This page is focused on preventing youth substance use before it starts. If you’re a parent or caring adult who is concerned about a young person’s substance use and are seeking assistance, please go to the ‘Get Help’ section of the Natick 180 website.
Preventing Substance Use Before it Starts
Parents and caregivers across Natick make decisions every day focused on raising safe and healthy kids. From what foods they serve young people to setting rules about screen-time and technology, parents and caregivers make their kids’ well-being their top priority. When it comes to substance use, it is equally as important that parents and caregivers focus first on the safety and health of young people.
There is a lot “cooking” in the adolescent brain. The brain is growing rapidly, and the prefrontal cortex (an area responsible for decision-making and judgement) is still maturing. Imagine the teen brain as a pot on the stove. Harmful ingredients, such as nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, can turn up the heat. By creating environments that “turn down the temperature,” we can prevent problems for boiling over or even starting to simmer. Prevention can be thought of as “turning down the heat.”
The good news? There’s a lot that parents and other caring adults can do to ‘turn down the heat.’
If you are a parent, your relationship with your child is the first line in preventing substance use. Research shows that the earlier a young person starts using alcohol or drugs, the greater the risk of becoming addicted. It is important to be able to communicate effectively with your children on this subject. You do not need to wait until your child is in middle school to set the groundwork for these conversations. For tips on how to reinforce prevention messages at every age, go to Natick 180’s ‘Tips for Every Age’ page.
Talking with your kids is a protective factor. Young people who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who do not. Know your facts before you start talking, including the fact that the majority of Natick youth are not engaging in binge drinking or misusing illicit drugs.
An effective strategy is to remind young people that the goal is to DELAY any substance use until they are at least 21. Research on the brain science of addiction shows that the developing teen brain continues well into a person’s early to mid-20s. But if a person waits until at least 21 before they start using any substances, their risk for addiction in their lifetime decreases significantly. To learn more about the brain science of addiction, check out Natick 180’s ‘About Addiction & Prevention’ page.
Be prepared to talk about your own experiences with drugs and alcohol. It is very likely that your child(ren) will ask you about your own use of substances. Feel free to share only what you feel comfortable sharing. Keep the conversation focused by saying something like, “We are talking about you, and I want to help you be safe,” or “Everybody makes mistakes – I’m trying to help you from making a bad choice.” It can also be helpful to explain to young people that we know so much more about brain development now than we did 20+ years ago. And it is worth reminding youth that it is illegal to purchase or publicly consume alcohol or marijuana if they are under age 21. For more ideas on how to respond to tough questions, check out Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions from the ‘Talk. They Hear You.’ campaign.
Here are some helpful suggestions to help you get through those conversations:
LISTEN more than you talk.
AFFIRM good choices. It builds self-confidence.
SPEND TIME together. It shows that you care.
SHARE your family’s values.
TALK with your children, not at them. Critical looks shut down communication.
SHOW respect, even when you disagree.
WORDS work best when your actions back them up.
Examples of conversation starters:
“I’ve been thinking about you. How are you feeling?”
“What choice do you think is best for you right now?”
“I’m proud of your choice. Was it a tough decision?”
“I know we’ve talked about this, but it’s worth repeating…”
Getting these conversations going isn’t always easy, but by having them regularly, they get easier. And young people are more likely to remember where you stand if they hear the message repeatedly. For examples of how to weave these conversations into everyday situations, check out these 60-second PSAs from the ‘Talk. They Hear You.’ campaign.
Tips for Parents & Caregivers
1. Model responsible behavior.
Parents’ own alcohol or drug consumption sets a model for their teens, so modeling responsible behavior is important. Regarding drinking alcohol, parents should know how much is actually considered to be a single standard serving size. The below diagram is a helpful depiction of what a single drink is.
It is important to consider how much alcohol you are actually consuming. Moderate drinking is generally considered to be 1 drink per day for adults (no more than 7 drinks per week). Binge drinking is generally defined as 4 drinks within a 2-hour time span on one or more days during a month.
It is against the law to serve or provide alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control. If you do, you may be prosecuted criminally. The penalty is a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to a year, or both. G.L. c.138, sec. 34.
You may also be sued civilly. If you are sued civilly, a jury may decide whether you are liable and how much you will have to pay for injuries caused by your guests.
You could be prosecuted criminally or sued civilly if you knowingly allow a person under 21 to drink at your home, and they become very ill or die from alcohol poisoning or other injuries.
You could be civilly liable if you give permission for your underage child to drink in someone else’s home and they injure or kill a third party.
You could be civilly liable if your child has a few friends over when you are not at home, it develops into a drinking party, and a partygoer injures himself when fleeing after the police arrive.
Even if you win a criminal or civil lawsuit, it is an expensive process. Lawsuits can take years to conclude. They put a tremendous amount of strain on you and your family.
(Adapted from “Social Host Liability Law,” Needham Health Department)
3. Monitor your teen’s prescription medications.
Some young people could be at-risk for prescription medication misuse – particularly those who are prescribed painkillers for wisdom teeth extractions and athletes who may sustain sports-related injuries. Parents should be active partners with health care providers in planning for pain management.
4. Never let teens manage their own pain medications.
Keep all prescriptions stored and locked, and ask healthcare providers for suggestions of additional or alternative pain management strategies besides medications.
5. Properly dispose of medications.
Natick, and many other communities have anonymous medication disposal programs located in their police departments. Natick has a drug disposal kiosk located in the NPD lobby; Natick also participates in a yearly drug take-back program. Proper disposal of prescription medications helps to keep drugs out of the wrong hands.
While it is crucial that parents and other caring adults make prevention a priority in their relationships with young people, the reality is that prevention efforts cannot eliminate the risk of a substance use disorder; they can only decrease those risks. Addiction results from a complicated interaction between genetics and environment, and there are wonderful people from loving families who might still end up developing a substance use disorder. But that does not mean that prevention efforts were a waste of time. Engaged parents and caring adults are more likely to notice early if a young person is using substances, and they are in stronger positions to intervene early and get professional help.
If you have concerns about your child or another young person, below are some tips on recognizing the signs of possible substance use so that you can act if necessary.
Look for behavioral signs of youth substance use. Some of these signs include the following:
Significant changes in friends or social groups
Decline in academic performance
Loss of interest in sports or other hobbies
For more information about possible warning signs, go to Natick 180’s ‘Warning Signs’ page. Natick 180 also has helpful information about how to take the first steps towards helping a loved one with a substance use disorder. Check out ‘Take action’ below for more information.