by Ann Roynane, MS, NCC Youth SUD Prevention Counselor
Youth ages 12 – 20 often report that their first experience with drug and alcohol use is during the summer. They’re out of school, and their school day routines that provided some structure are suspended. In many cases these youth spend their days at home with little supervision while parents work, giving them easier access to prescription drugs and alcohol. This, combined with the pressure that youth experience to fit in with their peers, powerful curiosity, and the excitement that comes with taking risks, makes adolescent and young adult drug and alcohol use a challenging issue for them, their parents, and their community.
Parents who are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse by their youth are often focused on what could have been done to avoid use in the first place. When we answer their questions, we focus on three key steps that can be taken easily.
Limit access to drugs and alcohol at home.
Most youth report that their first experience with drugs and alcohol was in their own home, or the home of a friend. They knew where the alcohol was because “that’s where it always is.” They knew that mom’s pain pills or the cough medicine was “right there in the bathroom.” In all of these families there had been strict rules about kids touching medicine or alcohol. Unfortunately, social pressures, curiosity, and the excitement of taking a risk can overcome any family rule. Keeping alcohol and drugs in a locked cabinet can ensure that young people don’t give in to temptation.
Make talking a normal part of the parent/child relationship.
Ask what’s going on in their lives, who their friends are, and how they’re feeling. Don’t take “fine” or “I’m good” as the final answer. Let youth know that they can talk about anything, and if you find out about a problem from them first that you’ll be understanding and helpful. Then follow through on that, even when you’re angry or frustrated with them.
Watch for signs of emotional distress.
Youth may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate emotional issues like stress, anger, depression, or loneliness. Stay tuned in to your young person’s behavior and attitude and check in with them about any changes you see, like isolating themselves, changes in sleep patterns, or abrupt changes in social groups. Mention that you’ve noticed these changes and listen to the answers to your questions carefully. Let your young person know that you’re concerned, and that you want to make sure that they stay safe and healthy.
Know where to get help.
Connecting with a counselor when concerns arise can help to prevent youth experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and can help keep casual use from becoming abuse or addiction. Third Level Youth Services Youth Empowerment for Success (YES) program can help, providing a safe and comfortable place for youth to talk about their problems and learn how to manage them without drugs and alcohol.