Police lectures to students

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on October 20th, 2011 - Last updated: January 30th, 2014
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Dr. Peele,

I have been a police officer for almost 25 years. I have masters in Criminal Justice and Psychology. I am currently a CAGS (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies) candidate in psychology. Due to my education and experience, it is not uncommon for my Department to assign me public speaking engagements, particularly high school and college aged people.

Recently, I put on a program on the brain and addiction for high school students. I had a class that absolutely refused to even discuss the possibility of addiction not being a disease. They were deeply embedded in the medical/disease/genetic theories of addiction. I did my best to try and illustrate that addiction is not necessarily an immutable disease. One 16 year old girl attends AA regularly for prophylactic reasons. I couldn’t believe it. She was firm in her belief that she was forever doomed to a life of alcoholism, which she probably is since her belief system is so strong. It was sad to see the powerful influence the media has over our educational system. Ph.D. level studies were/are meaningless. “Oprah” and “Hard Copy” are far more influential with these people and the public in general.

My question for you is: how would you advise me to deal with such close mindedness? I suppose what I really need is a short, powerfully convincing example of addiction being a disease by choice not genetics.

Thank you very much for whatever assistance you may provide. I have truly enjoyed your web site.

Garry Nowak

Dear Garry:

Ask students the following questions/to discuss the following issues:

  1. “What percentage of people who drink too much when in their teens and as college students become alcoholics?” Tell them you believe that answer is 10-20%. What is their figure?
  2. If their figure is less than 100%, ask them what happens to the remainder. If they answer they go to AA, say, “In other words, before AA, and without AA, every kid who drinks too much becomes an alcoholic? But aren’t there many more kids who drink too much than there are adult alcoholics, just the way more kids smoke marijuana than adults?”
  3. Ask them to discuss the following issue: “What happens to a child who is told repeatedly he or she will become an alcoholic if he or she ever has a drink? By the way, what number of high school seniors drink alcohol even though it is illegal and they are told not to drink?” (the answer to the second question is 75%)
  4. “Do you think American policy for dealing with alcohol is effective? That is, are the number of alcohol abusers increasing or decreasing?” Tell them that studies have shown a rapid rise in the number of young people in the US who report alcohol dependence symptoms (e.g., not being able to stop, drinking continuously, etc.). Ask them, “Why would this be?” (Search my site for this finding, which is by Hilton and Clark).

When conducting this class, try not to tip your hand. Just ask questions, calling on as many students as possible, not letting AA disciples dominate the discussion, only presenting information in a neutral and dispassionate tone, as when conducting a police interrogation.

All best,

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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