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I Can Stop Anytime I Want to

By: David Mandel  

I had a conversation with a nineteen-year-old recently. 

"Why do you drink", I asked him? 

"I can stop any time I want to." 

"I’m sure you can, but why do you drink?" 

"I drink to get a buzz, it makes me feel good." 

"How much do you drink," I asked? 

"Just a few shots, usually scotch but I like other stuff also." 

"How often do you drink?" 

"A few times a week, maybe three or four times a week." 

"I’ve seen you drink and you’re like a chain smoker. When your glass is almost empty you fill up another glass. You always seem to have a drink in your hand. You’re probably an alcoholic or close to it if you drink a few days per week and you have several shots each time." 

"Yeah, well I can stop any time I want to." 

"How long have you been drinking?" 

"Maybe four years." 

"Since you’re fifteen, what about your folks? Your father is well known in the community. He is a professional in a very high profile job." 

"They know I drink. I’m nineteen but" he adds smugly, " I don’t do drugs." 

Several months ago I had a similar conversation with an eighteen year old girl. She was using drugs. She was also a chain smoker. Whenever we met she was pretty hyper. She’d call me to talk about her drug problem. Midway through our first conversation she said she can stop any time she wanted to. "Why don’t you stop right now", I asked, "This very moment and maybe we won’t have to continue this conversation?" 

You could guess her answer to this question. She again insisted that she can stop any time she wanted to, it’s just that now isn’t that moment. Whenever she would have a few dollars her first purchase would be a pack of cigarettes and a few pills. What kind of pills? Whatever was "hot" on the street that week. It’s like Carvel’s flavor of the week. You could hardly keep up with all the different names given to the various drugs. When she didn’t have money, she would go to a party and some guy would do her a favor and give her some pills for free. You can well imagine why guys are so quick to do these favors. 

A drug addict and an alcoholic share the same cycle. It’s a push-pull conversation. They talk about their problem because they know they have one but they’re not ready to do anything serious about it. 

We can all relate to this. Many of us are addicted to our own little vices. We keep talking about stopping something today and starting anew tomorrow. Trouble is its easier to keep doing what we’re accustomed to than changing our behavior. We can each list our own examples: dieting, exercise, seat belts, smoking, teshuva. 

Simchas Torah is a very difficult time for many of our kids who have been diagnosed, labeled and branded as off the derech. 

The question is how many kids will smoke their first marijuana cigarette this Simchas Torah or pop their first ecstasy pill or take their first few drinks? This will, undoubtedly, occur. What can be done to prevent it? How many of these kids will continue on their downward spiral and become addicted like the nineteen year old boy who said I can stop any time or the eighteen year old girl who said she was in complete control. 

Party Time 
This year, as every year, Simchas Torah becomes a special night of celebration for certain kids. All year round when these kids want to party, they do it in an apartment, at a club, at someone’s birthday bash. These events are out of sight. You may hear about them, you may even know some kids who participate but you only know of this second hand. 

But on Simchas Torah night these kids can party in your face. They can come right to you and you feel powerless to do anything partially because they know and you know that lots and lots of people are partying. It becomes difficult to tell a sixteen year old not to get a buzz from drinking when he sees his father or his father’s friends drink a few. 

The first marijuana cigarette or the first ecstasy pill may be an innocuous event for a boy or girl. They’ll probably get one for free from a friend or when they’re part of a crowd. They’re just as likely to get nauseous as they are to get high. Will they continue? That depends most of all on their own values, their inner strength and their group of friends. 

This article is not about boys and girls who have been regularly using drugs or drinking alcohol for the last year or two. This is about the first timers. These are kids who will feel the pressure to belong and to be cool. They look up to the nineteen year old with a drinking problem and the eighteen year old with a drug problem, as role models. 

The parents of a teenager who may be in the early stages of risk face a dilemma on Simchas Torah. How much control can they impose upon him or her? How realistic is it for this teenager not to spend time with friends on Simchas Torah? 

Here are several suggestions: 

It’s common, on erev Simchas Torah evening (this year motzei Shabbos), for groups of friends to go to one house and have a little party. Encourage your son to bring his friends to your house. It may inconvenience you a bit but at least you can exert some control over the liquor and you’ll also see who his friends are. 

Speak to your son or daughter about fun on Simchas Torah. You teach him how to cross the street safely, how to swim, how to ride a bicycle and how to drive. Speak with him, not at him, about the parameters, not the rules, for partying on Simchas Torah. You know your own child best so only you can determine if you should bring up the subject of drugs. 

Be reasonable with the rules that you’re making. This is not the night to impose an early curfew for the first time. 

G-d forbid that you should be hanging around your kid while he is with his friends. There is nothing more embarrassing to a teenager. In his or her circle of friends try to find someone who is one or two years older that you can ask to keep an eye on your son or daughter. 

Perish the thought that a sixteen year old would want to spend Simchas Torah night with his parents, but is there any idea you have to make this evening enjoyable for the two of you to be together? Would your son or daughter want to go to a certain shul or yeshiva for hakafos? Is there anything special they would like to have after Yom Tov that you could offer in return? 

It is fairly certain that a number of boys and girls will experiment with drugs for the first time this Simchas Torah. Understanding the reality of this could make it easier to deal with. If you believe your child is at risk, take a proactive position to discuss this and to consider the options available to you. 

I am still hopeful that the nineteen-year-old with a drinking problem or the eighteen-year-old with the drug problem I referred to earlier, will seek professional counseling. It’s simply not true what addicts say. They cannot stop any time they want to. 

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