The Problem At Hand
Drug abuse isn’t a problem that suddenly begins in adults. In most cases, experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs at a young age often leads to abuse with significant repercussions for the youth. Preventable costs for health care, law enforcement, and crime related to drug use total over $500 billion nationwide, and much of this is due to drug abuse that began in young people. Efforts to prevent drug abuse obviously aren’t guaranteed to work for all young people, but they do have a significant impact.
Prevention Is Key
Statistics show that every dollar spent on prevention can save up to $7 on costs like treatment and maintaining the criminal justice system. Plus, preventing young people from heading in the direction of drug abuse can help them reach their fullest potential with regard to education, social development, and becoming productive members of society. Families and communities should turn to a wide range of methods to prevent drug abuse in young people.
Parents Need to Discuss Drug Abuse With Children
One of the best ways to help prevent drug abuse starts at home, and it’s the responsibility of the parents to initiate conversations about drug abuse with their kids. An increasing number of parents don’t discuss drugs at all, and if kids aren’t getting any information from home, they’re more likely to experiment. Some of the most important topics to hit on in discussions include:
- What types of drugs are abused and what they may be called
- Negative physical effects of using drugs
- Legal consequences of underage drug use or use of illegal drugs
- Parental expectations about the child’s use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco
- How to say no when drugs are being offered
- Alternatives to drug use, like sports teams, after-school activities, and finding other circles of friends
A one-time discussion isn’t enough. Parents should begin discussions in late elementary school, which is when most children are old enough to understand drugs, but hopefully have not been exposed to them yet. In fact, most children between 8 and 12 years old naturally condemn drug use. However, discussions on how to prevent drug abuse need to continue all the way through middle school and high school as children are exposed to peers who are using drugs.
When discussing drugs with teens, it’s especially helpful to have a conversation rather than making teens feel like they are being lectured. Parents should ask their teens how they feel about drugs, what they have heard about them from their friends, and what media messages they have been exposed to. Getting the teen talking gives the parent a better idea of how to approach the topic and what guidance may be most helpful for the teen.
Parents Need to be Involved as Positive Role Models
Children notice what their parents are doing, and they’re often more likely to follow this than what their parents are saying. That’s why it’s so important to not only discuss not using drugs, but also to follow this in practice. Children should never see their parents using illegal drugs. Parents who use legal drugs, like tobacco and alcohol, should do so in moderation around the children. Parents can also discuss the importance of waiting until the legal age and managing use to avoid being out of control while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The parent-child relationship will be most influential if the children actually trust their parents. Communication is key, and parents should always be involved in their children’s lives, talking with them and offering suggestions to issues that come up. It’s much better if youth feel free to tell their parents about ways they have been exposed to drugs and have the chance to talk about the topic than if youth don’t feel comfortable discussing the issue at all.
Children and teens who respect their parents will also be much less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol just for the sake of engaging in rebellious behavior. Rapport goes a long way in giving the parents credibility and encouraging kids to follow in their parents’ footsteps, rather than contradicting household guidelines.
Communities Need Drug Awareness Programs
With efforts to prevent drug abuse, not all parents will be involved in preventing abuse in youth, which is why communities and schools need to do their part as well. Many national programs have been successful over the years, including D.A.R.E. lessons in elementary schools and ATLAS and ATHENA programs targeted at teen athletes. Studies have repeatedly shown that students who go through substance abuse prevention programs in school are less likely to drink, smoke, and use marijuana than similar students who do not go through programs.
Communities where drug use is especially prevalent need to do their part to tackle the problem on a local level. Community organizations should sponsor programs to educate youth about the negative effects of using drugs. If the problem is something the community cares about and takes ownership over, a successful solution is much more likely to come about. The “broken window theory” suggests that responding immediately to a problem is the most effective way to deal with it, so communities should not be ignoring the drug abuse within their boundaries.
Youth Need Reduced Access to Drugs to Prevent Drug Abuse
Young people who can’t get their hands on drugs will have a hard time abusing them. Communities need to follow through on enforcing laws that ensure youth aren’t able to purchase tobacco or alcohol on their own. They also need to ensure that people of legal age to purchase tobacco and alcohol aren’t buying it for young people. In addition, local law enforcement that focuses on eliminating the availability of illicit drugs can reduce the incidence of youth drug abuse in the community.
Parents can do their part by making sure kids don’t have access to drugs in the home. Alcohol should be stored in a locked cabinet if it is kept in the home. Cigarettes should never be left out where kids can take them without the parents noticing. Lastly, parents should keep an especially close eye on prescription medications in the home and safely dispose of any medications that are not needed, rather than keeping them in the house.
Media Needs to Portray Drugs in A Negative Light
Even if all of these local influences are steering young people away from drugs, the media often presents the opposite message. Celebrity drug use is all over the tabloids, and when kids see their idols binge drinking, smoking, or using drugs, they’re going to get the idea that drugs are appealing. Television and movies also often portray drugs in a positive light, showing the glamorous side of drug use at parties, without showing the real-world repercussions.
Teach Youth the Consequences of Drug Abuse
Drug abuse has real consequences. Parents need to teach their children that using drugs can cause severe harm. Show them eye-catching infographics that illustrate the effects of drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, and binge drinking so they can understand what they are doing to their bodies with drug abuse.
Although parents can do their part to screen the media their children are exposed to, the culture as a whole has a responsibility to accurately portray the dangers of drug use. If young people are hearing that drug abuse is unacceptable from their parents, peers, teachers, mentors, coaches, celebrities, and political figures, they’ll be much more likely to believe this message. The prevention of drug abuse in young people will be most successful when it is carried out from all angles.