Good Life

Communities that Care: Caregivers can help teens grasp drug and alcohol risks

Teen drug abuse can have a major impact on teens and their families. Youth need their caregivers’ help to learn and understand the risks associated with drug and alcohol use.

Teens in middle and high school report that there are little to no risks associated with using drugs and alcohol. They do not have the decision-making skills or the life experience to fully understand the lifelong consequences that using illegal substances can have, and they don’t believe that the negative consequences will happen to them. With drug overdose deaths reaching epidemic numbers, now is the time for caregivers to talk with youth.

Youth experiment with drugs and alcohol for many different reasons. Some risk factors for drug and alcohol use include: family history of substance abuse, early aggressive or impulsive behavior, low self-esteem or poor coping skills, access to substances, poor family management, academic failure and relationships with peers who abuse drugs. A teenager’s risk for using substances changes over time.

Caregivers have the most important role in preventing teen drug use. Caring adults are in a unique position to have conversations with their youth, create rules and guidelines about substance use in the family and to monitor their youth’s behavior.

It can be hard to talk to your youth about drugs and alcohol. Start by examining your own feelings about drug and alcohol use, and think about the expectations that you have for your youth. Asking your youth about his/her views on drug and alcohol use can give caregivers a great starting point for a conversation. Conversation starters like, “I’m curious about your point of view,” can help to open dialogue between a youth and a caregiver. Providing a good example and not abusing drugs and alcohol yourself is important.

Youth are bombarded with media messages and community norms that make drug and alcohol use look fun, glamorous and acceptable. Discuss reasons not to use drugs and alcohol with your youth. Emphasize how drug use can affect things that are important to them like school and/or sports performance, driving, extracurricular activities, health and privileges. Share with your youth that they can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, setting up lifelong struggles. When you hear or see messages that normalize or glamorize drug use, have a conversation in that moment. Ask them what they think about the situation, and share your concern and expectation about their use.

Join us at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 for the Mount Nittany Middle School Straight Talk program for more information and opportunities for discussion on this topic.