Why do a percentage of youth use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (ATOD)? For many it is simply about “experimenting” and not knowing any better due to a lack information and / or lack of resources. Thankfully, “experimenting” also involves healthy options such as sports, music and culture. As statistics show; more and more youth continue to choose the healthy options rather than the unhealthy. Despite peer pressure or the lower perceived level of harm regarding substances such as cannabis and prescription medication, today, youth are making better decisions. Why? Part of the reason is due to a nationwide increase in prevention efforts. Today, the field of prevention not only gives youth anti-drug messaging encouraging them to say no, it also provides them with an education and the reasons which the youth need in order to say no.
As a Prevention Specialist, I like to focus on health promotion and information dissemination regarding how drugs and alcohol negatively impact ones overall quality of life and one’s own ability to “feel good naturally”. A strong emphasis is placed on identifying realistic negative outcomes associated with ATOD use, thus increasing the youths perceived level of harm regarding ATOD use. Furthermore, I like to focus on how the brain is designed to reward us with “natural highs” (endorphins) for engaging in activities that require a skill set and effort resulting in personal achievement and peer recognition. Prevention discussions also identify the importance of embracing healthy experimentation so that a young person improves their inventory of healthy coping mechanisms which they will use to navigate challenges in life. Studies show that a youth’s peer group has a significant impact on the decisions they make, especially during emotionally charged settings such as parties and other anxiety prone settings. Therefore, I encourage youth to surround themselves with healthy people, healthy things and engage in healthy fun in order to reduce the possibility of unhealthy peer pressure.
It is not just the youths responsibility to stay informed, it also the parents responsibility. When speaking with parents the focus lies on the importance of providing youth with healthy experimental opportunities which will allow for a youth to identify what they enjoy, and are good at. When a youth discovers something they are good at, it is important for parents to give the recognition which is deserved and needed. This encourages the youth to engage in that activity again and strengthen their skill set for that activity. When their skill set improves recognition increases and vice versa. When parents provide opportunities and recognition it builds trust and bonding between family members which leads to a healthy belief system which reduces the likely hood of alcohol or drug use. This process gives youth a reason to say no.
The field of prevention is constantly adapting to the challenges we face in today’s society although our main goal remains: to provide youth, families and communities information which they can then utilize to make well informed decisions and delay the first use of alcohol and/or other drugs. Statistics show that this process works: According to SAMHSA; data shows that between 2002 and 2011, adolescents’ past-month use illicit drugs declined from 11.6 to 10.1 percent. We are continuing to make progress in these numbers. Addiction and dependency starts in the formative adolescent years but with an increased focus on prevention efforts and a broader platform nationwide to deliver prevention services we will continue to see a reduction in the number of transition age youth and young adults dealing with addiction. For information about prevention programing contact The Councils Information Hotline at 1-800-221-6333.
The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania