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5.18.2011

The bane of modern life

Alcohol and drug addiction is a scourge, a plague and a pox on all our houses. We pass it around like a virus without even knowing it, like the guy at the meeting who coughs his flu on everyone in the room. Some will pick it up and others are immune but he got it somewhere and now you got it, too.

My dad was an alcoholic. At the age of 8 gave me my first sip of beer. I remember the occasion very well, sitting on his knee in our sunroom, a tall glass of fizzy Carling O'Keefe in his hand. I thought it tasted wonderful - probably a very bad sign. As a young teenager, my older brother got me smoking marijuana. He thought it was such a wonderful thing he couldn't help but share. He spread it around to everyone. In my turn I took the insidious disease to my friends and gave it to them. Some of us got better, some became carriers and simply passed it along, while others stayed addicted and constantly sick. With effort, I've managed to keep my drinking moderate and shook off the reefer altogether.

Buddy got addicted to cocaine in high school and managed to kick it for a time. When a doctor prescribed oxycontin as a painkiller, it dragged him back into the pit of desperate need. It took him a few years, a lot of collateral damage along the way, and all the willpower he could muster to kick it again.

And so the stories go. My introduction to abuse was at home, Buddy's was not. It amounts to the same thing in the end. Someone or some environment opened the wrong door and we step through. Except for the deliberate pusher, the one we caught it from was a victim, too, who caught it from someone else.

My grandsons have been exposed to this all their lives, as I was, as so many other children are, and will have to make the call for themselves when someone invites them through that door. We talk about it, prepare them for it, but they will be totally on their own when they have to make one of the most important choices of their inexperienced lives. At a party, or hanging with their buds, a friend, someone they don't want to look uncool in front of, unrolls a line of coke or pulls out a joint and says, "You really gotta check this out, it'll blow you away." Everyone's eyes dart from face to face in sudden game of game of chicken, spin the bottle, Russian Roulette all rolled into one. Who will be the first one in the room to admit that they are so uncool that they haven't already done drugs?

It takes a lot of courage for a kid to turn it down. If their immune system is weak, they'll catch a cold that day they may never get rid of for as long as they live.