A Bahá'í Perspective on Drug Abuse PreventionBulletin on Narcotics, XLIII:1
Abstract: The present article provides a description of some of the principles that are considered by Bahá'í communities in developing programmes for the prevention of drug abuse that target the individual, the family and society. The individual is helped to develop a sense of purpose, a feeling of self-esteem and respect for others, a state of maturity making it possible for him or her to evaluate circumstances objectively and to postpone immediate gratification for a future goal, a feeling of responsibility, and spiritual orientation, which can help the individual to develop positive attitudes towards himself or herself and the environment. Parents are encouraged to promote love and unity, as well as a drug-free lifestyle, so that children are provided with healthy models. The family experience is also intended to help children to cope with stress and other problems of daily life. By means of education, society at large is encouraged to adopt positive attitudes towards health and to promote activities that lead to the elimination of isolation.
Drug and alcohol abuse has assumed epidemic proportions in various parts of the world. Health-care professionals are combating this epidemic, but the task of preventing drug abuse remains a challenge to all sectors of society. Thousands of people of all ages are subjecting themselves to the harmful influences of drugs. They do so out of curiosity. for pleasure, or in order to deal with stressful events or painful experiences.
With the advent of modern civilization, human expectations regarding security and comfort have increased. Those expectations have been complicated, however, by a rise in social stress and uncertainty. Widespread problems related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, particularly among youth, reflect this development and indicate that many individuals are suffering from an internal crisis.
According to the Bahá'í perspective 1, the response to this internal crisis should be a systematic and realistic prevention Programme, emphasizing the importance of attitudes in dealing with problems such as drug abuse and alcoholism. Behavioral scientists agree that attitudes, more than knowledge, influence the initiation of behavior. Attitudes are learned early in life and adopted as a way of life. Acquired attitudes represent a person's values and the values guide a person's choice of behavior, such as whether to abuse drugs or to lead a drug-free life 2.
Individual reality is thought rather than material 3; thus, the use of intoxicating drugs is an impediment to the progress of mind and soul and is in direct conflict with the meaning and purpose of life. In Bahá'í communities special emphasis is placed on early education and family life. The home is seen as an ideal place for early drug abuse prevention.
Cohen 4, reflecting on the causes of the rise of drug abuse in the world today, wonders whether human society lives in one of the most critical times in history and asks whether anguish is "so pervasive that multitudes must consume increasing quantities of narcotics, stimulants, depressants (including alcohol) and the other euphoriants to survive."
According to Cohen 4, there have been many distressing periods in history, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages and, more recently, the two world wars, but there is no clear historical evidence to suggest that drug abuse problems were then so pervasive as they are at present. Humankind, however, has never been endowed with such favorable opportunities for progress as it is today; moreover, the disaster that drives individuals to drink and to use drugs is within them rather than in the outside world. In addition Cohen feels that this internal reality, although it does not necessarily correlate with what is happening outside, may reflect the external conditions.
In this author's view, an individual's internal insecurity and doubt may be a reflection of the external chaos and confusion, which are among many factors that can contribute to the onset of drug abuse. Contemporary society is undergoing rapid change, which often gives rise to confusion, uncertainty, anxiety and stress. Old concepts and values are breaking down and new ones are emerging in their place. Coping with stress in such a period of rapid change and development is a tedious process, from which the use of alcohol and drugs becomes an attractive avenue of escape.
In Bahá'í communities, the prevention of drug abuse involves cooperation between the individual, the family and society.
From the point of view of the individual, the basic principles presented below should be taken into consideration in developing a prevention Programme.
Sense of Purpose in Life
In order to be fully committed to a moral order, an individual needs to have a sense of purpose. According to Bahá'í teachings love of God 5 provides a concept on the basis of which the energy of a person's self-centeredness is invested in the interest and well-being of others. Serving for the good of humankind is a highly praised vehicle for putting that interest into action. The Bahá'í attempt to expand humanity's vision of itself to include areas beyond the material self. Just as a traveler visits cities and countries and becomes acquainted with other cultures, the human spirit, through the experiences of this world, acquires certain characteristics and virtues as it evolves 6. Bitter life experiences and the tests and trials in life provide challenges to individual growth. Drug abuse provides nothing but an illusionary excursion into a fantasy world without achieving any learning or developing any insight.
Sense of Human Worth
Self-esteem and respect for human worth and dignity play an important role in people's attitudes toward themselves. One of the most common factors involved in drug abuse around the world is the loss of self-esteem 7.
A sense of self-esteem and dignity can be cultivated in early childhood and maintained throughout life. It has been reported that "children who have positive views of themselves tend to act in a way that brings further success: they are able to persevere, to remain committed in the face of stress and adversity. Children who do not regard themselves highly react in the opposite way" 8. The latter are more likely to submit themselves to the destructive effects of drug abuse.
The true meaning of freedom has been misunderstood in society. This is particularly true for substance abusers, who believe that they have the right to do whatever they please with their minds and bodies. Ironically, it is their drug dependence that ultimately deprives them of their personal liberty 2.
An individual's ability to evaluate circumstances objectively and to postpone immediate satisfaction for a future goal is an indication of maturity. Obedience to moral standards reinforces this ability to maintain self-discipline and self-control in order to fulfill personal objectives. The fundamental principle of adherence to the precepts of the prophet Bahá'u'lláh (the founder of the Bahá'í faith) provides the cornerstone for the prevention of drug abuse and alcoholism in Bahá'í communities around the world. According to Bahá'í teachings
Participation in Work
An individual's relationship to the environment is dynamic and constantly changing 9. In Bahá'í communities, each person is challenged to strive for excellence in all aspects of life, particularly in arts and sciences. Active participation in an occupation is encouraged and work in the spirit of service is considered a form of worshipping 1. This concept provides an impetus for personal growth and creativity and releases individual potential for serving humankind. It also counteracts apathy, boredom and a feeling of uselessness which are frequently encountered among persons who abuse drugs.
Spiritual orientation helps people to develop positive attitudes towards themselves and their environment. As a result, they are able to find meaning in life and are in a better position to deal with stressful situations.
Role of the Family
The prevention of drug abuse by providing a healthy family environment and properly educating children is of prime importance in Bahá'í communities 10. One of the responsibilities of parents is to educate their children about moral and spiritual values and about facing the harsh realities of life.
By abstaining from using alcohol and illicit drugs, parents can set an example that will strongly influence their children's attitudes towards those substances. Love and unity within a family that strives for excellent relations can become the moving force for a positive and dynamic approach towards life and its challenges; children in such families learn that the use of alcohol and illicit drugs is not acceptable and that coping with the stress of daily life is a part of human experience that is associated with personal growth and maturity.
One of the most important contributing factors to drug abuse, one that requires careful consideration, is the attitude of society towards the use of alcohol and drugs. Mention should also be made of the disintegration of traditional systems of values, the breakdown of the institution of marriage and family life, and the over-dependence of individuals on political and material power as a source of security. Moreover, illicit drug trafficking and the increased availability of illicit drugs, as well as the glamorization of psychoactive substances by the mass media, have complicated the task of prevention.
Presented below are some points that, from the point of view of society should be considered in developing a prevention Programme.
It is necessary to strengthen the individual's sense of self-esteem and dignity and to educate family members on the meaning of life and its purpose. Children's education should include not only physical and intellectual education but also spiritual aspects of life. Both the spiritual and the material needs of humanity must be recognized for progress and development to take place.
The dramatic technological development and materialistic orientation of modern society have resulted in not only considerable physical and material well-being, but also a loss of spiritual awareness. Approaches to the problems of human affairs and sufferings have become mechanical and materialistic, having lost the spiritual magnanimity that is needed for personal growth and progress. As a result, individuals have lost contact with their true selves. The use of drugs is thus an attempt to re-establish that contact by chemical means and to solve problems that are essentially human and spiritual in nature. For instance, happiness is a state of mind that can be earned or realized through useful and meaningful interpersonal relationships but cannot be induced by drugs.
The rise of competition for material achievements has encouraged a race for success and a low tolerance for failure. Consequently, some of those who are emotionally insecure or unstable turn to alcohol or drugs as a refuge against the bitter reality of their competitive lifestyles. Cooperation should replace competition, and consultation and harmony should replace confrontation and isolation, thus allowing a spirit of sharing and caring to prevail.
Education should be provided to people of all ages and sauce-economic backgrounds to help them adopt more positive attitudes towards physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social aspects of health. Such education should cultivate a sense of purpose in life. It should encourage individuals to pursue activities in their occupations and to see that such activities contribute to their own well-being. Education should strive to encourage society to eliminate feelings of alienation and isolation, which are conducive to drug abuse.
Society should help individuals, particularly youth, to develop a sense of identity and to look for positive ways to deal with boredom and apathy. It has the responsibility of providing opportunities to stimulate and encourage creativity and useful work.
Society should help make less available drugs not intended for medical and scientific purposes. It should encourage persons who serve as role models, such as teachers, prominent celebrities, and leaders of society, to lead drug-free lives. The mass media should provide information and educational programmes for the prevention of drug abuse and alcoholism and should be discouraged from providing publicity for psychoactive substances. International cooperation aimed at limiting the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes should be promoted. Current United Nations programmes to control drug abuse can only succeed if all Governments and all sectors of society firmly commit themselves to working together for this common cause.
2. A. M. Ghadirian, In Search of Nirvana: a New Perspective on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Oxford, George Ronald, 1985).
3. Abdu'l-Bahá, The Reality of Man (Wilmette, Illinois, Bahá'í Publishing Trust 1966), pp. 9-10.
4. S. Cohen, "Reflections on people and drugs," Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Newsletter. vol. 13, No. I (1984), pp. I -3.
5. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette, Illinois, Bahá'í publishing Trust, 1963), p. 65.
6. Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette, Illinois, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981), p. 200.
7. A. M. Mecca, "Primary prevention, an avenue we must pursue," Critical Concerns in the Field of Drug Abuse (New York, National Drug Abuse Conference, 1978), PP- 1-5.
8. "Prevention, the nation's health," APHA Newsletter. October 1975 (quoted by Mecca, loc. cit.).
9. D. C. Jordan, "In search of the supreme talisman," World Order, vol. 5, No. I (1970), pp. 12-20.
10. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette, Illinois, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1966), pp. 259-260.
BIC Document #91-0115