This week is important to many people for many different reasons. For most of us, Red Ribbon Week is a time of finding fun, creative ways to campaign for youth across the nation to make the drug-free pledge. For some, it’s a time of celebrating and renewing their commitment to a drug-free life. For others, it’s a time of learning and realizing the negative impacts of drugs and alcohol. For me, it’s a time of reflecting on my life to remind myself and others why it is important for youth to be drug free.
I lost my friend, brother and cousin to drugs.
If you would have asked me in junior high or high school if my cousin’s drug and alcohol use would lead to his death, I would have said no. After all, he only did them for “fun.” They weren’t a part of his daily life. Most critics of Red Ribbon Week say that recreational use of drugs won’t affect them, or that they “know when to quit.” But that’s hardly ever the case.
Drug use ran in my cousin’s family. His parents used drugs from the time he was a young kid until he was eventually taken away by the state and put into foster care. By the age of 16, my cousin had not only seen drugs but had begun to experiment with them himself. At first, he would use them as a way to numb the pain of his life at home. He turned his family problems into drug problems until it finally became a part of his everyday life. It was a habit that developed quickly and didn’t ever go away.
Eventually, his life began to deteriorate. Bad decisions led to him getting kicked out of school, losing his job and losing some friends. I watched him go from an energetic, excited, rambunctious boy to a lonely, sad, heartbroken man. I would see Facebook posts of his drug use in photos or status updates. His depression and anger were exaggerated by the use of drugs and alcohol. What started out as a “fun stress reliever” quickly became a behavior. His problems went from being “solved” by drugs to being caused by drugs. Eventually, it was too late to fix them. He fought almost every day just to be happy, until one day he quit fighting. During Thanksgiving 2012, my 21-year-old cousin committed suicide.
This October, I am reminded of why Red Ribbon Week is so important to kids today. Most of us don’t realize just how much the decisions we make in our youth can influence us throughout adulthood. Committing to a drug-free life in high school will not only decrease the risk of being involved in legal troubles, but it will reduce your chances of developing bad habits that can lead to bad decisions or physical and emotional harm, like depression.
I celebrate Red Ribbon Week with happiness for those who celebrate with me, and I take a moment to remember those who have lost their lives to drugs. This time of year will always be special to me, as I owe so many of the opportunities I have had in my life to the Red Ribbon Week pledge I made so many years ago.
Sloane Lewis is a student at the University of Kansas, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies with plans to attend law school. Sloane was selected as Miss Kansas 2012 and continues to promote her platform of empowering at-risk youth.