When many people think about substance abuse prevention, they think of sweeping legislation, laws, and take back programs to name a few. While those aspects of prevention are important, a huge part of minimizing substance abuse is providing education and resources to young people. The pre-teen, teenage and young adult populations are very vulnerable to substance use and abuse.
Through peer pressure, social media messages, school pressures, family problems and other factors, young people may start using drugs as a means of escape. However, that experimentation often leads to dependence issues and then full-on addiction. Prevention education—as well as knowing the signs of addiction—is key in helping young people and their parents become more aware of the dangers of substance abuse.
What Resources Are Available for Substance Abuse Prevention for Youth?
For teens and parents looking for educational resources and programs, there are many options that are available. Since these resources were explained in detail in a previous article, a general refresher of what to look is in order. There are many substance abuse prevention programs for youth available. A great place to look for youth-based substance abuse programs can be found on the websites of national health organizations. Organizations such as SAMHSA, NCADD, and Youth.gov provide a wide variety of programming and resources for teens and the parents of teens.
In addition to national organizations, there are also state-run agencies who provide youth-centered educational and substance abuse prevention programs. Additionally, many school districts throughout the country offer DARE and similar afterschool prevention programs. If needed, concerned parents can also talk to their family physician for referrals to counselors, hospital and clinic programs and other community-based intervention programs that can assist teens who may be struggling with substance abuse.
What are the Warning Signs of Substance Abuse in Young People?
If you are a parent of a young person and you suspect they may be struggling with substance abuse, awareness is key! The signs of substance use in teens can be both obvious and subtle. By understanding the general warning signs, the sooner you can act to get professional help.
The general warning signs of teen substance abuse are the following:
- Mood changes including temper tantrums, irritability, and a pronounced state of defensiveness
- Academic problems including poor attendance, failing grades and an increasing prevalence of disciplinary action
- The presence of new friends and a reluctance to have parents/family get to know the new friends
- A lack of involvement in former interests
- Finding substances and drug-related paraphernalia in a young person’s room
- Pronounced physical or mental changes including memory lapses and loss, poor concentration, and slurred speech.
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How to Apply Substance Abuse Prevention Among Youth?
To minimize the risk of young people falling into trap of substance use and dependence, parents can do the following:
- Talk openly and honestly about drug and alcohol use. While you may not be able to get into details about the physiology of addiction, it is important to set the record straight about how substances affect physical and psychological growth. It is also important to be open about the consequences that can be felt as the result of drug and alcohol use.
- It is important to model the behavior that you want your children to follow. If you drink or use drugs, carefully consider how your children, teens or young adults may mirror that behavior. If you abused drugs and alcohol in the past, be open about your experiences and how it negatively impacted your life.
- Create a home environment which instills a positive and strong sense of identity. Instill a sense of confidence and help your children understand that despite their shortcomings they also have many strengths.
- Listen! If your child may be experimenting with drugs or is struggling with substances, you must find a way to encourage open dialogue. It may be hard to put your emotions in the back seat, but you must allow your children to talk openly about their emotions and why they experiment with and/or use substances.
- Know your child’s friends. If you notice a sudden change in their friends and notice something awry, make it a point to try and get to know who they are and what they are up to.
For young people who may be struggling with drugs and alcohol, there are things they can do to get the help and support they need:
- National organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have websites that are specially geared for young people. These website feature resources that educate young people on the physical and psychological dangers of drug use. Additionally, they also feature resources where they can get help.
- With the help of their parents, teens can meet with the family doctor or health care provider to discuss potential treatment options. There are treatment programs available that fit the specific and unique needs of young people.
- Find positive people. If you desire to change yourself, it is important to stick with a family member, peers and other trusted community members that display the behavior and character you want to model. These people will help those in need find the healthy activities and outlets that will help them steer clear of temptation.
- Talk to parents, teachers or other trusted figures if you are having trouble. Finding these “safe people” allows you the chance to openly and freely speak about any issues. Additionally, they can help you find the resources you need to get help.