Section XVI The Family and Spiritual Influences
We made some reference to the influence of the family in Section III Causes of Non-Medical Drug Use, and in particular to the study by Richard Blum and Associates entitled Horatio Alger's Children. Response to our Interim Report suggested that too little attention had been paid to the role of the family, and while the significance of the family was necessarily implied in many of our observations concerning the causes of non-medical drug use, this comment was probably justified. Certainly, we have become increasingly impressed in the course of our inquiry by the importance of the family in relation to the whole phenomenon of drug use, medical and non-medical, legal and illegal. Indeed, the family would appear to be the most important of the formative influences. A propensity to harmful drug use may often originate in the early years when the child is most susceptible to family influences. The example set by parents is critical, both in their own use of drugs and in the importance which they appear to attach generally to reliance on the use of drugs to relieve discomfort. The capacity to accept our emotional cycle, tolerate frustration and to cope with stress all owe a great deal to family influence. Parents also have an important role to play in the development of attitudes toward the law.
A good deal of helpful instruction about drugs can be given in the family if parents take the trouble to inform themselves accurately on essential matters of fact, but the most important thing to be conveyed is general attitude. This has to do with the importance which drugs are to assume in one's life. An example is set by the self-administration of drugs which are intended for medical purposes. Parents will certainly influence the drug use of their children by the extent to which they make use of analgesics, tranquilizers, barbiturates, and stimulants to cope with the aches, stresses and fatigues of daily living. If they rely very heavily on the use of drugs for such purposes they may encourage a similar reliance in their children. Then, of course, their use of tobacco and alcohol can also have a critical influence, particularly if they are seen to be essential props to their poise and equilibrium.
Some take the view that most, if not all of these substances, can be taken in moderation with beneficial effect, and that the best influence that parents can have on their children's attitude towards drugs is not to try to inculcate an unreal goal of abstinence but rather a healthy respect for drugs and an ability to use them wisely. This comes back to the question of what should be our general social objective with respect to non-medical drug use. We reaffirm our own view that it should be to encourage people to reduce their overall use as much as possible, but to the extent that they must engage in drug use, to assist them to make a wise use of drugs that will avoid harm as much as possible. The family is probably the most important and effective influence for laying the foundations for such an approach.
This healthy respect for drugs—that they are potent substances with a potential for good and a potential for harm, and as such should be used with great discrimination—should be developed in the very early years. Essentially, it is a position that drugs are only to be used when necessary. The mother can have a very profound influence by the restraint which she exercises, for example, in the use of aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs for self-medication. At the same time, one must be careful not to develop an unreasoning distrust of drugs and a refusal to make use of the assistance that modern medicine can offer for a variety of conditions which seriously impair the capacity to function and to relate effectively to other human beings. Because an over-emphasis on the reliance on drugs has led to a general increase in the use of drugs for all purposes is no reason to go to the other extreme and to reject the benefits of a discriminating use of drugs altogether.
There are certain factors having a bearing on non-medical drug use which it is more difficult for the family to cope with or influence. These are factors arising out of the general nature of modern life: the rapid rate of change with its frightening challenge to the power of adaptation; the bombardment of the nervous system by stimuli of all kinds; depression about some of the gigantic and seemingly insoluble problems that face humanity—overpopulation, pollution, depletion of resources, racial tension, continuous resort to war—and the resulting uncertainty about the future.
The family, like other institutions, is influenced by a greater emphasis in the general atmosphere on pleasure, self-indulgence and enjoyment of the present. This is fostered by the impression that everything is changing, that nothing is certain, that it is useless to plan or to sacrifice the present for a future that may never come. There is concern about spending too much time in work and not getting enough fun out of life. There is not the same feeling as there used to be that there will be time for everything before life is over. There is not the same readiness to put things off. All of this stimulates a general desire for experience and sensation of all kinds. It is in this general atmosphere of emphasis on present pleasure, in the family as elsewhere, that drug use exerts its attraction.
It is difficult for parents today to assist their children to meet the challenge of change. Whereas previous generations could plan and prepare for a fairly specific future, having reason to believe that the things they were learning from parents and teachers would be relevant and useful in the future, modern youth does not have this assurance. It feels that very little of what the older generation has to convey will be of much use to it in the future. Take, for example, the older generation's experience with the family—the most important formative influence and source of human satisfaction; this ought to be among the most important lessons which it has to transmit. Yet the family is under severe challenge and appears to be going through a profound change. This change is being brought about by (among other things) the revolution in the attitude towards the role of woman and the place of authority in the modern world. The nuclear family may continue to try to impart a certain sense of security and assurance but children instinctively know that they are moving into a new world. They perceive the essential outline of its new relationships and new values but they are uncertain as to how successful they will be in adapting to it. Parents and children must meet the challenge of adaptation together, although the children have farther to go. Parents can help by showing their awareness of the great uncertainty and anxiety of this adventure and by trying to reinforce confidence in the future. They can also show that they understand why their children must experiment and otherwise develop their capacity to cope with change. This, of course, does not exclude the presentation by parents of their own values, attitudes and expectations, as in the case of Blum's "low-risk" families, to which reference is made in Section III Causes of Non-Medical Drug Use.
There is every reason to hope and believe that the sense of self-acceptance, personal security and responsibility that can be fostered by good family relations will continue to be serviceable in the new world into which the younger generation is moving. Understanding, openness and trust have been constantly stressed in the course of our inquiry as qualities that permit parents and children to communicate effectively. Such communication is one of the means by which family life as an important social structure can exert its constructive influence.
Many of the problems involved in non-medical drug use result from the manner in which we react to it. The reaction of parents on discovering that their children have been engaged in non-medical drug use is of crucial importance. The first step is to try to maintain a sense of proportion about the relative danger and seriousness of the conduct. This, of course, depends on the nature of the particular drug use, and the degree of involvement. The second step is to try to discuss it rationally in order to bring out all the relevant factors and an understanding of what should be done about it. The third step is to avoid withdrawing personal support. We cannot think of any situation that can be improved by parental rejection or the denial of the existence of facts and realities. There can be disapproval of specific conduct without rejection of the child.
It must be acknowledged, however, that the influence of the family has been increasingly undermined by the difficulty which parents experience in being sufficiently informed in many areas in which their children have more sophisticated knowledge. It is for this reason that parents require drug education as much as their children.
Although there were some notable exceptions, such as the United Church of Canada, the organized churches as such did not play a very prominent part in the Commission's public hearings. Invitations to make submissions were sent to all the official church organizations, but only a few of them responded. We did, however, hear from many ministers of religion and laymen on what they felt to be the relation of religious faith and practice to the challenge presented by non-medical drug use. Subsequently, the Commission conducted a survey of opinion among the administrative heads of various religious denominations. A general theme that emerged from the opinion expressed to us by ministers of religion and others involved in the work of the churches was an over-riding concern with what they perceived to be a decline in spiritual values and a corresponding adherence to materialistic or hedonistic goals and values. A characteristic expression of this view was the following statement by the Board of Evangelism and Social Service of the United Church of Canada: "We have accepted too easily the hedonism of our North American culture, with each person interested in `doing his own thing'."
According to our survey, the churches and other religious organizations like the Salvation Am! have been involved in a variety of activities aimed at helping people with problems related to non-medical drug use. These include personal counselling, cooperation with and referral to community services of various kinds, informational and educational programs, the provision of shelter, and special facilities and activities for youth. Some of the churches have been actively involved in the sponsorship of innovative services of various kinds.
Religious faith obviously has an important role to play in relation to non-medical drug use. This faith, and the strength that derives from it, can assist the individual in his struggle to avoid or overcome dependence on drugs. Its force has been demonstrated in the work of Alcoholics Anonymous. Involvement in groups or movements of a mystical, altruistic or religious tendency has apparently permitted many persons to renounce the excessive use of certain drugs. For example, a small proportion of drug users have found in certain eastern religious disciplines the inspiration which has helped them to abstain from drug use or at least to use drugs with more moderation.
There is another important principle involved in the work of Alcoholics Anonymous that should also flow inevitably from religious conviction, and that is involvement in helping others. It is a cardinal principle of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholics become involved in helping others as part of their own rehabilitation. Excessive drug use often reflects an excessive preoccupation with self—with one's moods, state of mind, sensations, discomforts and pleasures—and an insufficient involvement with others. Involvement in being of service to others can act as a prevention and a remedy.
There are many manifestations of spiritual concern among young people today. The whole re-examination of our values, in which young people have played a catalyzing role, has a certain spiritual aspect. It is concerned with rediscovering the essential nature of our humanity and our duty to our fellow man. From some source of inspiration has come a strong desire in many young people to be of service. Perhaps they do not constitute a majority but they are certainly a significant minority. They increasingly seek a role that will help them to express their individuality but at the same time will give meaning and value to their lives. More and more of them are seeking this value in trying to be of help to others.
There is a great potential in this spirit for constructive alternatives to drug use. There is much work to be done in the community to be of help to others: with youth, with the aged, with immigrants, with native peoples, and with the handicapped, the poor and the underprivileged generally. There has been support for many such enterprises from both government and private agencies. There is great scope for such service in the field of drug use itself. As we said in Section XI Social Rehabilitation above, we require many more people—a whole new lay ministry—with the dedication, the patience and the practical skills to work in a one-to-one relationship on the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons trying to escape from the misery and defeat of drug dependence.