Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

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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.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


Dear Class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes Reading Time: 4 minutes

One Skagit High School Student’s Perspective on COVID-19

By guest author, Brylee Axelson-Ney — Burlington-Edison High School Senior

No one expects their senior year to go like this. Everyone looks forward to their senior year homecoming, football games, pep assemblies, final athletic moments, senior skip day, senior pranks, senior prom, and of course graduation. No one anticipated an uncertain amount of time off from school with everything canceled and not knowing whether or not they’re going to graduate. Seniors won’t be able to properly say goodbye to a place where they’ve spent some of the most memorable years of their life.

It was the end of the day during 8th period. Suddenly, a message came over the loudspeaker. School was to be canceled until April 27th. At first people were happy and cheering for our extended spring break. But after a few minutes of contemplation, we all quickly realized that we didn’t want this six week “vacation”. We wanted to spend all the time we could together before we went our separate ways forever. My best friend decided we should walk around the school blasting sad music on her speaker. It would make people feel better. We did just that. People were coming out of their classrooms recording, laughing or just staring at us. Which was fine, we were used to it. Our senior year basically consisted of us always being together and making fools out of ourselves wherever we go. Over the summer, we even organized our schedules so we would have seven out of our eight classes together. We have spent four years being crazy together on the same basketball and track team. Or I guess three years on the same track team since the season was cancelled.

Well, we had a couple weeks of practice before we were limited to only practicing Monday through Wednesday. Then with the school closure, all practices were cancelled until April 27th. Then finally no practice at all. No competitions at all. No track at all. Track is probably my favorite sport. I have competed in and won almost every meet in the high jump since sophomore year. I was ready to jump this year. I was ready to win the district championships and compete at state for the third year in a row. I was ready to use this season to build up my stats to compete in college. But most importantly, I was ready to use this track season to say my final goodbyes to my friends. After basketball season was over, I wasn’t too upset because I thought at least we have one last track season together! Now I don’t have that season with my high jump buddy or with the tall girl track squad (which is what we liked to call ourselves) or with my best friend.

This year I was also elected to be senior class president. I’m going to be honest that being class president didn’t have many responsibilities. All I had to do was attend Associated Student Body (ASB) meetings, plan class future reunions, and plan baccalaureate. With the school year being shortened and no graduation as far as we know, one of my three responsibilities is cut off. I know baccalaureate is very important to a large percentage of the senior class. It is unfortunate we won’t have the opportunity to attend the event although it is kind of nice for me because I no longer have to stress about planning it. As far as graduation goes, there’s no sense of relief. Everyone I know was so excited for graduation. At graduation we finally would be honored for everything we have done in our high school careers, just like every class before us has. All the years we have sat in the stands watching our siblings and friends walk across that stage and thinking to ourselves, “oh my gosh I can’t believe that’s gonna be me in a few years”. The valedictorians who have spent all of high school maintaining perfect marks and staying involved in the school so they could be recognized at graduation. The parents who use this time to say goodbye to their babies’ and say hello to the new adults they’ve become.

I don’t want to sound like I’m ungrateful for my high school experience by any means. I loved high school. I am so grateful to have met so many amazing people and to have had so much fun during the last four years. I learned so much about who I am and who I want to become in the future. I understand the necessity of social distancing. I am very fortunate to have my health and my family during these crazy times.

So, to the class of 2020: I know this is hard and may seem unfair at times. However, I don’t think we should look at this as a time of sadness and pity but rather a time of change and evolution for years to come. We can set an example for future classes on how to deal with adversity.

COVID-19 & the Class of 2020.

Brylee is a graduating senior at Burlington-Edison High School. She will start at the University of Washington in the fall where she plans to study Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management.