Cause for Alarm


Addiction is anything but fiction and it is most definitely cause for alarm as today’s guest blogger, Jeff Vande Zande, so eloquently shares. Jeff teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Delta College and is the author of Detroit Muscle, a novel that explores the challenges of a young man in early recovery. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your perspective – as a parent and as a son.

In my family, we often waited eagerly for five o’clock in the afternoon. You see, five o’clock was the arbitrary time my father set for himself before he could have any brandy for the day. Up until five o’clock, my father was often very grumpy but, regardless, it was very rare for him to break his five o’clock rule. I guess it was a way for him to have some kind of control over his addiction. Once he would start drinking, he used a very small glass – probably to be able to tell himself, and to show us, that he was only having a little. It wasn’t lost on any of us that he refilled the glass at least a dozen times or more an evening.

Of course, we didn’t say anything. We were living with a myth… the myth of the innocuous alcoholic.

When drinking, my father was quite happy; brandy always affected his mood in a positive way. He would laugh more. He told great stories. He smiled. And then, by nine or so, he’d go to bed. We didn’t begrudge him his drinking. He’d had a hard life. In fact, I don’t think we gave his drinking much thought. He drank, he became happy, he went to bed.

It seemed harmless enough. Do we have to raise alarms about everything?

It strikes me that this might be the question in parents’ heads when it comes to their teens and weed. Marijuana has been in the news quite a bit lately. Some states are legalizing it; others are considering. We hear many stories about the medicinal uses of marijuana, and many of them can’t be denied. The upshot? Well, for some of us, when we discover those rolling papers in our kid’s car, or the pot pipe in the jacket pocket, or smell the unmistakable smell… maybe we turn a blind eye. Maybe we reprimand, but with a wry smile that says, “Just go easy on that stuff.” Maybe we punish, but then don’t follow up. Maybe we don’t say anything. Maybe we are relieved that it’s “only” weed… that it’s not the countless other hardcore drugs that we’ve heard about: cocaine, heroin, oxy, crack, etc.

Maybe what we do is buy into the myth… the myth of innocuous marijuana.

We’ve heard that you can’t get addicted to it. We’ve heard that it’s not really a “gateway” drug. We’ve heard that it helps people with their pain, with their insomnia, and with their appetite. No doubt about it, used correctly and for the right reasons, marijuana has its benefits for some. Just keep in mind, your teen isn’t using it for the right reasons. If you catch your teen with weed, you’re on the brink of something that could end up being a very painful journey. Most stories of addicted teens are told by parents, and that story often begins with weed. Of course, traced back farther, those stories actually begin with curiosity, boredom, or a desire to fit in. Many of those stories also begin with peer pressure or confusion or emotional pain or disconnection or the myriad other sources that can put our teens in an existential hell.

Maybe chemically marijuana isn’t a gateway drug, but it is a gateway into a world where access to harder drugs becomes easier.

Many of the folks that can get your kids weed can get them just about anything else that they would want. And, the folks that your kid is smoking weed with? Well, many of them do much more than weed. Just because your kid is self-medicating with pot doesn’t mean that all of their stress has gone away. It doesn’t eliminate the peer pressure, confusion, pain, or disconnection that lead your teen to weed in the first place. It just masks it. Everything that made weed appealing (even if it’s just boredom) is still there. Your teen was already bold enough to try weed. Why wouldn’t he try a pill that a “friend” has used for a “delicious high?” Why wouldn’t she try heroin if her boyfriend promises that it’s going erase everything that she’s going through? The world and people that introduce your teen to weed are the world and people that can introduce your teen to almost any other drug. If your teen is smoking weed, the red flag has gone up, and it’s begging you to pay attention. It’s time to get vigilant. It’s time to punish with consequences. It’s time to randomly drug test. It’s time to get your kid out of that crowd.

For a teen without the developed brain capacity to truly weigh consequences, there’s no such thing as a harmless drug.

Despite our clinging to our myth, my father’s relationship to alcohol wasn’t harmless. Over the course of his life, he developed Type II diabetes, which was directly related to his alcohol consumption. Sadly, his nightly brandy consumption also lead to him wearing down the lining of his esophagus and eventually developing esophageal cancer. He died at 68 … much too young. I miss him every day and sometimes wonder if we, as a family, should have intervened.

It’s a terrible question to live with… Could we have done more?

It’s the question the mother in my novel Detroit Muscle lives with. Robby Cooper, her son, is recovering from an OxyContin addiction. She’s worried for him although she doesn’t really understand what he’s going through. Everything that lead him to Oxy is still there: his life that is seemingly going nowhere, his lost love, his disbanded garage band. The pain and stress our teens feel is so real to them. We need to find out what they are going through and help them find a different way to deal with the angst and suffering of those teen years. If they show signs of helplessness (like using weed) then we have to turn up the volume on our efforts. Weed is cause for alarm. Period.

About our Guest Blogger:                              Jeff Vande Zande - guest blogger

Jeff Vande Zande teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Delta College. His books of fiction include Emergency Stopping and Other Stories, Into the Desperate Country, Landscape with Fragmented Figures and Threatened Species and Other Stories (Whistling Shade Press). His novel American Poet won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author and a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. He maintains a website at




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