of substance abuse. There are a few studies indicating that people with ADHD who are medicated for it as teens, are less likely to have substance abuse problems as adults.
    This meshes well with another study that has indicated that people with ADHD have problems with producing the neurotransmitter dopamine. I read an article that discussed this hypothesis a few years ago, which really helped me get a handle on my own substance issues. I paid a lot of attention to my habits and motivations. I fond better, healthier compensations for lower dopamine levels. So my major compensation today, comes from writing a lot more, especially music, drinking a little more coffee, but maintaining strict limitations. I also use dimenhydramine (generic for Dramamine) on occasion and even more rarely, I smoke the pot.
    My oldest (six) has been officially diagnosed with the same severe ADHD. I will be pleasantly surprised if my nearly three month old isn't also eventually diagnosed. All but one of my nine paternal brothers has ADHD, as does my biological father. We are trying to keep the oldest off medications for as long as possible, but are planning on medicating him around twelve or thirteen. We will certainly be taking his input on the ultimate decision to medicate, but given that a lot of kids who are medicated for it at that age end up able to quit the medication as adults and manage with minimal negative ADHD symptoms, we are inclined to work on convincing him.
    As for the numbers. Lets look at it from this perspective - a high school sporting event. Lets say there are about fifteen-hundred teen spectators (I don't know about your school, but that would be pretty close to average at my high school. So in that stadium, there are seven hundred, fifty kids, who have or will try an illicit drug before they graduate. Eight hundred forty have/will get drunk before they graduate. One thousand, ninety five will try alcohol.
    Two kids from my graduating class were killed in drunken wrecks that they were responsible for. Another was killed in one of those wrecks. Still another was paralyzed from the waste down in a different drunk teen driver wreck. A dear friend lost his little brother, a genius, after he wrapped a car around a tree, there was meth in his system. The passenger in his car who was also killed, was sober. This doesn't even touch on kids in my class, who suffered other serious, related problems, from AIDS to substance abuse to suicides.
    I am most assuredly not suggesting telling children that doing any of it is a good idea. I am not even suggesting that one tell their kids not to do drugs, but if your gonna anyways, do this or that. I am merely suggesting that parents educate their children on harm reduction that takes into account the possibility that their child may engage in these sorts of behaviors. Never, ever assume that your child is going to abstain, no matter what you do or how they are raised.
    I am going to write some more at my own blog on this topic, so I will bow out with that. I daresay that our positions on this subject (or at least our goals) are far more similar than they appear. The bottom line is, all we can ever do, is try to minmize harm to our kids. No matter what we do, no matter what we say, no matter how we raise them, bad things can still happen. They can still make abysmally poor decisions. The best weapons we have at our disposal, is consistency and credibility.
    By and by, I apologize if I am not as coherent as I should be. I have been a bit overstressed lately, with the new baby and a rather complicated job I am working on. I tend to get a bit flighty in this sort of stress, the ADHD symptoms tend to get rather extreme. If I am not being clear (gods know I'm anything but brief at the moment), please accept my apologies.

  • Dunc says:

    You seem to conflate pleasure with pleasure derived from mind-altering drugs.

    I dunno where you're getting that. What I'm arguing is that the pleasure derived from the use of drugs is not objectively different from pleasure derived from any other source.

    Really, I'm not trying to be snarky but how on earth do you know what the "benefits" are if you've never so much as been intoxicated on alcohol? This is where I would fear to lose the audience completely. I imagine the response of that smart-alec teen "Let me get this straight, Mom and Dad, you've never been drunk but you're telling me all these drugs my peers are taking can't possibly have any upside?

    Yup. The way it's usually expressed (in the UK, at least) is "don't knock it 'til you've tried it." As someone who's probably a pretty good example of the teenage drug experimenter, I can definitely tell you that nothing in my experience loses you credibility faster than pontificating about something you've never tried.
    DuWayne has also just reminded me of something: caffeine. World's most popular drug, used by 90% of American adults. A surprisingly powerful and addictive alkaloid central nervous system stimulant with a nasty withdrawal syndrome. Personally, I have to be extremely careful with it, as it gets me totally wired at quite low dosages. I'd sooner try and go to work after smoking a dozen joints than try and do it on two cups of coffee. Yet most people don't even think of it as a drug...

  • bsci says:

    DuWayne,
    I would be perfectly thrilled, if my kids never decided to drink or do drugs. My actual goal however, is to see my boys through adolescence sober. I'll happily settle for them surviving the whole ordeal with most of their brain cells intact.
    It seems like we agree on more than we disagree. I also agree with your comments on educating about harm reduction and never assuming total abstinence.
    From the above statement, my only difference is that I'd set hopes for intellectually and physically excelling through adolescence rather than just surviving with most brain cells intact. I guess I am setting the bar higher, but hopefully not creating a situation where not reaching that bar is not treated as failure. (Yes that's a difficult line to walk, but I'm setting my own goals high too)
    I think the other big difference between us is that you are starting out from a position of significant past drug usage and children with added factors that would incline them to using drugs. I assume the 50/50 probability of drug use is across the entire population. With people starting in my situation, I suspect it's closer to 70% no drug use and for your situation it's closer to 70% drug use. That said, 30% is still large enough that I don't plan on closing my eyes to reality.
    Dunc,
    I really don't know what your point is anymore. Are you saying there is no difference form pleasure derived from smoking a joint and pleasure derived from playing sports or learning something new? For that matter, are you saying that there is no difference between pleasure derived from herion, marijuana, or LSD?
    As for caffeine, I'm aware of it. My mother is horribly addicted and can barely function without it. When she tried to stop drinking she has horrible withdrawl symptoms. So, yes, I do have some direct awareness of drug based addiction.

  • Dunc says:

    I really don't know what your point is anymore. Are you saying there is no difference form pleasure derived from smoking a joint and pleasure derived from playing sports or learning something new? For that matter, are you saying that there is no difference between pleasure derived from herion, marijuana, or LSD?

    No moral difference, no. Obviously, ice-skating is different from going to the opera, just as getting stoned is different from tripping on LSD. The subjective experiences are different. But there is no objective basis to judge one class of pleasures as morally superior or inferior to any other. At the end of the day, all pleasure is simply the experience of the release of certain neurotransmitters. Pleasure is pleasure.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    But there is no objective basis to judge one class of pleasures as morally superior or inferior to any other.
    I think that there are certainly moral and ethical considerations available to rank sources of "pleasure".
    Some weirdos get "pleasure" out of all kinds of things that "most" of us find repugnant. To the extent that we enact laws prohibiting the behavior.
    Most of this, of course, lies in protecting one person from experiencing acute displeasure at the hands of someone else's "pleasure". In a cut and dried way.
    "Ah", you say. "But drug use is purely personal in impact, it doesn't affect anyone else".
    And therein lies the rub. Personal choice to not vaccinate only affects the individual's risk for infection, right? except there's this little thing about communicable diseases.. And funny thing about recreational drug use, it tends to have spillover effects.
    I'm sure we can have a very long and tediously familiar discussion of how many bad societal effects of drug use are due to the criminalization of use. to those "irresponsible" users, not you good libertarians toking up at home, etc.
    But this is not my point. My point is that when you live in a society sometimes personal liberty has to be subjugated to population level goals. and thus, "pleasures" are not always perfectly equal. And there are indeed "objective" ways to rank "pleasures" in this sense. You may not agree with the rankings or population-based goals, but you cannot pretend that the approach itself is not objective...

  • bsci says:

    DrugMonkey captured the moral side of this issue fairly well.
    You are wrong on the scientific end too. Everything mental is "simply the experience of the release of certain neurotransmitters." Cutting your arm also causes the release of certain neurotransmitters (and some people even find pleasure in this action). Even within mild-altering drugs, they affect different neurotransmitters in different brain regions in different manners.
    I'm sure you could add more qualifying words, but in this is getting a bit silly.

  • Dunc says:

    I'm sure we can have a very long and tediously familiar discussion of how many bad societal effects of drug use are due to the criminalization of use.

    Or we could have an equally long but slightly less familiar discussion of the negative societal effects of, for example, college football, or the fast-food industy.
    Yes, there is always a trade off between personal liberty and population level goals. No action exists in isolation. The point I'm trying to make (clearly rather poorly) is that there is no justification for treating the entire category labelled "drugs" in a fundamentally different way from any other purely on the basis of that labelling.

    You may not agree with the rankings or population-based goals, but you cannot pretend that the approach itself is not objective

    If there is scope for legitimate disagreement, then the approach cannot be objective, by definition. It depends on subjective value judgements.
    And I kind of resent the "libertarian" label. You may have noticed upthread that I'm in favour of strict regulation of drug markets, which is not a particularly "libertarian" position - at least in the modern, debased sense in which that term is commonly used.
    bsci: are you being deliberately obtuse? Of course the specific neurochemical responses vary between different stimuli. I'm not saying they're all identical, I'm saying that there is no intrinsic basis for privileging a neurochemical response induced by any other given class of stimuli over one induced the consumption of of a "psychoactive" substance.
    If cannabis were considered a foodstuff, would that actually change anything about its properties? No. Yet it would dramatically change society's attitude to it.

  • bsci says:

    Or we could have an equally long but slightly less familiar discussion of the negative societal effects of, for example, college football, or the fast-food industy.
    So unless we discussing the negative effects of every aspect of society equally and all in the same discussion, we can't discuss the negative aspects of anything? People do discuss the negative societal effects of college football and fast-food and both actually do have quite a number of regulations and even more proposed regulations., but that doesn't happen to be what we're talking about here.
    The point I'm trying to make (clearly rather poorly) is that there is no justification for treating the entire category labelled "drugs" in a fundamentally different way from any other purely on the basis of that labelling.
    We don't. The category of "drugs" is very diverse and treated diversely. We treat caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and LSD all quite differently. Even in the category of illegal/restricted drugs there are different classes. You don't like the existing division of these categories, but that's very different from saying there's on categories and no differences.
    I'm saying that there is no intrinsic basis for privileging a neurochemical response induced by any other given class of stimuli over one induced the consumption of of a "psychoactive" substance.
    There is an intrinsic basis for privileging different responses. If you're pushing this agrument, go back to the DrugMonkey example. If someone wants the neurochemical response they get from abusing children, society has the full right to say that it's different from the neurochemical response to running a tutoring program. It seems you're just trying to reframe or pleasure is amoral argument in terms of neurochemistry.

  • Dunc says:

    You're misinterpreting. I did not say that there is no basis for privileging any class of stimuli over any other class of stimuli, I said there was no basis for privileging any class of stimuli over drug use specifically. Obviously, if a given stimulus requires that you violate the fundamental human rights of another person, that's a show-stopper.
    Lets try and get away from generalities, as you seem to be hell-bent on misinterpreting what I'm saying. I'm saying that there is nothing intrinsic about "drugs" as a category that makes them morally distinct from, say, "sports". Both have risks, both have rewards, both have positive and negative societal and economic effects. The precise details vary enormously depending according to precisely which drug or sport you're talking about.
    I'm not arguing that pleasure is amoral. I'm just saying that there is nothing intrinsic about drugs that makes their use immoral. Child abuse is obviously a completely different matter, as it is intrinsically immoral.
    I am also not arguing that drugs should all be treated equally, nor that they should be completely unregulated. I have repeatedly stated that I am in fact in favour of very tight regulation of drugs. But prohibition is not the same thing as regulation. You can't regulate a prohibited trade. Prohibition is just a societal washing-of-hands.
    You both seem to be arguing that there is something about "drugs" as a category that makes their use completely distinct from any other category of pleasures. That's what I'm objecting to. If that's not what you're arguing, then I apologise and retire. If that is what you're arguing, I'd like to know exactly what that distinction is.
    Remember, this whole argument kicked off with your statement that "[a] person should be able to enjoy life without requiring drug-based highs." To my mind, that's rather like saying "A person should be able to enjoy life without playing football." True enough, but completely missing the point. Many people don't like football, but there's nothing about football that makes it so inherently undesirable that there is only one possible judgement as to whether it's something you might want to do or not. Yes, it has risks, but I believe that people should be able to chose to accept them.

  • bsci says:

    This is getting just repetitive. I specifically said the category of drugs is diverse and we do treat different drugs differently. This is now a completely semantics argument that's wasting time.

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