That's the warning I give my kids. Based on my observations and stories I have heard, American culture is a substance abuse culture--abusing alcohol with abandon, along with prescription drugs and illegal drugs (and now with quasi-legal drug use evident in the farce of "medical" marijuana as the worst generation, the baby boom generation, seeks to have the government subsidize its coping mechanisms).
Of course, substance abuse is a symptom of deep unhappiness. People who need a chemical (whether legal or not) to feel good, to have a "good" time, to make it through the week, are deeply unhappy. They have no purpose in life that makes sobriety and self-preservation worthwhile.
And, among Catholics, we see an epidemic. Too many with a Catholic cultural background have been taught from very young that immoderate use of alcohol is fun and glamorous. It is neither. Hopefully, changing cultural demographics among U.S. Catholics will change this situation for the better.
But, of course, the problems go beyond Catholics. Just go to any major American university where you can see a cross-section of all types of Americans deep into substance abuse.
And the problem goes beyond liberal and conservative, black and white. You will find epidemics of drug abuse in rural, Republican areas that on the outside pretend to be Mayberry but that, on the inside, have more in common with the inner city: family breakdown, child abuse, rampant promiscuity, illegal drugs. The only differences with the inner city are that gun violence is not as frequent as a daily reality and that there is a heftier dose of denial.
The U.S. is a substance abuse society and culture. The U.S. is a deeply unhappy culture. We could talk for years about the causes. But the problem is clear.
I recall in a discussion of Spanish literature years ago a professor mentioning the concept of "intrahistoria"--the history of the cotidian, of the daily realities of life, as opposed to the history of election results, revolutions, and celebrities (most prominent politicians today fit into that celebrity category, ever since the JFK era). When we look at the "intrahistoria" of U.S. life, we see a substance abuse culture very distant from the civic pieties we like to mouth and pretend to believe.
(Creative Commons License image via Wikimedia Commons)