Substance Abuse Prevention Starts at a Young Age
My grand a-ha, this-is-why-my-parents-make-my-life-miserable moment happened one summer when I was almost 17. All of my friends were going to the lake for a camp-out. There were about 30 people in total. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me stay out, they said no. Didn’t even entertain the idea, it was a hard NO, plain and simple. My sister had just turned 18 so she was allowed to stay out, and my best friend's mom didn't care. Despite her being 2 years younger than me, she was allowed to do a lot more than I was. My parents were strict. My curfew was 10 on the weeknights, and 11 on the weekends. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Her curfew consisted of checking in with her mom occasionally.
I left the lake at 10 that night to ensure I was home by 11, of course thinking my parents had ruined my life. I was allowed to leave the house at 5:30 the next morning and I was very avidly watching the clock. When I arrived back at the campsite I panicked. I had never seen so many police cars in one place. There were state troopers, the sheriff's department, police, and park and recreation officers surrounding the campsite. I kept circling the lake trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't call my parents because they would make me go home and sit through a lecture about choosing better friends. After 5 or 6 trips around the lake, the law enforcement officers began to leave. I pulled up to the campsite and my best friend immediately started giving me crap for not stopping sooner.
Somehow throughout the night, they had met another group of people and the two parties joined together. There were excessive noise and underage drinking complaints made by other campers. The sheriff's station was on the lake so they were monitoring the party from a distance. When it finally died down and my friends had gone to bed, law enforcement came in and woke everyone up. They made them clean up the entire campsite and dispose of any alcohol that was remaining. They said that if they saw anyone leave the campsite they would immediately be pulled over and would have to do a DUI check. There were over 50 people in the group by this point and the officers didn't have the time, or manpower, to deal with each person individually.
Fast forward 4 years, she and I are still best friends. At this point, we are the only ones from that group at the lake that each other still talks to. We have both made other friends and our paths have gone differently. It was shortly after this time we stopped talking for a while. She was in a bad relationship, had begun using drugs, and cut herself off from everyone that he didn't like. She called me one night from her mom's house. She was pregnant and had left him. We met for lunch, the first time I had seen her in over a year. Unfortunately, it was also the only time I would see her for another year.
I was taught coping mechanisms at a young age. I learned that life wasn't fair, I was going to get disappointed along the way, and that there were healthy ways to deal with problems. She had learned to cope with life through the use of drugs and alcohol.
She has been sober for 5 years now. She is in a healthy relationship, her kids are happy and healthy, and she a strong support system behind her. The biggest struggle she has and will continue to have is her ability to cope. Drugs were her coping mechanism. Being high meant being unaware. When you ask her what the hardest part of her recovery is, she will tell you "every day I fight to remain sober and I have to convince myself I'm worthy of the life I have now." When asked if I could share her story she agreed, hoping somebody else would see it and not take that 1st step down the road of addiction.
I believe that the decisions and influences we had as teenagers affected the adults we became. Addiction is preventable. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependences, https://www.ncadd.org/, says that drug use is reduced amongst youth when it is perceived as harmful. Substance abuse prevention needs to start at a young age.
Tips for parents:
- Don't be afraid to upset your children. Let them see you as the strict parent, their thoughts about how you will react may influence their decisions.
- Know who your child is with- their friends, the parents of their friends, and the communities they hang out in.
- Teach your kids ways to kill boredom- music, art, sports, community activities, or a part-time job
- Establish clear rules about the use of drugs and alcohol
Tips for youth
- Don't be afraid to say no- everyone is not doing it. You don't have to justify your reason, say no and walk away
- Think about who you hang out with- if you are hanging out with people who use drugs and alcohol, you will be more likely to use. Make friends with people who positively influence you.
- Maintain a relationship with your parents and other positive adults- You are going to have questions and need someone to talk to about life.
- Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it- focus on things that make you happy and keep you occupied
- Have a backup plan at all times- if you are at a party or gathering always have someone you can call if you need to leave
Tips for everyone-
- Get educated about drugs and alcohol and how to recognize signs of use
- Set a positive example- what you do says more than what you say
- Get Help- if you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol get help. The sooner the better.