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Earlier this week, fears that another senseless shooting had occurred are now believed to be the cause of drug violence and territory.

While there is some comfort knowing that it was not a random act, it is greatly disturbing that this incident is approached so nonchalantly. Although there is nothing we can do about the random acts of a disturbed individual, changes in drug policy and treating addiction in schools certainly can be. So why is addiction and alcoholism in teens considered somehow less of a threat, despite it being far more common than an issue over which we have little (if any) control?

The failed “War on Drugs” campaign did have some positive impact on policy and public opinion. Although it did not reduce drug addiction rates in the US, it set the stage for providing drug offenders opportunities at drug and alcohol treatment as an alternative to jail. What it did not do was eradicate the violence or the disease of addiction itself.

Why has it failed? The War on Drugs failed because addiction and alcoholism are not moral or cultural issues. They are physiological and mental issues. It is not a weakness in a person’s character; it is a matter of how their bodies and minds process the chemicals they ingest.

Drug addiction and alcoholism is still considered a major health problem for teens by the CDC. Despite this fact, little is done to treat or combat the issue, rather than the symptoms. Instead, the disease is glorified and celebrated as a badge of honor. Sadly, the reality sometimes comes too late that the affliction is a liability, rather than a celebratory token.

Using this incident as an example, what are some of the things that could have prevented such terror from gripping parents, students, and the country alike?

First would be awareness of the issue. Without awareness of a problem—let alone an acknowledgement that a problem exists—no headway can be made. Again, much of this is coming to terms that—yes—teens can suffer from addiction and alcoholism just as adults can. As such, they should be given the same opportunities to get help for their issues, and not just have it written off as “being a bad egg” or a phase.

Second would be having an intervention policy both in the home and with the schools. Parents ultimately have the final say, but the school’s stance in helping rather than harming goes a long way. Providing a way out, rather than the impending hammer of punishment dangling overhead, can be one of the final lines of defense when parental involvement does not detect a problem—or, when nothing is done about said problem.

Finally, there needs to be an alternative to punishment. Again, addiction and alcoholism are not morality or judgment flaws. They are the common name of the same illness, and we as a society (at least tentatively agree) not choose to punish those who are ill. Instead, the presentation of the issue is evidence that the problem exists, and that it needs to be handled appropriately.

What are your thoughts? How can we best help teens with addiction and alcoholism? Let us know in the comments section below!

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