A Parent’s Guide to teaching kids
Drugs & Alcohol
It’s hard for a parent to imagine a child as young as 12 drinking or using drugs. This may be precisely the reason why many parents wait to talk to their kids about substance use, often until it is too late. It’s important to have many open conversations about drugs and alcohol with your child—far before they are ever caught experimenting or get in trouble at school.
Drug and alcohol education is just as important for the parent as it is for the child
Kids need to learn the harmful and potentially fatal effects of underage alcohol and drug use. Parents need to learn how to talk to their kids about illicit substances, as well as how to recognize early warning signs of drug and alcohol use.
It is hard to deny the statistics.
DrugAbuse.gov tells us that roughly 23.9 million Americans ages 12 and older used drugs in 2012, or 9.2% of the population.
Drug use may include illicit drugs or psychotherapeutic medication abuse, such as stimulants, tranquilizers, and pain relievers, within the past month. The amount of drug abusers ages 12 and older has risen significantly since 2002, with an increase of 8.3%.
ACCORDING TO STUDENTS AGAINST DESTRUCTIVE DECISIONS (SADD) STATISTICS:
Within the past 30 days, 26.4% of young adults ages 12-20 drank
alcohol. In this group, 17.4% admitted to binge drinking.
of all students have consumed alcohol by the time they finish high school
of young adults have tried cigarettes by the 12th grade
After six years of steady decline, illicit drug use increased among young adults ages 12-17 from 9.3% to 10%.
In 2008, the highest levels of dependence or abuse within the past year were for marijuana at 4.2 million, pain relievers at 1.7 million, and cocaine at 1.4 million.
The marijuana use rate among young adults
(ages 12-17) is 6.7%.
These statistics are sobering. Parents may be even more shocked to learn the exact age when young adults are most likely to take their first alcoholic drink. According to DrugFree.org:
Where do kids get access to drugs and alcohol? What makes it so
easy to try their first drink or use their first drug?
Much of this problem boils down to peer pressure. As the statistics above
indicated, more than half of kids drank at someone else’s house.
This means that, most often, minors experimenting with
alcohol or drugs are likely to be in the company of friends.
They may get alcohol from a parent’s liquor cabinet in order to
have their first alcoholic drink. They may use drugs they find at
home or experiment with drugs from friends that have been
purchased from a drug dealer.
The average age at which kids first try drugs and alcohol
dropped dramatically from 17-19 to 12-13 in 2007.
– Odyssey House statistics
where do kids drink?
Parents have the most influence on whether or not
their chilD will drink alcohol
All hope isn’t lost. Kids are listening, especially when a parent reaches out to start the
conversation. According to the chart below, parents have the most influence on whether or
not their child will drink alcohol, compared to TV, friends, siblings, teachers, and media:
As a parent who may feel out of control in the drug and alcohol culture of today’s
youth, this is wonderful news. All you have to do is start the conversation.
The Effects of Alcohol and Drugs on a Child’s Body
Underage drinking and drug use is not only illegal and dangerous, but it is a public health risk. Talking to children and teenagers about the health effects of drinking and drug use is one powerful way to paint a clearer picture of the dangerous reality that is substance abuse.
risks of underage drinking
- Vulnerability—related to impaired judgment, along with impulsive behavior during puberty
- Increased likelihood of unprotected sex
- Alcohol poisoning
- Dehydration, as alcohol is a diuretic
- Weight gain and obesity, related to the high calorie content of alcohol
- Restless/abnormal sleep patterns
- Liver damage
- Slowed brain development, affecting behavior, emotions, judgment, and reasoning
- Long-term impact on reaction, attention span, and memory
- Poor school performance
- Binge drinking or alcoholism later in life
- Long-term health risks associated with alcohol, including infertility, heart disease, stroke, and cancer
Death is one of the major
risk factors associated
with underage drinking
According to The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking, roughly 5000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related injuries each year.2Underage drinking is directly related to risky behaviors like drinking and driving, sexual assault, high-risk sex, and suicide.
Underage drug use can cause consequences, like:
- Weakened immune system
- Poor schoolwork
- Loss of friends
- Drug withdrawal
It can also lead to long-term repercussions, like:
- Increased risk of pregnancy
- Increased risk of STDs, including HIV
- Increased risk of future drug and alcohol problems
- Legal problems/jail time
- Brain damage caused by overdose
- Death caused by overdose
Underage drinking can detour academic success
Due to alcohol use:
Students who binge drink (5+ drinks/occasion) are 3 times more likely than those who don’t to get mostly Ds and Fs on their report cards.
Each drug may affect health in a different way. Seemingly minor health consequences may be especially damaging if drug use occurs during a critical time of development, in childhood or teenage years.
Even a popular drug like marijuana is not without negative health effects
Since marijuana is likely to be smoked, short-term use can trigger asthma and respiratory issues. Long-term use can cause bronchitis and chronic cough
When used in combination with alcohol, marijuana can affect blood pressure and cognitive performance. Withdrawal symptoms of the drug include restless sleep, irritability, nightmares, cravings, and anxiety.
Experimentation with drugs and alcohol at a young age can lead to a long road of addiction that may prove fatal. A child or teenager who drinks alcohol may experience distorted vision and coordination, altered emotions and perceptions, impaired judgment, and even vitamin deficiencies and cirrhosis of the liver over long-term use. Illegal drug use is increasingly dangerous, especially depending on the drug, and can often lead directly to an overdose.
Recognize the Signs of Underage Drug and Alcohol Use
Starting a trustworthy conversation about drugs and alcohol with your child is largely related to recognizing the early warning signs of substance use. You may think that you would know it when you see it. You may have used drugs or alcohol in the past and feel confident that you would immediately notice changes in your own child.
Staying familiar with the signs of substance use in children and
teenagers will help you to remain vigilant as a parent. Watch for:
“Sudden” is the operative word here. Your child may have sudden changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Their physical appearance may suddenly deteriorate, or they may drastically change their personal style in order to fit in with a new group of friends. Many parents of teen substance abusers observe that they start to care less about their physical appearance as substance use increases.
At times like these, it really is important to remember that you know your child best
If you observe sudden lifestyle or personality changes, talk to your child right away. It may be difficult to open up the lines of communication if your child has already withdrawn or is a regular substance abuser. Persist until you help your child open up. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if your child appears to be in danger in any way.
Teach Kids About Drugs and Alcohol by Age Group
Most parents want to believe the best of their children. Depending on what generation you grew up in, it may be hard to grasp that a child as young as 10 or 12 would ever fathom trying drugs or alcohol. For this reason, experts recommend talking to children at an even younger age than ever before about substance abuse, laying the foundation as early as preschool.
Opening the lines of communication is the only way to educate kids about drug and alcohol use. Another misconception among parents is that school drug education is enough. While drug education has existed in schools since the 1800s, substance abuse rates continue to get worse. One 2012 study even indicated the shocking result that one in five teenagers drink, use drugs, or smoke during the school day without a fear of getting caught.
No parent, child, or family is immune to the effects of drugs.– Kidshealth.org
Dan Reist, a Canadian addiction researcher, believes that modern drug education programs are flawed. He asserts that substance abuse may stem from “social pressures that students can be trained to resist.”
In order to remain effective, school wide drug education must evolve with each age group.
Drug education in elementary school may no longer offer effective principles to prevent drug use in teens. Students in middle school and high school may benefit more from drug education curricula that underscores the value of positive decision-making and personal commitment, especially in social circles.
Parents play a critical role in all drug education, inside and outside of school. Parents start the conversation; the school may continue the message with age-appropriate information on substance abuse. Kids can take home what they learn in school to discuss with their parents. This will further establish trust in a relationship that openly communicates about drug and alcohol use.