How To Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse During Early Childhood
Individuals who abuse drugs and/or alcohol typically start using these substances “during adolescence or young adulthood.” You may be thinking, “But, I have school-age children. I don’t have to worry about my kids using drugs or alcohol until they get a little older.”
Interestingly, research performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that substance abuse by adolescents and young adults can actually be prevented before a child reaches the age of 8! Moreover, NIDA’s “Principles of Substance Abuse Prevention for Early Childhood” shows that it is never too early to help your children avoid drug and alcohol abuse.
Let’s take a look at the current problem of drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents and young adults and then consider ways that you can prepare your children for healthy, drug-free lives.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Youth
Youth between the ages of 11 and 21 commonly experiment with drugs and alcohol. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that approximately 2 million juveniles–between the ages of 12 and 17–were using illicit drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogens. In addition, over 2 million adolescents consumed alcohol, and over 1 million had a history of binge drinking.
Why do adolescents turn to drugs and alcohol? NIDA has identified at least five reasons:
- Peer pressure: Your child’s peer group may be using drugs, and your child thinks that doing the same will help him or her “fit in.”
- To get high: Most people use an illicit substance for the high or intense sense of euphoria that it gives them. Adolescents may use for the same end result.
- Self-medicating: Youngsters dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder may use drugs to ease the pain that these disorders cause. For example, Dr. Amir
- Levine has observed that many adolescents dealing with anxiety disorders may self-medicate with marijuana rather than seek out standard medical therapy for anxiety.
- To excel in school: Adolescents may turn to drugs like stimulants to “enhance or improve their performance” in a competitive academic environment.
- To see what drug use is like: The adolescent brain has difficulty understanding that actions in the present can have far-reaching consequences. Adolescents also tend to think that they are invincible and that bad things happen only to others. Put these two aspects of adolescent thinking together, and you have the perfect setup for drug experimentation.
You may be thinking that you and your children live in a good community. Your kids attend the best schools. They are surrounded by supportive family and friends. There is no way that they could ever come in contact with illicit substances let alone abuse these substances.
Unfortunately–no matter where you live, no matter what schools your children attend, and no matter how respectful your children’s friends seem–kids have easy access to drugs. Adolescents can find opioids in the medicine cabinet in your home or the home of a friend or family member. Inhalants like spray paint and hair spray are also easily accessible.
Club drugs like K2 and kratom can be located and purchased with a simple Internet search. What is more, adolescents are speaking out about how easy it is to get illegal drugs like heroin from their peers. As 17-year-old Brigit Manz described, “It’s everywhere. It’s right down the street.
You can do it in 45 minutes. You can go down to your neighbour’s, you make four to five phone calls, and he knows this girl who knows this guy who knows her cousin who knows her brother that has [the drugs].”
How You Can Help Your Children Avoid Drug and Alcohol Abuse During Early Childhood
Drug and alcohol abuse among the youth of our nation is a serious problem. But you, as a parent, can feel empowered to connect with your young children and prepare them for a drug-free future. Here are just a few recommendations:
Talk To Your Children About The Dangers Of Drug And Alcohol Abuse
You need to be willing to listen: Be clear about the negative impact that drugs and alcohol can have. Discuss your “rules about not using drugs,” and be consistent and firm with regard to these rules. Above all, make time to connect with your children so you know what they are being exposed to and what they think about it.
Encourage Your Child’s Growth Both As An Individual And As A Member Of Peer Groups
Applaud your child’s decision-making as an individual. For example, if your child decides to dress in a completely mismatched outfit consisting of a polka-dot shirt and leopard-print pants, respond with something like, “I love how you express your personality in your outfits.”
Interactions like these give children the confidence to make their own decisions. At the same time, encourage socialisation with supportive peer groups. Know who your kids are hanging out with. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids even advises that you get to know the parents of the youngsters who are socialising with your children, and “check in once in awhile to make sure they are giving their children the same kinds of messages you give your children.”
Practice Saying “No!” To Drugs With Your Children:
Help your children learn to say “No!” confidently and firmly to anyone who offers them drugs or alcohol. Help them develop a go-to response when someone tries to get them to smoke or drink. In addition, develop a plan that your children can use if they feel that they are in a dangerous situation. Let them know that they don’t have to stick around people or situations that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And encourage them to call you or reach out to you in some way if they need to get out of a dangerous environment.
Beverly Beckham wrote, “Being a parent is, was, and will always be the hardest job on Earth.” Raising youngsters to live drug-free lives is undoubtedly difficult. Please know that resources are available to help you achieve this, and know just how important and incredible the work you do as a parent truly is!
Author Bio- Jon Richardson has dedicated his life to sobriety. His passion is writing and currently works for www.willowspringsrecovery.com.