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Stanton Peele Stanton Peele

Dear Mr. President, Please Think Carefully About Drugs and Your Daughters


Substance.com intercepts another piece of top-level correspondence.

8 Substance
Score


Dear Mr. President,

I wrote you a while back, remember? I applied to be drug czar.

I’m still waiting for your decision, based on the recommendations you have no doubt received on my behalf from Nora Volkow, Bill Miller and Gabor Maté—all big fans of mine.

Anyhow, in the course of my application because, unlike your current czar, Michael Botticelli, I am able to drink and to consume drugs sensibly, I mentioned that you yourself have mastered substance use. (That is, after you largely quit smoking.) You indicated in your memoir that you smoked pot when you were younger and occasionally even did “blow,” as have other recent presidents.

I also know that when you and Michelle have an evening out you have a couple of cocktails; that you tried to make things okay between Professor Henry Louis Gates and the cop who arrested him at a “beer summit” (at which Joe Biden abstained—Joe strongly disapproves of drugs and alcohol!); and that you miss the days when you might simply stop in a café in Paris for a glass of wine.

But strangely, you’ve shown few signs of wanting to encourage your daughters to develop the same sort of self-determination that you have demonstrated in your own life. When the New Yorker’s David Remnick queried you on your attitudes about their smoking pot, you told him, “I’ve told my daughters I think [smoking marijuana is] a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

It didn’t, we should note, stop you from becoming President of the United States.

It isn’t whether or not they drink or take drugs that determines their life trajectories, it’s what kinds of people they become. And how they turn out in life depends more on your and Michelle’s encouragement, combined with other life experiences, than on what substances they consume.

Some time has passed since that interview a year ago, your daughters have matured, and so I wonder now what you’re teaching your kids about alcohol. When I speak to parents about this, I usually ask, “Who is going to teach your kids to drink?” or, “How will your kids learn to drink?”

If your answer is, “I’ll wait for them to grow up, and hopefully to make the right decision” (a statement many people use to mean they hope their kids will never drink), my response is, “good luck.”

Your daughters, as some people (impolitely or otherwise) have pointed out, seem to be growing up in the manner typical of American teenagers, without totally toeing their parents’ lines. Good for them!

But my concern, Mr. President, is that you are overblowing the effects of substances in the outcomes of your kids’ lives. It isn’t whether or not they drink or take drugs that determines their life trajectories, it’s what kinds of people they become. And how they turn out in life depends more on your and Michelle’s encouragement, combined with other life experiences, than on what substances they consume.

Don’t you know that? As I detailed in my book, Addiction-Proof Your Child, providing your kids with positive values, confidence in their abilities, and adventurous but contained risk-taking and personal experiences are the inoculations against addiction. These are also the paths successful people follow to achieve constructive, non-addicted lives. Look at yourself, for God’s sake!

Just as was true for you, this path will not be without certain sidetracks—including certainly the use of some psychoactive substances. How is it possible to live in 21st Century America without that occurring?

What is important is that you aren’t overcome by the kind of anxiety underlying David Sheff’s bestselling book Beautiful Boy, for example. While David Sheff espouses the goal of freeing children—and parents—from the bondage of drug addiction, his vision of the overpowering effects of substances sadly has the opposite effect of what he intends. Thus, people from the most abstemious cultural backgrounds are those most likely to go overboard with alcohol when they do drink! Please don’t make that same mistake in your family.

Mr. President, I truly understand why you said what you said. To adopt a politically unpopular position, such as refusing to see substances as boogeymen, can make you an outcast.

Believe me, I know (did you ever check out my appearance on Oprah, at a time when my views were seen as even more sacrilegious than they are now?). But after all, you’re nearing the end of your time in charge—so isn’t now the time to put your daughters’ well-being first?

Yours faithfully,

Stanton

Stanton Peele, a columnist for Substance.com, has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice, including uncovering natural recovery, identifying addiction as being not essentially linked to drugs, and focusing on social forces and individual choice in addiction since writing (with Archie Brodsky) Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. His website is Peele.net. Dr. Peele has won career achievement awards from the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies and the Drug Policy Alliance, for whom he recently featured in a special teleconference, which you can listen to here.