Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reflections on the family, otherwise known as "the anti-drug" (Part 1 of 3)

The approach of Red Ribbon Week reminds us all of the fact that community, at its best, tends to be among the most effective antidotes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Community can, of course, take many forms – whether it be municipal (your town), professional, faith-based, neighborhood or otherwise.

But I would agree with commentators from different schools of thought who have said, in so many words, that the foundational community is the family.

Admittedly, this statement sounds a little simplistic. Our research, however, suggests otherwise. When we started our community coalition work in Genesee County, we conducted a needs assessment using the Communities That Care (CTC) Youth Survey; from the results, we were able to identify two primary risk factors for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use, and one of them was Favorable Parental Attitudes and Involvement in the Problem Behavior (also, a recent study in Orleans County identified sibling drug use as a key risk factor). Likewise, we identified four protective factors for improvement, and two of the four were: Family Attachment and Family Involvement. In the cases of both risk and prevention, then, family relations are a good half of the overall picture.

Why is this, exactly? I’m no psychologist, but I think I can point to some key things that everyone can recognize about family. In the midst of a loving and supportive family, people gain a sense of who they are and a sense of belonging.

No family is perfect, and oftentimes the more tightly knit a family is, the more fighting (in the more benign sense) there tends to be. Those of you who have had the experience of being parents and/or siblings can attest to this, right? But at its best, being part of a family can give each individual a sense of his/her part in a communal situation and of his/her responsibility towards others. By the same token, growing up within a broken or troubled family environment can impede one’s development in these areas.

While this is not always the case, people often turn to drugs and alcohol to fill some kind of “gap” in their existences, to compensate for a lack of meaning in their lives. Could it be that the general sense of meaning that comes with and from family life (along with the headaches) has been weakened in recent years, and that this is a key contributive factor behind the aforementioned phenomenon?

A lot of people have talked about how the American family has suffered over the last 30-40 years. Certainly, the family lives of many of today’s youths are cases in point. I’d like, in the next segment of this 3-part post, to talk about my theory of what exactly has happened to the American family, before suggesting a remedial approach in the third part.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Ford

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