Local parents share knowledge, experience with adolescent substance abuse

[Editor’s note: In order to protect the privacy of their son, the names of the “NOT MY CHILD” presenters have been kept confidential.]

Last month on Thursday, October 22nd at Bay Middle School and Wednesday, October 28th at St. Raphael School, a Bay couple presented the program “NOT MY CHILD” to share with parents practical and helpful information they believe every parent should know about adolescent alcohol and other drug experimentation, abuse and addiction.

The couple, parents of three children, speak from experience “because we lived it.” They created the program to share the knowledge and understanding they gained after helping their son through the recovery process.  

The presentation included PowerPoint slides with video clips, music, a voice-over and audience participation segments, as well as a panel of experts.

”We tried to make it as interesting as possible as we were trying to get our message across,” said the parents who presented the program.

“And, apparently, we were successful because the feedback we received from both parents and the experts was very complimentary, which made all the work we put into it even more worthwhile.”

Those who attended the program discovered that adolescent alcohol and drug experimentation starts earlier than they ever imagined.  Local and national studies show boys start drinking as young as 11 years of age and girls as young as 13, but most parents are completely unaware.  At this “experimental level,” children are very good at hiding it, which explains why school officials don’t see the signs of early usage, either.

Even more disturbing is the fact that children who start experimenting at this age are five times more likely to develop a drug or alcohol dependency than a person who chooses to wait until the age of 21.

Other points made in the presentation were: Marijuana is much more potent than it was in the past; more teens enter drug treatment for marijuana dependency than for all other drugs combined; and abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise, with teens among the fastest growing population experimenting with them.

And, unfortunately, the number one source from which teens get prescription drugs is their own home. Because of this, the parents attending the “NOT MY CHILD” program were reminded to monitor or lock up their medications. In addition, any unused or expired drugs should be taken to the Bay Village Police Department’s “Turn-It-In” program.

So when do parents start seeing drug behavior? Earlier than they realize, because when they do notice such behavior, they may not recognize it as a warning sign of drug abuse.

Some of it can be “explained away,” brushed off with the mindset that “they’re just being teens.” The real issue is that parents are in denial and uninformed. Once they do recognize that substance abuse is occurring, they are often hesitant to seek help because they are embarrassed and don’t know where to begin.

The good news is that the Bay parents who presented the program created a Parent Resource Packet available to parents who have a concern. The packet includes common warning signs; instructions on what to do and places to call if drug abuse is suspected; and helpful, informative parenting tips. Packets are available at local schools and churches.

When all is said and done, why do teens try alcohol and other drugs in the first place? A number of reasons were presented during the “NOT MY CHILD” program, including: boredom, wanting to be accepted, and drug availability and access. But the number one reason surprised many. A national study conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America indicated that nearly 75% of teens said that SCHOOL STRESS was the number one reason they tried alcohol and other drugs! Yet only 7% of parents surveyed believed school stress was the reason. Obviously, there is a huge disconnect between parents and children when it comes to the effects of stress.

The presenters discussed this dichotomy in their presentation. “We seem to forget that our children have stress problems, just as we do. Adults develop coping mechanisms to deal with stress better, but for our children, things can, and do, become overwhelming. Sometimes the stress comes from within, such as putting pressure on themselves to get the best grades and sometimes children feel they can’t measure up to what is expected of them. As parents, we need to spend more time talking to our kids about how they are feeling, and begin to recognize when stress is building up.”

There is another important point parents need to pay attention to - the risk factors that make some teens more susceptible to dependency than others. Genetics, underlying issues such as ADD/ADHD, depression and anxiety, and early usage all play strong roles in the development of addictions.

Although there is no cure for the diseases of addiction and alcoholism, they are treatable. Early treatment is the key, which is why it is so important that parents know what to do if they suspect their child is experimenting with drugs or alcohol. The sooner parents act, the better it is for their child.

The parents who presented the program said their early intervention was instrumental in their child’s recovery from addiction. “We were very fortunate to be able to help our child when we did because our child is doing very well today. We’re very proud of our child because we can only imagine how difficult it must be to remain in recovery.”

After the presentation, audience members addressed questions to an expert panel made up of educators, administrators, drug counselors, police and recovering users. The experts were very helpful and informative when answering questions.

“Teen alcohol and other drug abuse carries such a stigma in our community,” said the presenters. “Parents are afraid to talk about it and ask others for help. We’ve heard it time and time again from parents in our community that they feel judged and embarrassed by other parents who don’t understand. And even though drug addiction is not a character flaw nor is it a moral weakness, people still believe or behave as if it is. And this is one of the reasons we needed to come forward to try dispel the stigma of addiction and alcoholism.

“Having said that, the best part of each evening was at the end when parents in the audience came forward and asked us for more information. They said they were no longer afraid and opened up, telling us about the struggles of their children.  

“We felt the programs were a great start, but we cannot stop there. In fact, at the presentation, we passed around a clipboard asking parents and community members if they would be interested in partaking in a community advocacy group we would like to start called B.A.Y. MATTERS – Because All Youth Matter, and the response was overwhelming.

“We are setting up a website and email address at becauseallyouthmatter@yahoo.com for people interested in B.A.Y. Matters or a copy of the Parent Resource Book. The email address should be up and running by Thanksgiving.”
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Volume 1, Issue 7, Posted 12:15 PM, 11.15.2009