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By Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using. 

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.

By Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator – Oct. 15, 2019

The conversation around marijuana is a hot topic in our society these days.  Most folks seem to choose one side or the other and not many fall in the middle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the United States with 36.7 million users (youth and adult) in the past year. This number is alarming because not everyone is aware of the physical and mental health risks, especially for our youth.

In a 2014 study, it was reported by Lancet Psychiatry that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school or college than those who never use. They were also seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

A human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. When marijuana use is started at an early age, there will be damaging effects to the long term cognitive abilities of that individual.

Marijuana has many damaging effects on the brain. It can affect the parts of your brain responsible for memory, learning, decision making, emotions, reaction times, and attention. These effects could look different in each person. Different factors can come into play, including the potency of the marijuana, how often it is used, if other substances were used along with it, and at what age the individual began using marijuana.

Many people believe marijuana use can calm anxiety and relax an individual, but frequent and heavy use can actually bring on more feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

What are some of the other risks of using marijuana?  First, marijuana is addictive.  According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. That number rises to 1 in 6 if they began using before the age of 18.

Some signs of addiction can include unsuccessful efforts to quit using, giving up activities with friends or family because of marijuana, and continuing to use even though it has caused problems with work, school, and home.

Marijuana also elevates the heart rate, causing it to work even harder. This is especially the case if other substances are used along with marijuana. It can also cause respiratory problems, including chronic cough. While marijuana use has not been found as a direct link to cancer, many marijuana smokers also use cigarettes, which do cause cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as being harmful, but 64.7 percent say they disapprove of regular marijuana use. Now is the time to start the conversation with your child around marijuana.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research on the topic and know how marijuana will affect your child’s health.
  2. Find a comfortable setting to have the conversation.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your child will be less receptive if they feel judged.
  4. Stay positive and don’t use scare tactics, as they are counter-productive.
  5. Don’t lecture; keep the conversation flowing freely between the two of you.

Stay involved in your children’s lives by keeping the conversation open, and let them know they can come to you without fear or judgment. This can make a world of difference when having a discussion with them about marijuana.

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Jan. 31, 2017 –

The domains of influence on our youth are many – school, community, friends, family, peers, and of course individual perspectives, differences and choice.

Perhaps you are already aware that in the 2014 Indiana Youth Survey conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, Southwestern Indiana students reported the following:

  • 25.8% of 12th graders reported binge drinking within the last month
  • 11.3% of 10th graders reported smoking cigarettes within the last month
  • 5.8% of 12th graders reported using prescription drugs within the last month
  • 21.5% of 8th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless within the last year
  • 15.4% of 8th graders reported considering suicide within the last year
  • 11.4% of 8th graders reported that had planned suicide within the last year

To view complete results go to youthfirstinc.org.

Why are these results so important to track?

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are serious threats to the health, safety, and futures of our youth, families, and communities. Alcohol and other drug use are also the leading causes of crime among youth and major risk factors for teenage suicide and teenage pregnancy.

Study after study shows alcohol and other drug use interferes with school and life success. Students who are regular users are less likely to do well in school and less likely to graduate.

Youth who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol dependency problems as adults than someone who begins drinking at the legal age of 21. Studies also show alcohol and other drug abuse is harmful to brain development in teens. The brain is not fully developed until age 24, so preventing, reducing, and delaying drug use is essential in helping our young people reach their full potential.

The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) was established in 1987 to help Indiana based alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) prevention providers enhance services in their respective communities.

A visit to the IPRC website http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/ helps Hoosiers recognize the amount of data that is collected to assist professionals in examining the course of potentially addictive behaviours and how they impact health outcomes in Indiana. There are also survey questions about mental health.

IPRC developed the Youth Survey in 1991, and schools have the opportunity to use the survey to gain greater detail about the lives, beliefs and perceptions of our young people. Participating in the survey provides everyone with working knowledge of risk factors that influence the use of drugs and alcohol as well as mental health concerns.

Among the risk factors measured are the perception of drug availability, community norms/favourable attitudes toward drug use, lack of commitment to school, rebelliousness, peer and problem behaviour, early initiation into problem behaviours, family management and conflict, friends who engage in problem behaviours, and school rewards for prosocial involvement.

According to the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (2013) it is important to look for clusters of risk and protective factors that have a cumulative effect on the overall outcomes for a community and for our state.

Youth First has supported looking at the data in Southwestern Indiana to gain perspective on our regional needs for service and intervention.  Participation in the survey by 8th, 10th and 12th graders helps everyone have a better sense of how to help young people secure a healthier future.

Knowing the risk factors is also a way of understanding our weaknesses and building on strengths. We can assess and measure, inform and educate, plan, monitor and evaluate our health risks.

The survey will occur again this spring in area schools. Please encourage your teen to take part, and watch for Youth First’s report of outcomes that will help guide our work in assisting youth and families in our community.