Ask Paul at the RSIC: Why it’s tough to say ‘no’ to bad choices |

Ask Paul at the RSIC: Why it’s tough to say ‘no’ to bad choices

Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S
Special to First Nation’s Focus
It canbe tough to say "no" to bad choices.
Courtesy Shutterstock

RENO, Nev. — Saying “no” to bad choices can be empowering, freeing and a healthy way of building our self-esteem. So, why do we have such a hard time saying “no” to bad choices?

When we are young our parents tell us, “Don’t you say NO to me! You do as you’re told.” They also tell us not to do certain behaviors like using drugs or drinking alcohol. Then we get mixed messages when we observe them using substances or being intoxicated; doing the exact opposite of what they told us not to do.

As we get older we can feel guilt or shame if we say “no” to a “favor” because we want to be liked or it makes us feel important and needed. For example someone asks us to take care of their children so they can go out and party. We know the party-goer is engaging in bad behavior. We also know in our heart that by watching their children we are actually enabling them to continue this bad behavior.

So, how can we be helpful and not an enabler? One solution is we can tell the party-goer that we will do everything in our power to support their health and wellbeing, and we will also do everything in our power to help them avoid bad choices.

This way we create boundaries and at the same time let them know that we love them, support them, and care for them. An example would be to have the party-goer stay at home and make a good dinner with you for everyone to enjoy. This way you can all spend the night together laughing and having fun instead of her/him going out to party.

Society’s impact

Another source of confusing messages, which negatively impacts us, comes from our society. Commercials and sales people tell us how we can immediately avoid discomfort or distract ourselves from daily life by taking a pill, smoking substances, or drinking.

Some of these sales people even tell us that these mind altering drugs are good for us! They create an illusion to entice us into thinking the substance is healthy, natural, has no long term effects, and will make our lives wonderful. They romanticize the substance use by putting an umbrella in a beer by the ocean, or they advertise a person doing yoga in nature, to send the message that their drug is related to health and wellness.

Interestingly, this was the same type of messaging the tobacco sales people used just a few decades ago when they were normalizing tobacco. Do you remember ashtrays everywhere, candy cigarettes and entertainers and actors smoking cigarettes?

I’ve seen cigarette advertisements showing doctors smoking, adolescents choosing cigarettes for their parents and even pregnant women smoking cigarettes! Hmmm. This makes me wonder if we ever learn from our historical mistakes or we just keep making the same bad choices over and over again.

Also, notice the people selling these substances are primarily motivated to sell their drug and do not acknowledge the downside of the drug being sold.

The only messages they will talk about are designed to the sell their product. Imagine if a synthetic stimulant (upper, methamphetamine) sales person told the potential customer — “This substance can have these side effects: paranoia, sleeplessness, hallucinations, amnesia, uncontrolled tremors, drooling, nausea, paralysis, dizziness, and permanent brain damage.” Would the potential customer still take this risk?


We know drugs work and will change the way a person perceives life for a moment. These substances work temporarily, but the person’s problems are usually worse after the person has wasted their time being wasted. The more a person uses the substance, the further away from solving their problems they go.

Also as this bad relationship grows, so does the person’s negative consequences. Interestingly, if these consequences result in the person being incarcerated, the substance sales person doesn’t visit their customer in jail, put money on their books, or even write letters.

Usually the burden of support is reserved for the customer’s family. So the customer gets high, the sales person makes money and the family gets to pay the bills as well as endure the emotional stress of sleepless worry, anxiety and fear.

The substance-using adult also needs to be aware of their impact on children. If this adult realizes the substance sales person’s motivation is money, and knows all of the mental, physical, emotional health risks, as well as the legal risks they are taking by using the substance; the adult still has an obligation to the children who are learning behaviors and mimicking this adult’s behavior.

Keep in mind, an Elder doesn’t just mean being older. Also, an Elder doesn’t have to be a family member. An Elder can be a community member or someone you trust.

An Elder is wise, loving, caring, offers guidance and advice for your spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health. The Elder has your overall best interest at heart. An Elder loves to see you happy, and thriving, and at the same time is willing to tell you “NO” when you are about to do something unhealthy or harmful.


The Elders teach us in the Red Road to Wellbriety, “Most of the time we are who we are by choice. That’s all life is — a matter of choices. The choices you make set up the consequences you’re going to live with in your life.” So, your choices can set you up for success, health, happiness and good relationships or the exact opposite.

The Elders also teach us to listen to our heart. The Red Road to Wellbriety tells us how the Elders had to rely on listening to their heart to survive the terrible conditions they had to live through.

They maintained the connection with the Creator and followed Creator’s guidance by learning how to listen to their heart. They recognized that when this connection is severed, their direction became confused and lost.

Through Creator, your heart, and a trusted Elder, you can be guided to make healthy choices for your health, happiness, and prosperity, if you listen.

If you are having a hard time saying “NO” or find yourself continuing making bad choices, you can ask a trusted Elder or your support professionals at our Behavioral Health Department who will be happy to help. O

“Ask Paul” is a health column by Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S, a Substance Use Counselor at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center. It publishes each month in The Camp News, the monthly newsletter for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony community. Have a question for Paul? Email him at