“If you have someone who grows up in an environment where they believe they won’t achieve anything, they don’t fit in and they’re not worth much, selling drugs is a great way to earn kudos in your community. Suddenly people want to know you.”
JOE Slattery, a man born and bred in Southill, is an addiction counsellor, a Ted x Fulbright speaker and the CEO of JS Equine Assisted Therapies and Counselling services.
Delivering a frank and informative talk on adolescent drug misuse and “why teens find drugs so attractive”, Joe alludes to his own past, referring to the environment of chaos and anxiety that he grew up in.
After his family endured the tragedy of a life-altering car crash, his father consequently suffered from depression and his mother “done everything to keep the home afloat”.
Because of his environment and background, Joe had already predicted his future and had given up on life.
“Internally for me I believed I wasn’t much good, and I wasn’t going to come to much.”
He, like many others from the same area, glamorised and idolised the anti-social behaviours of those around them.
“I looked up to the guys who were robbing cars: skinheads, the guys that we saw as cool,” Joe explains.
Discussing why teenagers turn to drugs, Joe explains there is not one sole reason.
For some, it’s the difficulties individuals from disadvantaged areas experience when trying to fit into the wider community.
He says this struggle to ‘fit in’ often draws adolescents towards dealing – which they believe gives them a sense of purpose.
Joe’s understanding is that some young people engage in drug use for some form of acceptance and belonging.
For other people, they take drugs solely for recreational use however, this can develop into problematic use and eventually dependent use.
He believes the issue occurs when people’s “drug lives” are better than their real lives.
However, Joe also stresses that not all drug users come from disadvantaged areas, and not all drug-related injury comes from regular drug users – highlighting the danger of all drugs, regardless of the background or experience of the user.
He believes young people live in a society today surrounded by pressures, resulting often in drug use.
He urges parents to take control of mobile phone access and be confident of their age when allowing children to have access to social media, as he relates social media to peer pressure.
He also stresses the importance of having some form of escapism when living in a challenging environment.
For Joe, his form of escapism is with horses – which he says fulfilled his need for a connection to something or someone.
He believes that without this connection and love for horses, his life could have taken a very different path.
“If I had to live in that environment with no way of escaping it or no way of de-stressing, I don’t know if I’d still be here. It’s the reason why a lot of people check out, it’s really hard to stay in that environment.”
Joe’s reference to the human need and desire for connection highlights the importance of checking in on others – to ask if someone is okay and to provide them with an outlet that allows them to escape the harsh reality they may live in and to be themselves.
The Limerick counsellor also suggests that people should be less judgmental when encountering people who they may deem as “rough” or “bad”.
He encourages everyone to ask themselves why a person may act the way they are and if there’s a deeper issue.
“It’s always worth taking a minute and thinking what happened to that kid from the time he/she came out of the womb, to the kid that’s standing in front of you now? What happened that made them make the decisions that theyr’re making? Because there’s always a reason – it doesn’t just happen.”
Joe is encouraging parents to make use of the resources, parenting programs and online information sites that are available to them.
He asks parents to speak to their children with curiosity rather than through interrogation and emphasises the power of genuine conversation.