Ways to Prevent Youth Substance Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, individuals diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders, including depression, are twice as likely to suffer from substance dependence as the general public. Prevention is much easier than treating addiction and there are many ways to educate and protect youth about and from substance abuse.
Establish and maintain good communication with your children. Talk to them every day about what happened in your life and ask them about theirs with questions that they cannot answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” One example is “What was your favorite part of the day?” Ask your children their opinions and include them in decision making. This will show them that you value their thoughts and input.
Be ready to talk to your children as early as Fourth Grade about alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. They already may be feeling peer pressure to experiment with those substances. Listen nonjudgmentally, repeating their concerns to make sure you understand clearly. Resist the urge to preach.
Stay involved with your children’s lives by spending time doing something they want to do every day and have them participate in positive group activities like after school programs, sports teams and scouting troops. Attend games and performances and praise them for their efforts. Get to know your children’s friends and their families. Help your children manage problems by asking what is wrong when they seem upset and letting them know you that you are available to help. Youth are less likely to get involved with alcohol, drugs and tobacco when caring adults are part of their lives.
Make clear rules and enforce them consistently, which will teach children to take responsibility for their actions. When parents set harsh rules or have none, youth are more likely to try substances. Discuss rules, expectations and consequences in advance. Be sure to remember to praise your children when they follow the rules and meet your expectations. Youth imitate adults so be a positive role model. Demonstrate ways to have fun, manage stress and solve problems without using alcohol or drugs. Point out examples of irresponsible behavior in movies and music or on social media. Most importantly, avoid contradictions between your words and actions. Drink alcohol in moderation and never use tobacco or illegal drugs.
Lastly, establish an ongoing conversation with your children about avoiding substance abuse. Explain the effects of alcohol, drugs and tobacco on the body (including slowed growth and impaired coordination) and the legal consequences of each, such as losing his or her driver’s license or a college scholarship or loan. Make it clear that you do not want your children using substances and that you will be disappointed if they choose to do so. If you learn that they have tried alcohol, drugs or tobacco, be honest about your concerns, but emphasize that you still love them.