A letter to Stowe parents:

I grew up in Stowe. So did some of you. I learned how to drink a lot of alcohol growing up here. So did some of you. 

I also used cannabis daily. Perhaps some of you did, too, and maybe still do. All of this is fine. Until it isn’t.

I went on to use MDMA (aka Molly or Ecstasy), LSD, cocaine and pills like Valium and Ritalin. If I hadn’t developed acute pancreatitis at age 20 — rushed to Copley Hospital where I spent five days under the excellent care of Dr. David Coddaire — from excessive alcohol use and super unhealthy living, followed by six months of rehab, I’d be dead. Some of my friends growing up are dead from suicides, fatal car wrecks, overdose deaths.

Guess what? It’s not so different now. Alcohol isn’t bad; too much alcohol is deadly. Cannabis isn’t bad; too much cannabis is harmful. I appreciate the culture and economics of the craft beer and alcohol industry in Vermont. I support legal cannabis. I advocate for the decriminalization of all drugs and plant medicines.

My non-profit, CARTER Inc., Center for Addiction Recognition Treatment Education Recovery, in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health, administers the Impaired Driver Rehab program for alcohol- and drug-driving offenses. I’ve seen and heard a lot of stories and lived through my own. 

What I find most harmful is our collective attitude toward alcohol and drugs. It was the same when I grew up in Stowe. My parents had booze in the house, which I stole and tried to sneak and hide. The absence of permission fostered rebellion.

Some parents bought kegs and booze and hosted parties for high schoolers, hoping that it would be better to have kids drink in a safe setting. But it wasn’t. Such “safe” settings signaled some of us to drink even more and become more reckless because we had permission.

The fact is that the more permissive and relaxed we are about alcohol and drug use, the more we minimize the harm that comes from using too much. We inadvertently teach our kids that excessive alcohol and drug use is normal, even expected.

Kids of all ages who see adults drunk or high find it traumatic at first, until they get used to it. They begin to see it as normal. They adjust their nervous system to the experience and begin to expect it.

We condition them not to drink responsibly but to learn to deal with being drunk or high. We are a drinking town with a skiing problem, right? Alcohol is a major economic driver in Stowe and in Vermont. The COVID19 pandemic has increased our acceptance of drinking larger amounts even more frequently.

I have no illusions that this brief editorial will make any substantive changes.

Let it simply be a call to be more thoughtful about the role alcohol and drugs play in our lives.

Let it shine a light on the attitudes we share toward these substances, and the behaviors often associated with excessive consumption.

Let us rise up to be better role models — neither punitive nor permissive, neither shaming nor shameless.

Let us remember to be responsible with our own bodies and minds first, so that we can teach personal responsibility and self-care to our kids.

Let it be a call to rethink the way our kids grow up here in this wonderful town of Stowe in this amazing state of Vermont. 

Dr. Rick Barnett is a licensed clinical psychologist-doctorate, licensed alcohol and drug counselor in independent clinical practice in Stowe. He lives in Stowe.

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