2010-06-02 / Columnists

Keep your kids safe and drug-free

Heroin and prescription drug abuse have grabbed the headlines of our local papers on a very regular basis. Our children have dearly paid the price for a growing problem that is not going away. However, answers and re­sources are available. There is not a simple solution and in many instances the response is complicated and frustrating. As parents, there are things we can do today to ensure that our children stay safe and healthy. It begins with opening our eyes to the pos­sibility that tragic outcomes can result for wonderful children. Many parents struggle with the question, “don’t all teenagers drink a little?” or “just be­cause my teen has smoked a little marijuana, does that mean he has a problem?” Parents may compare their own experiences growing up with their child’s experimentation. There is no doubt that today there is far more expo­sure, availability, and lethality for the adoles­cent who is using any substance. Marijuana is far more potent than ever before and syn­thetic marijuana (known as K-2, spice, Yu­catan fire) may be available in stores as it is not currently illegal. Children are starting to experiment with drugs much earlier and be­coming addicted much faster. As a treatment provider, we witness daily the progression of addiction that begins with alcohol and mari­juana use that quickly devastates the adoles­cent and his family. Alcohol and marijuana can wreak havoc on the adolescent’s growing mind and body and interrupt crucial devel­opmental

milestones. While the outcome is not always lethal, it can still be life changing. Decisions such as choosing whether or not to continue on to college, get behind the wheel of a car afterdrinking, or have a casual sexual encounter oftenhave consequences that im­pact for a lifetime. Unfortunately, there exists a misconception that alcohol and drug treatment programs are only for adults and therefore, children who attend treatment will be exposed to far worse behaviors that will negatively influence them. While many programs do not treat adolescents, there are specialized programs, such as those conducted at YES (Youth En­vironmental Services), that have services ex­clusive to adolescents and families affected by substance abuse. An effective program not only focuses on the substance abuse and the person who is using, but aims to strengthen the entire family unit and identify possible underlying issues for the adolescent. Prob­lems such as depression, learning disabili­ties and family conflict can often contribute to low-self esteem, impulsivity, or difficultymaking friends. All these factors can precede substance use. Drugs are a powerful anes­thetic, especially if your child knows no other way to make him or herself feel better. When the adolescent builds a healthier self concept, learns better coping skills, and improves fam­ily and social relationships, often there is less of a need for harmful substances in his or her life. Life skills acquired in treatment can be very instrumental for the adolescent and young adult as challenges arise in the years to come, that go far beyond decisions related to substance use.

While even minors have legal rights in a treatment setting, parents have much greater influence on whether their teen stops using than realized. The large majority of teens in a treatment program are there for one reason; their parents insisted upon it. Teen substance abuse thrives in a home where parents feel powerless, do not communicate with one another, or do not maintain a united front. When a teen does refuse to go to treatment, parents can empower themselves by seek­ing

help from a treatment program that can assist them in coming up with a plan of ac­tion. Denying that your child may be using a substance will not make the problem go away; and in fact, in time, it usually gets far worse.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of sub­stance abuse is the first step: •Change in socialization habits, peer group or isolation.

•Sudden or extreme weight loss or gain. •Changes in sleep including wakefulness, less need for sleep, or increased need for sleep.

•Erratic or extreme mood changes in­cluding irritability, aggression, paranoia, or euphoria. •Decreased motivation or changes in school or job performance.

•Isolation or increased secrecy with family. •Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities. •Repeated requests for money, missing money, jewelry or other valuables. •Frequent symptoms of illness including fever, runny nose or cough. •Poor coordination or increased accidents or injuries. A teen who is using any substance may exhibit many or few signs. The best tool a parent has is their instinct. Here are some more ways to prevent and respond to teen substance abuse: Teach your values and communicate them openly. It is never too early or late to start a dialogue and let your child know how impor­tant they are to you. Ask your child what their experiences have been and how they respond to pressures from others around them. Lis­tening to your child and sharing your values helps shape who they become. Thebetter they feel about themselves, the more likely they are to make healthy decisions.

Clean out your medicine cabinet and al­ways keep any prescriptions safely stored, monitored and disposed of. Before you re­quest medication for you or your child, dis­cuss the need for the quantity and dosage. Model what you say and do, all the time. When you make a mistake, as we all do, ac­knowledge it for your child’s benefit. Teach them to refuse dangerous substances and make healthy choices. You taught them to look both ways crossing the street and to avoid the hot stove; you must do the same when it comes to alcohol and drugs.

Make rules and enforce consequences. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. This simple word can save your child’s life. All children need to experience boundaries and limitations. Reinforce healthy and positive choices and get your children involved in healthy activi­ties. Research tells us that children who are involved with outside clubs and organizations are less likely to become alcohol and drug in­volved. Find what your children do well and nurture them every day. Be aware who your child’s friends are and get to know their parents. Your children will findfriends who share their values and per­ceptions. Educate yourself and ask for help. There are wonderful resources at your fingertips that can provide you with up to date informa­tion. The following websites are good places to start: www.TheAntidrug.com and www.streetdrugs.com

YES Community Counseling Center is li­censed by the New York State Office of Sub­stance Abuse Services to provide affordable prevention and treatment services to those whose lives have been affected by substance use or abuse. YES has been specializing in the needs of adolescents and families for over 32 years. YES is located at 75 Grand Ave., Mas­sapequa. If you think your child or a family member may need help, call 799-3203. For more information, visit us at www.yesccc.org.

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