Maxwell, 20 years old, is a senior at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. The youngest of four children, he was inspired to make a difference after observing the effects of his mother’s alcoholism on his family. His life experiences led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and he plans to further his education in graduate school.
Addiction is something that I never truly understood until I reached high school and my oldest brother started telling me about the science of addiction. Life wasn’t always fun when I would come home and have to hide, argue, or take care of my mom because of her alcohol dependency. Alcohol not only took my mom away from my family but also took my family away from my mom. Before learning about the science of addiction, my family and I never treated my mom with the kindness and respect that she deserved. It was hard to love my mom when she caused so much pain in our family. After learning about the science of addiction, my family and I were better able to love and support my mom during her recovery.
What I learned is that addiction is a disease. Alcohol is a drug that affects the brain’s reward system. It’s the same system that processes our love and desire for things that our bodies need to survive, like food and water. Alcohol and other drugs hijack this reward system and take dominance over all our other desires and needs. This dependency on drugs, including alcohol, affects more than 40 million people in the United States alone.1
Research from CASA Columbia2 has shown us that one in four people who start using an addictive substance before they are 18 years old become addicted. That risk drops to one in 25 for those who wait until they are 21 or older. Ninety percent of those with an addiction today started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before they were 18 years old. These facts encouraged my oldest brother and me to start the “Wait 21” campaign.
Wait 21 started as a resource for students to learn about the science of addiction. We developed a 3.5-minute video that explains addiction as a disease. In May 2015, I helped develop the Wait 21 Pledge Program, which gives students the opportunity to pledge to wait until they are 21 or older before they consider drinking alcohol. Students recommit three times a year, and they receive scholarship opportunities for participation as well as an official letter of recognition that they can include in college applications.
My goal is to encourage young people around the world to take the Wait 21 pledge. If I can help spread my knowledge about what I learned when I was 16 years old, I believe we can see a future free from addiction and help the lives and families of future generations.
Wait 21 has given me the opportunity to talk and connect with youth around the world. In sharing my story with so many people, my desire to spread my message and change the world has intensified. My love for my mom grows as I’ve learned how to help her and others who struggle with addiction. My goal is to prevent others from being stuck in the grip of addiction. I believe Wait 21 is the best vehicle for accomplishing this goal.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://archives.drugabuse.gov/about/welcome/aboutdrugabuse/magnitude/
2 The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (2011). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://www.centeronaddiction.org/newsroom/press-releases/national-study-reveals-teen-substance-use-americas-1-public-health-problem