Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!
Why is it important?
Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.
Substance use and COVID-19
Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.
Risks of use and COVID-19
We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.
Can parents really make a difference?
Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.
When and how to talk about substance use?
These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.
Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.
What should parents be looking out for?
Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues. Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.
If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.
Where do I go for help?
There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.
Want to get involved in your community?
Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.
For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm