5 Tips for Preventing Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Your Child
By: Mary Fairley
Drug abuse — including alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, and tobacco — is most likely to begin during adolescence and young adulthood.
For over 30 years, the nonprofit DREAM of Hattiesburg has had a mission of preventing the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Dr. Linda M. Vasquez is executive director.
Another professional with similar goals is Patricia Calabrese, a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services, located in Hattiesburg.
They both shared tips for preventing drug and alcohol abuse in kids:
Tip #1 — Communicate
Dr. Vasquez suggests enjoying a family meal together every day.
Allow your teen to discuss feelings on the topic, she advised. Be clear with your teen that tobacco use is illegal until age 18, and alcohol usage is prohibited until age 21.
“Talk about the risk of substance abuse,” she said. “Abusing alcohol and drugs can prevent goals from being reached, affect sports performance, and participation in extracurricular activities.”
Calabrese said problems often start when kids are very young, so prevention should as well.
“If families have a history of alcohol or drug use, this family history should be shared with young teens,” she advised. Understanding family genetics and susceptibility is just as important as it would be with any other genetically acquired disorder.
Tip #2 — Encourage
“Praise your adolescent, and build your teen’s self-esteem,” Dr. Vasquez suggested.
Trusted adults, such as coaches or church youth leaders, can help with esteem-building activities. Teens with self-esteem have the ability to believe in themselves, instead of “following the crowd.”
Tip #3 — Model
“Set an example,” Dr. Vasquez said. “If you have trouble with substance abuse, don’t be afraid to get help. If you drink, use moderation; teens are watching.”
Calabrese agreed teens absorb what is said and modeled around them. She also added that “families should have a healthy regard for all prescription medications,” which should be stored safely and only used as recommended.
Tip #4 — Get Involved
“Establish rules and guidelines,” Dr. Vasquez recommended. “Let your youth know what you expect and explain the consequences when rules are not followed.” Spouses must also be consistent in enforcing those rules.
“Whenever there is a significant change in your teen,” Calabrese explained, “the best place to start is with an evaluation by your pediatrician or family doctor.” Doctors may also assist with a blood or urine drug screen.
Tip #5 — Look for Signs and Symptoms.
“Look for changes in appearance and hygiene. Notice unusual smells,” Dr. Vasquez said.
The first signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse in teens are changes in personality. Is there a drop in grades or attendance? A sudden loss of an after-school job? Is there a new tendency to pull away from family?
“One of the most ominous symptoms is a change in social group, especially including secrets and lying,” Calabrese said.
In the end, though, the most important element parents can invest in a teen’s life is time. Communicate. Encourage. Be involved. If a problem arises, seek help immediately.
How To Get Help:
* DREAM of Hattiesburg offers a tutoring program. Volunteers and students from USM and William Carey University assist. High schoolers and middle schoolers commit to one year of being alcohol and drug free by joining the “DREAM Team”or “Junior DREAMERS.” Find out more at Dreamofhattiesburg.org.
* Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services offers care for both adults and children. For more information, call 1-888-574-HOPE or visit Pinegrovetreatment.com.
Another option is to contact your child’s school for additional suggestions.
Freelance writer Mary Fairley is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and a retired Medical Technologist. She is a wife, mother, and Granny/Nanny to five beloved grandchildren.