Last updated: November 27, 2023
General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, Retired, appeared as the keynote speaker at the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association’s (NDASA) annual conference earlier this month. He spoke on the impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace and, subsequently, our communities.
General McCaffrey served in the United States Army and retired as a four-star General after 32 years of service. He was the most highly decorated serving General at the time of his retirement. General McCaffrey received three Purple Heart medals for having been wounded in combat, two Distinguished Service Crosses, which is the nation’s second-highest award for valor, and two Silver Stars for valor.
After leaving the military, he served as the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Currently, General McCaffrey is President of McCaffrey Associates, a consulting firm. He also serves as a national security and terrorism analyst for NBC News.
The nature of adolescent drug use
Drug addictions don’t always form in the same manner. General McCaffrey began his presentation at the 2022 National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association Conference earlier this month addressing the catalysts that cause drug addiction.
It’s a known fact that a lot of adolescents experiment with drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. The world has made it seem a rite of passage that few young people pass by without traveling to some degree. That’s because trying new things—especially ones that are portrayed as nothing more than pure fun—and taking risks are prewired into the adolescent brain.
The problem is many of them don’t stop using drugs. As a matter of fact, it’s been widely reported that 9 out of 10 adult addicts claim to have begun using drugs before the age of 18.
Drug use chemically alters the brain
According to Dr. Nora Bolkow, M.D., drug addiction is a brain disease. She pioneered the use of brain imaging to investigate what drugs really do to the human brain to prove her point.
Neuro-chemical changes occur within the brain and cause addiction. After a time, the brain accepts the feelings associated with impairment as being “normal.” When that happens, it takes a larger dose to achieve the desired result. In real-time, it puts the addict at a higher risk of overdosing each time the dose is increased.
Moreover, once the brain expects to be impaired, the body can react negatively when there are no drugs present. This is known as withdrawal.
Additionally, chemical addiction is tied to the co-morbidity of mental health issues. Persons suffering from mood or anxiety disorders are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a drug use disorder as well.
Risk factors fall into play
There are several factors that put adolescents at higher risk of using drugs.
- Lack of parental supervision
- Availability of drugs at school
- Community poverty
- Parents or older family members who abuse drugs or alcohol
- Aggressive behavior in childhood
Moreover, children who are born to addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
Some good news to report
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically cut down on the time that adolescents spent away from their parents. This coincides with the fact that there was a drastic decrease in adolescent drug use in 2021. In fact, it was the largest one-year decrease in overall drug use since 1975!
Case in point, the adolescent marijuana use rate among 12th graders in 2021 was 33%. It was over 50% in the 70s. Binge drinking dropped substantially during the COVID crisis as well.
Veterans and drug addiction
People living in stressful situations often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their situation. Military personnel who are living in war-torn countries deal with stress 24/7. Not only the stress created by current living situations, but they have thoughts of their families trying to do life back at home without them to contend with as well.
However, when comparing military personnel to the civilian population, only 3% of them report illicit drug use, whereas 12% of the general public reported the same. That said, though, reported drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise. So is suicide—the civilian population experienced about the same rise in percentage rate.
What to do
General McCaffrey ended his time at the NDASA conference by leaving the crowd on a positive note. There are ways to combat drug addiction in the family, the workplace, and within the community.
Drug prevention needs to begin at home, sitting around the table in the kitchen and having serious family discussions about the dangers of drug use. The school system should keep drug prevention in the curriculum. Additionally, enforcing the school’s drug-free policies should remain a top priority.
The most dangerous time for kids is the period when so many go unsupervised after school. Don’t allow them to roam the streets. Consider signing them up for an extracurricular activity that interests them. They will find like-minded friends there and busy kids are less likely to abuse drugs.
It’s essential that the community supports parent-led programs. Think DARE or the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)—which is the nation’s leading national non-profit for substance abuse misuse prevention.
And, of course, drug-free workplace programs are essential to fighting drug abuse in the workplace. When word gets out that there’s going to be a drug test, someone with a drug problem is going to think twice about applying for a job.
Drug abuse is destroying families and communities across the United States. But, if we can get a hold of the youth of the nation by continually reaching out, the tide will turn for the better.
Let’s keep striving for that.