National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week®, January 22-27, 2019, is a national health observance linking teens to science-based facts to SHATTER THE MYTHS® about drugs and alcohol. As the parent of a teen, and a professional who works with children and adolescents in the schools, talking about substance use and listening to what they think and feel about the subject is key to prevention.
Adolescence is a time of discovery and curiosity and it is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to know the facts from the myths to offer informed guidance to our youth and keep the lines of communications always open. Let’s look at the following common substance issues and uncover the facts.
Marijuana is now legal in Michigan. While the medicinal benefits of this product cannot be negated for some, the passing of this bill poses concerns for others, especially adolescents with mental health issues who want to argue that it is natural and better than manufactured drugs. The reality is, marijuana is a scary choice for youth under the age of 23.
MYTH BUSTER: “Marijuana is harmless”. When marijuana is introduced to an adolescent brain it changes the shape of important communication buttons called receptors that receive and send messages to other parts of the brain. With ongoing marijuana abuse, the changes in these receptors can become permanent and cause other areas of the brain to change as well lowering intelligence, ability to control impulses, aggression and motivation (Source: Weir, 2015).
FACT: When an individual has anxiety, depression, or mood disturbance, the brain is said to be poorly regulated or imbalanced. Manufactured drugs are designed to regulate natural brain chemistry and keep it as close to baseline as possible.
Until a person reaches their early to mid-20’s, the human brain is still under construction and the front part of the brain that is critical for planning, judgment, decision making, and personality is the last area to be developed. Many teens seek therapy during puberty because hormones temporarily upset brain chemistry. For some, medication is needed along with therapy to help them cope.
If you are an adult who is choosing to use marijuana, keep it away from your children and be careful about permissive attitudes. If you suspect your child is using marijuana, an honest exploration of their friends, school performance and private lives is at hand. I often find that teens who turn to drugs admit to feeling alienated by peers, scapegoated or invisible at home, or have concerns with a caregivers’ emotional, physical or substance abuse problem. A troubled teen will often turn to peers with similar issues where drugs become a maladaptive coping tool. If your teen refuses to quit, or has trouble staying away from drugs, then legal options, rehabilitation options, or family therapy options may be needed to return communication and strengthen family dynamics.
Think middle school kids don’t vape? Think again! The reality is more than one in 10 eighth graders say they vaped in the past year and use in 2018 was up in 9th, 10th and 12th graders overall, with males twice as likely to vape as females (Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2018).
MYTH BUSTER: “Vaping is just flavored steam from water”. The e-juice liquid is actually 95 percent propylene glycol (antifreeze) and glycerin. Flavors such as vanilla, caramel and coconut also contain diacetyl, a dangerous chemical linked to popcorn lung.
FACT: Nicotine is the primary agent in e-cigarettes and is highly addictive. Nicotine raises blood pressure and spikes adrenaline. Youth see vaping as a cleaner alternative to smoking cigarettes with fun fruity flavors masking its toxicity. While vaping does not contain tobacco, it does contain nicotine. Many e-cigarettes can also be purchased with a higher or double dose of nicotine then a normal cigarette.
Parents and caregivers should ask direct questions about vaping. Teens who are using e-cigarettes tend to have lower self-esteem, may be getting pressured at school to try or just don’t feel as smart as other kids. If your young adult is vaping, look at his or her grades for indications of learning difficulties, talk with teachers about classroom behavior, and be mindful of conversations that show inflexibility toward their needs and wants. A willingness to compromise encourages honesty with teens and opportunities to explore beliefs and reinforce family values.
MYTH BUSTER: “It’s best to teach kids to drink responsibly while they’re under their parents’ roof.” When parents offer alcohol to children with educational intentions, it increases their risk of using alcohol and getting into alcohol related trouble. It is estimated that nearly one-third of teens have had a one alcoholic drink by the age of 15 with 11 percent of all the alcoholic beverages consumed in the United States consumed by individuals between the ages of 12 and 20 (Source: www.alcohol.org/teens).
FACT: Teens are impulsive and like to take risks. When teens drink, they binge drink 90 percent of the time (e.g. four or five servings of alcohol in a two-hour period). Binge drinking is dangerous and can make a teen vulnerable to physical and sexual assault, lead to blackouts, physical injury from accidents or falls and alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is also a significant factor in the deaths of young people due to motor vehicle accidents, homicides, suicide and other factors such as drowning, falling and burns.
The characteristic of the young adult alcoholic subtype includes those who use and can’t stay away from alcohol prior to the age of 20, those with a first or second degree relative diagnosed with alcohol dependence (parent, uncle/aunt, grandparent), and those who don’t necessarily have a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression or anxiety. Key indicators for young adult alcohol addiction are changes in school performance, changes in physical appearance (e.g. hygiene, weight), curfew violation, changes in social relationships, and activities.
In short, parents should not encourage underage drinking and need to keep alcohol locked up and be aware when it disappears. If your teen goes to a party, drop them off and pick them up, know something about the people hosting the party and have consequences when they break the rules. Overall, scare tactics don’t work with teens. Address the social pressure to drink and teach resistance skills. Set the norm that underage drinking is not acceptable and stay involved!
If you’re a parent or caregiver with questions or are seeking help for yourself or child, contact Community Care Services at (313) 389-7500 for outpatient treatment or a referral to an appropriate treatment center.
Laura Boros MA LLP has been a master level psychologist in the downriver area for the past 14 years and has been with Community Care Services since 2014 where she currently serves as the School-Based Coordinator.