Drugs And The Search For Happiness

Newtown Bee Editorial

Newtown’s astonishing growth in the past 20 years has brought thousands of families to our community in search of happiness. On the surface, it looks like a happy place. It has a Main Street with irresistible charm, a high school acknowledged as one of the best around, and neighborhood after neighborhood of prosperous families. Yet the recurring arrests of heroin users and dealers and, more tragically, drug-related deaths have revealed a side of our changing town that is hard to look at. This week, we are publishing a sobering and unflattering view of Newtown’s substance abuse problems detailed in interviews with two people with an intimate knowledge of the town’s drug scene. While it is a disturbing story, we think it should be required reading for every family.

What we are learning as a community, through such blunt accounts and through the educational efforts of groups like Newtown’s Parent Connection and the Drug Prevention Council, is that wealth, privilege, power, and leisure — the four aces of happiness as defined by our culture — offer little or no protection against the kinds of substance abuse problems we tend to associate with inner cities, poverty, and powerlessness. In fact, the opposite may be true. Among adolescents, affluence may offer as much or more predisposition to substance abuse as it does protection from it.

In talking with the two sources for our story this week, we learned that “status” counts in Newtown when you are growing up. But as a recovering heroin addict and one-time drug dealer put it, “Heroin has no prejudice… it doesn’t care what religion you are or what economic bracket you’re in.” In Newtown, if you don’t excel at sports or your parents are not well off, you are in real social trouble, according to one young woman who has since moved away from town. “Kids will do anything to fit in,” she observed, “and that’s how it starts.” But it is not only the misfits who get in over their heads. “My best customers were the preppy, rich kids,” the ex-dealer told us.

The young people in Newtown who have fallen into the grip of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are the leading indicators of an equally serious problem — faltering families. The three key risk factors for adolescent substance abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are chaotic home environments, ineffective parenting, and the lack of mutual attachments or nurturing. As many parents know, life with adolescents is practically the definition of a chaotic home environment. Overcoming these risk factors is easier said than done. Understanding this, the Newtown Prevention Council is trying to provide Newtown parents with the information and support they need by creating an “action plan” to coordinate local efforts and to establish a network to disseminate preventative and treatment information. The effort requires the entire community’s support. This is not a wake-up call. The time to wake up was 20 years ago. This is an emergency alarm.

In the meantime, parents who are busy shuffling the deck in search of those four aces of happiness need to stop, look up, and reach a hand out to their kids — that will be the winning hand that ultimately brings them happiness.

Used with permission Copyright © 1999-2004 Bee Publishing Company