On average, most people try drugs and alcohol for the first time before their 20th birthday – sometime during adolescence or their later teenage years. This is the most critical period for brain development, and, as we know, substance abuse disrupts that process. Drug and alcohol use puts our kids at great risk for more serious problems down the road. Early intervention and prevention is vital to their health.
There are a number of reasons why young people will try drugs— curiosity, peer pressure, impulse, pain relief (emotional or physical), and the desire to “fit in” are just some among the mass. Adolescents and young adults with untreated mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, ADHD, or conduct problems) or who have experienced trauma are also more likely to use drugs at an early age. They use mood- and mind-altering substances as a way to cope.
Research also supports the fact that kids are more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol if it already plays a role in their family and home life. If a young person’s parents drink or use, he or she is also more likely to. In fact, all aspects of a young person’s environment — home, school, and community — can dictate whether he or she will try drugs.
So, how can you prevent it?
While there is no magic bullet that will prevent your young one from trying drugs and alcohol, there are steps you can take as a parent to influence if and when that time comes. Talking to your kids about drugs is number one. Studies support the fact that, when parents openly discuss substance use and its dangers with their children, children are less likely to use or more likely to postpone use to a later age.
Even if it feels like your child is not listening, keep the conversation going in your home. Start the dialogue about drugs young, and consistently look for “teachable moments” in your everyday lives. Lay the groundwork so that your child feels comfortable asking you questions about drugs. Encourage your child to be honest about his or her encounters with partying and substance use. Stay involved.
Why is talking to kids about drugs important?
“Conversations are one of the most powerful tools parents can use to connect with — and protect — their kids.” – Cathy Taughinbaugh, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
Childhood and adolescence are times of great development. The brain is young, malleable, and eager to learn and experience new things. Everything said and experienced during adolescence especially is absorbed and stored for future decision-making. That is why it is so important to start talking to kids about drugs early, to share facts and dispel the myths and glamour behind drug and alcohol abuse.
It is true that most people start experimenting with drugs during their teenage years. Yet research shows that teenagers who begin using any addictive substance before age 18 are 6.5 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder (i.e. addiction) in their lifetime. This is because, when drugs are introduced during this critical window of development, they interrupt the chemicals in the brain and leave lasting cognitive effects. The mood-altering effects of drugs are also more likely to be remembered and repeated. Teens often think, if they did drugs once, they’ll have no problem doing them again. This can trigger the addiction cycle to start.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that can happen to anyone, no matter their age or upbringing. It is important to recognize this as a parent. Addiction is not a choice or defect. Every kid is prone to drug or alcohol problems, and every young person has a high chance of encountering drugs and alcohol in his or her lifetime. Ultimately, their risk of addiction comes down to the choices they make when these encounters happen. By talking to your kids about drugs, you can help guide their decisions.
Substance addiction is not the only risk of early drug and alcohol use. Young people, especially teenagers due to their level of brain development, are more likely to get involved with risky behaviors – driving under the influence, unsafe sexual behaviors, illegal activity, and violent fights are just a few.
You can protect your child from the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol by educating him or her on the risks of using drugs. Talk to your child about the physical effects of drugs, as well as the long-lasting cognitive and emotional outcomes. Talk about the legal consequences of drug abuse, and let your child know that driving while intoxicated, using a fake ID, drinking underage, carrying illegal drugs, and using drugs can all result in years of jail-time.
According to the NCADD, kids who talk with their parents about the dangers of substance use are 50 percent less likely to use alcohol and drugs than kids who don’t have such conversations.
Tips for talking to kids about drugs
- Start talking to your kids about drugs early, while they’re in pre- and elementary school, in age-appropriate language. Make this a lifelong, open, ongoing conversation rather than a one-time, get-the-job-done “talk.”
- Use teachable moments to bring up the topic of drugs and alcohol use. For example, when your child is given medicine, let him/her know that he/she should only take medicine from bottles with his/her name on it. If your child’s favorite musician overdoses, use this as an opportunity to talk about the dangers of drug abuse.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage the conversation. Ask your child how he/she feels about drugs, and what he/she has heard about using them. Listen to what your child has to say.
- Set expectations, limits, and consequences. Lay ground rules out and make it clear that you trust your child not to break them, such as driving with someone who has been drinking or using drugs. Let your child know that you are always available (even at 2am) to pick him or her up.
- Correct myths about drugs and alcohol. Your child may say that “everybody is doing it,” or believe that “marijuana is legal and can’t hurt you.” Let your child know about the dangers of marijuana use (or any drug use) during adolescence. Let him/her know that not everybody drinks and uses drugs, and it is not glamourous or “cool.”
- Let your child know you care. Establish trust and let your child know that you are always there. Talk to them about being safe. Encourage them to always be honest.
- Be mindful of your own behaviors. Research shows that children of alcoholics are more likely to have addiction problems in the future. Do not get behind the wheel if you’ve had a few drinks.
- Talk about peer pressure and your child’s experiences at school and with friends. Try to understand what kids are experiencing today. Don’t get upset or emotional – this might deter your child from being open with you down the road. Instead, stay calm and listen to your child about what other kids are doing. Teach your child ways to say no or turn away offers to try drugs. Let your child know he/she can always use you as an excuse.
- If your child has a problem, let them know it’s okay to ask for help. Most people – especially teens and young adults – are scared to ask for help for a drug problem. Your child may fear your reaction or be concerned about what others might think. Let your kids know you are always there for them, no matter what, and that there is help available. As a parent, it’s important to know who to call and where to find an age-specific drug rehab program.
For more help on talking to kids about drugs, or to learn about our drug treatment programs for adolescents and young adults, please do not hesitate to call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 today.