Talk to Your Kids about Drugs

Many children and teens are faced with the decision to try tobacco drugs or alcohol. Is your child equipped to handle this pressure?

Kids say their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to saying no to drugs and alcohol, according to research conducted by the National Crime Prevention Council and other organizations.

“One of the most significant things parents can do with their children is devote time to discussing the prevention of drug and alcohol use,” said John Eustace, M.D., medical director of South Miami Hospital’s Addiction Treatment Center. “This doesn’t mean preaching or lecturing to kids; it means having open communication about the many issues that adolescents and teens face, including substance abuse.”

Dr. Eustace recommends role playing with your kids – teaching them how to respond and equipping them with dialogue they can use when presented with drugs and alcohol.

In other words, the best defense is education. And not only do kids need to learn about the risks and dangers of drug and alcohol use from their parents; parents need to be tuned in to what it’s like to be a youth these days.

“It’s important for parents to learn more about today’s drug culture,” advises Gary Silverman, clinical supervisor at the Addiction Treatment Center. “What you don’t know can put your child at risk.”

The New Highs
You may think you know about the drug culture because drugs were around when you were growing up. But today’s kids know more about drugs and are exposed to a greater variety of choices through movies and songs and on websites and social media.

Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin and hallucinogens are still being misused. In fact, marijuana remains the most misused illicit substance among youth, according to studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And because, today’s drugs are more potent, kids and parents also face the dangers of easily accessible designer drugs.

“Kids are getting dangerous highs from drugs that are legal and easily found in their own homes or in stores,” Mr. Silverman said.

Prescription drugs of choice include ADD and ADHD medications like Ritalin and Adderall, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, and opiates, or pain killers, like Vicodin and oxycodone. These drugs are often brought to “Skittles parties,” also called “pharm parties,” where teens exchange the colorful pills that they’ve swiped from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

You may think the terms “bath salts” and “glass cleaner” sound harmless, but both drugs produce highs similar to cocaine. And though most people can’t imagine inhaling household products, experts have seen an increase in teens huffing products like the computer cleaner Dust Off to get high.

Tobacco, drug and alcohol use by teens is dangerous at any and all levels, warns Dr. Eustace.

“Because the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 or later, the youthful brain is more susceptible to harm and altered function when exposed to alcohol and drugs,” he said.

Watch for Warning Signs
How can you tell if your child is misusing alcohol or drugs? Finding hard evidence such as a “stash” of marijuana, cigarettes, beer cans, pills or other drug paraphernalia certainly indicates there is a problem, says Dr. Eustace. And, there often are other subtle clues. Watch for these warning signs to spot trouble before it goes too far:

• Change in sleep habits
• Lack of energy
• Change in personal hygiene
• Mood swings
• Falling grades
• Change in friends
• Loss of appetite
• Constricted eye pupils or bloodshot eyes
• Using incense, perfume or breath mints to hide odors
• Avoiding eye contact

So, what do you do if you suspect your child is using?

“Screaming doesn’t help, but love and support do,” said Mr. Silverman. “Parents should have an open dialogue with their child and speak in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental way. The goal should be for your child to understand that the behavior is harmful and cannot continue, but you are there to help.”

Seek Treatment
If you think your teen has developed an addiction, it’s vital to get professional help, says Dr. Eustace.

South Miami Hospital’s Addiction Treatment Center offers treatment for adolescents ages 14-17. The Center’s Adolescent Drug Education and Evaluation Program has five main treatment goals:

• Eliminate the use of all mood-altering substances.
• Identify and work through denial of the addiction.
• Gain knowledge of substance abuse and addiction.
• Gain self-esteem.
• Establish open communication with the family.

“[Denying treatment] can be compared to not taking your child to the doctor when he or she is seriously ill,” Dr. Eustace said. “It is a condition which, if something isn’t done promptly, can result in grave consequences, including premature death.”

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