Just say yes to a life filled with value
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on January 9, 2005.
They smoke the poison into their lungs, snort it up their noses, even inject it into the blood of their veins.
As has been reported across the state, Sam Lincoln allegedly got into methamphetamine, started working as the muscle for a local meth gang, and tried to kill three people. Allegedly, he stabbed somebody around Glenwood Springs, shot a man in the desert near the airport, and shot at a cop.
Now his life as he knew it is probably over.
While we don't know Lincoln personally, we know people who do. Members of his family run successful, respected businesses in the community. They break bread with us. Now they are heartbroken.
Parents, are you paying attention and reading these stories to your teens? Now, the best thing that can come from Lincoln's tragedy is a cautionary tale. Choose a different path!
We've also heard about random acts of violence, thefts, child abuse, and destruction of property associated with meth use. We've heard some meth users described as damaging their bodies to the extent that they resemble victims of concentration camps. Others rot in prison, having squandered countless opportunities to reform and do right by their children.
Anecdotal evidence we've heard squares with the official account: methamphetamine tends to be addictive and its use can make people more susceptible to extreme paranoia and inclinations to violence. It is truly nasty stuff.
It is also true that people use methamphetamine, and indeed many other sorts of drugs, as escape mechanisms. What people seek in using these drugs, they will not find there, in the cheap thrill of a drug high. What people need, and what parents and schools too often fail to encourage, is the creation of a life filled with rational values.
The popular account -- that meth turns people into monsters and that the answer is to throw more money at the problem -- is woefully inadequate. The problem is not, fundamentally, meth.
What you don't read about in the headlines is the fact that most people who use meth quit using it of their own free choice, because they want to live a better life. They turn their lives around before they destroy their health, steal, or attack people. And they do it without spending a dime of taxpayers' money on fancy rehabilitation clinics.
We're heartened to hear talk of sending nonviolent offenders to rehab rather than prison. But all the rehab in the world won't help a person who refuses to make a conscious choice to improve his or her own life.
It is a dangerous and foolish myth that drugs fundamentally control people. People are not the victims of drugs -- they are the victims of their own stupid decisions.
Yes, meth is addictive. So is alcohol and sugar. As psychologist Jeffrey Schaler puts it, addiction is a choice. We are not denying the physiological aspects of drug addiction, but we are affirming the primacy of free will.
If you're addicted to meth, it's your own fault. So quit blaming the drug, or your family, or your teachers, or your upbringing. It's your fault, your mistake, your screw-up -- and you are the person responsible for improving your life and finding real, life-enhancing values. Yes, help is available, but you have to seek it out and adopt it.
The cops, councilors, journalists, and politicians also need to heed this basic truth. The myth that drugs overpower hapless victims actually enables drug abuse. The myth does make for convenient hysteria that sells more papers and wins more votes and tax dollars.
Drugs, by themselves, can do nothing. They are inanimate chemicals. What matters are people's choices. If some villain forced meth into our bodies, we'd hate it and never touch it again. On the other hand, if you take meth away from somebody with deep psychological problems and a self-created addictive personality, the person will merely turn to booze or some other self-destructive behavior.
One of our relatives drank herself to death at the age of 39. She was hopelessly addicted to the drug alcohol. She ruined her health, squandered her money, and, finally, slowly killed herself on a couch soaked with her own vomit and urine.
We drink alcohol in moderation (though one of us admits to some poor youthful decisions). For us, alcohol, be it a beer at a party or a glass of wine with dinner, is truly a recreational drug (one for which the valley is increasingly famous).
Jacob Sullum notes that amphetamines were legal over-the-counter until the 1950s. (Sullum also notes, "Alcohol is the drug that is most strongly associated with violence.") However, methamphetamine as produced in today's illegal and dangerous labs is poisonous, utterly without legitimate use.
If we want the youth to listen to us, we need a more sophisticated message than "say no to drugs." We need a message of individual responsibility, the reality of free will, and the vital importance of creating life-enhancing values.