Teens are confronted with many risky temptations that may have far-reaching effects on their future and their health. Every child -- including yours -- is at risk for substance abuse as early as middle school. More than 25% of Massachusetts 8th graders have reported using alcohol and nearly 12% have used marijuana. According to Massachusetts Department of Public Health publications:
- A person who starts drinking before age 15 is four times more likely to develop alcoholism than someone who delays drinking until age 21; the longer you can postpone the age of first use, the safer your child is likely to be.
- Marijuana is more potent than it was even ten years ago; marijuana use can lead to serious mental, emotional and social issues.
- Heroin can kill even after one use and it is extremely addictive; in 2003 there were over 36,000 admissions into heroin treatment programs in Massachusetts.
- Inhalants can cause permanent brain damage or death, even on the first use.
- In 2003, 28 percent of Massachusetts teens said they had ridden in a car within the past month with a driver who had been drinking.
- Teens who drink have higher rates of fighting, riding with a drunk driver, carrying a weapon, attempting suicide, engaging in risky sexual behavior, using other illegal drugs, and being victims of sexual assault.
Although communicating with teens is often challenging, ongoing communication with your teen can make a difference in preventing substance abuse. Research has shown that teens who learn anti-drug messages at home are 42% less likely to use drugs, and 33% of teens who do not use drugs say the reason they do not is concern about losing their parents' respect and pride. Talking about alcohol and drug issues cannot guarantee that your teenager won't make a mistake, but through talking with your teenager often and thoughtfully, you are providing guidance for making responsible decisions:
- When talking with and listening to your teen, do so without judging.
- Discuss the physical effects and potential legal consequences of using drugs and alcohol.
- Set clear limits and know where your child is and whom he/she is with; follow through with consequences if your teenager doesn't abide by the rules.
- Stay involved with your child's life and spend time alone with your child.
- Be a role model, not using illegal drugs and never drinking and driving; if you drink, do so in moderation.
- Encourage your child to spend several hours a week on a combination of community service, sports, art, music, drama and/or clubs.
- Be involved in your child's academics, attending school events and letting your child know you value education.
- Develop family expectations and rules that indicate that it is not okay for children to drink, use inhalants, or drugs. Share your reasons for making these rules, and the consequences for breaking them. Make it your family's policy for your teen to call you for a ride, no matter what time of day or night, if a driver has been drinking or using drugs.
Despite your best efforts, your teen may develop a substance abuse problem. If your child exhibits warning signs, such as slurred speech, change in appearance of eye pupils, sudden weight gain or loss, sudden psychological changes like aggressiveness, hostility and lying, or social changes such as a drop in school attendance and grades, or you find drug paraphernalia, seek help. Contact Beacon Health Strategies (Commonwealth Indemnity and Navigator/Spirit by Tufts Health Plan members) or your health plan or for assistance.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health provides free materials that provide suggestions for talking with your teen about alcohol and drugs. Their "Be the First to Talk to Your Pre-Teen about Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs" brochure can help you get started with discussing these topics. Listings of additional community resources are included. Their teen-appropriate materials provide information on the legal consequences of substance abuse as well as physical consequences of inhalant abuse. Download these publications at the DPH Bureau of Substance Abuse website, or to order these materials, contact the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse 1-800-952-6637.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.