Freedom from drug abuse linked to self-esteem

Addiction to drugs depends largely on what individuals believe a drug will do for them. Preventing abuse depends on a person's entire environment, together with the love and worth he feels for himself and others and that others feel for him.

So says a prominent psychologist, Dr. Stanton Peele, New Jersey author of two widely noted books, ''Love and Addiction'' and ''How Much is Too Much?''

''Thinking of addiction solely as a 'disease' or a 'chemical dependency' ignores the power of the mind in generating the need for the drug - and in breaking that need,'' Dr. Peele wrote recently in American Health Magazine.

In an interview, he added, ''The very best way for a young person to stay away from drugs is to get involved in activity that he or she finds rewarding and that other people respect.''

But many parents, desperate that their sons and daughters are hooked on marijuana, cocaine, and a variety of man-made chemicals such as Quaaludes and PCP, have turned to therapy treatment centers.

One of the best known is Straight, Inc., founded in Florida in the mid-1970s and described by its director, Dr. Miller Newton, as incorporating Alcoholics Anonymous's tools.

Youngsters memorize seven steps and a ''serenity prayer'' and write daily ''MIs'' (moral inventories). Their parents and other family members all go through counseling.

At a recent session of the Straight center in northern Virginia, several young people graduated after spending 17 months to two years in the program. The room overflowed with emotion as graduates and parents, using microphones, told a packed audience of other parents and visitors how they had struggled and what their aims were.

Another well-known treatment center is Phoenix House, which has offices in New York and California. Young people can attend counseling and motivation sessions after school, attend a Phoenix House school during the day, or live in at a residential high school.

Many parents were filled with gratitude. Nonetheless, psychologists such as Dr. Peele see Alcoholics Anonymous-type techniques as yielding control of one's thinking, replacing drugs with another form of dependence, and accepting addiction as an inevitable state never to be completely healed.

Self-control and self-mastery are vital, he says. ''Self-cure can work - and depending on someone else to cure you usually doesn't. People quit tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and heroin on their own. They do it all the time. It can be done. The American Cancer Society says 95 percent of people who stop smoking do so on their own. . . .''

Perhaps the most dramatic finding in this area, Dr. Peele said, was that almost 90 percent of veterans who had used heroin in Vietnam gave up the drug when they returned home. In Vietnam they thought they needed it. In the US they did not, showing the power of a person's own thinking about his environment.

Half of those veterans tried heroin again when they came home, but only 14 percent stayed addicted, according to studies by Washington University psychologist Lee Robins.

''The popular belief,'' Dr. Peele said, ''is that people don't quit addictions because withdrawal is so bad. But anyone who smokes goes through withdrawal all the time as he tries to quit, or can't get the cigarettes he wants. People can beat it.

''They relapse when they meet the boredom and tension of whatever else gave them the need for the cigarette in the first place. . . .''

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