What were your attitudes toward use of substances when you were a child and an adolescent?
I did not really have much of an opinion towards addictive substances when I was a child and young adolescent because I did not have much exposure to them. Both of my parents would drink alcohol occasionally, but they were never problem drinkers. They would sometimes offer my brother and I little sips of what they were drinking, but they always made it clear that their beer and wine were “adult drinks” and I was not allowed to have too much. It did not really bother me as I did not much care for the taste at the time.
Other than alcohol, I do not think I was aware of any other types of addictive substances expect perhaps of nicotine in cigarettes. I did not really have a bias towards people who smoked since I did have some family members who did, but I knew of all the negative health risks (I even did a science fair project on it middle school), and thus I had no desire to start that habit.
What was your personal and peer group experience of substance use? How are your views the same or different now? What might it feel like to work with clients making different choices, or to encourage choices that you did not make?
Once I entered high school, I became more aware of other addictive substances. High school is a time when young people first try to exert their independence and that often involves using substances like drugs and alcohol. One of the most memorable experiences during my high school days was when a group of students two grades higher than me were expelled for having and distributing marijuana on school grounds. I remember thinking how stupid those kids were; not for the fact that they were using drugs, but because they were idiotic enough to bring them to school.
Parties are also a staple of the high school experience and I attended a few parties where alcohol was involved. I often did not drink at those parties, but when I did, I tried to limit myself to one drink. I would see how people acted when they got too drunk, and it did not appeal to me all that much.
I think my views on drugs and alcohol are relatively the same. When I was younger, I believed that it was not my place to pass judgment or tell someone not to do something. The only time I really questioned the choices of my friends was when their drug or alcohol use severely negatively impacted their lives like when that group of students brought drugs to campus and were promptly expelled or when a few years after high school, an old friend was pulled over by the police with 68 pounds of marijuana in his car. I wondered to myself, “what could they have possibly been thinking?” “Why make these decisions that will stay with them the rest of their lives?” or “Why did they not think this through?”
But I do not think that it will necessarily be hard for me to work with individuals who made different choices than me. My clients and are I are not the same; we have different families, different experiences, different cultures, etc. As a counselor, I simply want to understand what drove them to make their decisions. I think this has been a consistent characteristic of mine, even before I decided I wanted to be a counselor. It never mattered to me that someone was using drugs and/or alcohol, I was just curious about what led him/her to that decision.
Who advised you about drugs and alcohol, and when? What was your response? What encouraged or discouraged use in the approaches you encountered? What do you hope to emulate or discard from your models?
I probably got my first real education about drugs and alcohol in my high school health class. It was the first high school class I ever took as it was in the summer before school started. But my parents talked to me a little bit, specifically about alcohol. They told me stories about their own drinking experiences, both in high school and in college. They recognized that they could not completely shield me from it since such a prevalent thing in our culture. They only stressed the importance of being safe. They always told me: “if you ever find yourself drunk at a party, call us. It doesn’t matter what time it is, just don’t drink and drive. We won’t be mad at you, we just want you safe.” I think the fact that they had so much trust in me was one of the factors I did not drink much in high school. When I have children, I will remember that it was my parents’ trust and support in my decisions that ultimately led me to make smarter choices.