Red Ribbon Week’s mission is to keep kids drug-free. Some may be surprised to see WakeUp Carolina represented at a drug prevention program since our primary role is to help those who are active in their substance use. Hence, the individuals we help didn’t abstain. So, are we condoning or normalizing drug use because members of our community have done drugs?

Perceiving a representative from a recovery community organization as condoning drug use might stem from a misunderstanding or misconception about the purpose and content of drug prevention programs.

Here are some reasons why an individual could have this perception:

  • Lack of Awareness: Some may not be familiar with the concept of harm reduction or recovery-focused approaches to substance use. They might mistakenly believe that discussing recovery is equivalent to promoting drug use.
  • Stigma and Prejudice: Stigma surrounding addiction can lead to judgment and discrimination. People who hold stigmatizing beliefs may view any discussion of addiction, even in the context of recovery, as condoning or normalizing drug use.
  • Fear of Controversy: Teachers and parents may be concerned about potential controversy or backlash from the community. They might worry that having a guest speaker from a recovery community organization could be misinterpreted as advocating for drug use, leading to negative reactions from others.
  • Misperception of the Speaker’s Message: Sometimes, a guest speaker’s message or personal story may be misunderstood. If a speaker shares their journey from substance use to recovery, some individuals might mistakenly focus on the part of their story when they were using drugs rather than the recovery process.
  • Simplistic Beliefs: Some people hold very black-and-white views about drug use, seeing it as an entirely negative and immoral choice. They may struggle to grasp the complexities of substance use and recovery and, therefore, interpret any discussion as condoning substance use.

To address these perceptions and concerns, it’s essential to clarify the objectives and content of a drug prevention program, as well as our role.

Here’s what we want you to know:

  • Some of the information shared by our staff with the community may make teens feel uncomfortable about the realities of using substances. We speak on our lived experience and some of the decisions and/or situations we ended up in are very serious. The goal isn’t to scare young adults into not using. It’s to share the lengths our substance use took us to keep the charade going. We feel this reality is the only way to show them there can be hope on the other side.
  • Discussing recovery is a critical aspect of understanding the consequences of drug use and the possibility of change.
  • Educating adolescents about recovery is not the same as advocating for or encouraging substance use. The aim is to empower them to make informed decisions. Our message is intended to educate and inspire, not to endorse substances of any kind.
  • Substance use affects not only the individual but also their families, friends, and communities. Discussing how to support individuals in recovery contributes to stronger, healthier communities.
  • Evidence supporting harm reduction and recovery-focused approaches to substance use has been shown to be effective in reducing harm and supporting individuals in their journey to recovery. Leaving the door open for individuals when they want to change is the goal.
  • Empathy and support for individuals who have faced substance use are important. Understanding and compassion are essential components of a caring and inclusive community.
  • Creating opportunities for questions and discussions can help directly address any concerns or misconceptions and provide a platform for clarification.

Debunking the misconception that educating adolescents about substance use recovery condones the use of illegal substances requires clear communication, evidence-based information, and a focus on prevention and empathy. By taking these steps, we can help ensure that drug prevention programs are understood and appreciated for their role in promoting informed decision-making and supporting healthier communities.

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