For my grandkids and others, going back to school is a time of excitement and potential as they reconnect with friends and get back to a learning environment. But for some, especially college students, returning to school can have a dark side as alcohol consumption and drug abuse continue to adversely affect many students’ school experience.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on any given day 1.2 million full-time college students drink alcohol and more than 703,000 are using marijuana. Consumption by high school students is also a concern, and statistics show that U.S. prescription drug overdoses kill more people than car crashes.
Although for years studies have encouraged moderation in consumption, recently the call to address these disruptive behaviors before they develop at early ages has become more pointed.
I’m sure each of us can understand the myriad pressures that a student faces – to fit in, get that scholarship, perform well athletically, etc. To help, I’ve always been in the designated driver group. From that point of support, I have always had a deep desire to help those around me, because I’ve found that turning to spiritual truths about our identity leads to lasting health and satisfaction.
A few years ago, I explored spiritual ideas to help those struggling with painkiller addiction. While the Food and Drug Administration supports a shift to medication alternatives, and holistic and even regular medical practitioners advocate using alternatives to pain medication, I have found holding to spiritual truths in prayer, and sharing these truths – such as one’s innate innocence and freedom as the expression of divine Love – able to bring about complete healing.
For example, years ago my wife and I were leading a group of students through Europe, and on the last evening an adult leader from another American group contacted us and told us that he had a girl they were preparing to send home, as she had been troublesome. She had been drinking and doing everything she shouldn’t while on the trip. They knew she was of the same faith as my wife and I, and requested that we go to her room and try to help her. We went to her room and found her ill and semi-conscious from alcohol consumption. As we prayed about this situation, we realized we had to see the pure, spiritual identity of this girl – created and cherished by God. We took out a copy of the Christian Science Sentinel, which included an account of healing of a person in a similar situation, and crossed out that person’s name and put this girl’s name in its place. We left the article under her pillow, and continued to cherish her spiritual identity as we traveled back to America, knowing her group would get her safely back to the States.
A year later back home, we attended a church that we hadn’t been to in quite some time. As we walked into the edifice, this girl that we had met in France was ushering. She came down the aisle and gave us each a big hug, and after the service she told us how she had awakened from her stupor in Paris the morning after our visit and was a changed person. Her parents told us that the only similarity to the daughter that left them for Europe was the picture on her driver’s license. She had found her real, God-given self without a single vestige of drug use or immorality remaining.
That is one specific example of the joy and freedom that spiritual discovery can offer students. “It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord, and the right understanding of Him restores harmony,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, a book that explains the relationship between spirituality and wellbeing. Eddy found that prayer can help us look beyond a limited, materialistic sense of self – a self apart from God, and that this is integral to restoring and maintaining health.
As this school year begins, my hope is that the spiritual dimension of each student’s identity be cultivated in conjunction with his or her academic and intellectual abilities. Looking beyond the physical, social, and emotional aspects and bolstering the spiritual identity of the person would go a long way toward reducing the perceived need for and use of stimulants, thus improving individual health while imparting a satisfying feeling of joy and freedom.