Key parenting factors for preventing underage drinking and drug use

Knowing the signs of underaged drinking and drug use is an important part of raising adolescents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YBRS) widespread drug use among the American youth is an issue of extreme importance. The CDC reports that despite the legal alcohol drinking age being 21, adolescents ages 12-20 consumed 11 percent of alcohol in the United States. The YBRS reported that in 2015, more than 26 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes while about 35 percent reported using marijuana.

In addition to alcohol, marijuana and cigarette use, some teens are also falling victim to prescription drug use. According to the Prevention Network, 1 in 6 teens have used prescription drugs that have not been prescribed for them. Some do it to party and become high and others use pills to manage stress and their daily life. Teens often get the drugs from acquaintances, friends or family members.

Underage drug use is a “persistent public health problem” in which most teens have their first intoxicating experience in the early or middle adolescent years. Prevention strategies at the community, school, and family level are frequently practiced, while parental interventions are some of the most effective methods for preventing drug use or underage drinking in adolescents. 

The Prevention Network suggests the following take-away-techniques to empower parents:

  1. Understand youth drug use. Learn the effects it has on the adolescent brain and body, the complications of addiction, why and how prevalently young people use drugs, and the childhood developmental stages. 
  2. Establish strong communication skills to build parent-child relationships. Create clear rules expectations, supervisions and consequences.
  3. Be a positive role model by setting an example of not using drugs.
  4. Know the risk factors for individuals, families, and communities. 
  5. Know the families predisposed risk factors.

The CDC suggests parental involvement in schools is linked with helping children avoid unhealthy behaviors such as unprotected sex and tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Researchers Komro and Toomey also advise the use of parental homework assignments about drug use in order to bring the discussions into homes. The National Institutes of Health website has information geared toward teens that include drug facts, games and blogs. 

Though these strategies are effective, statistics obviously show that many adolescents still do drugs. So, what can a parent do if they suspect a child already has a drug abuse problem? The Prevention Network says parents must acknowledge, instead of deny, their child’s drug use. The problem can be handled at the home, but there are many support systems available to offer help. These include school counselors, other parents or parenting groups, family doctors or pediatricians, community health centers, or faith leaders. Many families dealing with drug or alcohol use find support groups helpful, such as Al Anon. Visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse for more information.

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