Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world – if not the toughest. After all, children do not come with manuals or operating instructions. Looking for guidance, many parents turn to their own childhoods to pick up clues on how to raise children the right way, or at the very least, how not to raise them the wrong way.
But times change. Childhoods of just twenty or thirty years ago were vastly different than they are today. Modern kids, it seems, face more challenges and dangers thanks to the Internet and pressure from peers and the media to grow up way too fast. As a result, many kids turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope, fit in, and self-medicate.
While kids may not come with manuals, there are resources that can help parents raise them to be happy and healthy individuals and to avoid drug and alcohol addiction. Here are three things addiction experts want you to know:
1. The Longer You Can Keep Your Kids Away from Drugs, the Better
Numerous studies have confirmed that the younger a person begins experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. For example, researchers found that nearly 40% of individuals who began using alcohol at or before the age of 14 developed dependence later in life, compared to only 10% who waited to drink until they were 21 or older.
This same pattern has been found with drug use. Each year of delay translates into a 5% decrease in risk of developing an addiction.
While the exact mechanism of this phenomenon isn’t entirely understood, what is known is that the brain is still developing well into a person’s mid-20s. Any change in structure or chemistry seems to make a child more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction later in life.
The takeaway here is this: The longer you can discourage your child from experimenting with drugs or alcohol the better.
2. The “European Model” Has No Validity
Some parents swear by what is called the “European Model” of drinking, where they allow their kids to have the occasional sip of alcohol at family events. The belief is that this teaches kids moderation and also demystifies alcohol, limiting its appeal and reducing the likelihood their kids will go “hog wild” later in life.
But this way of thinking is a relic of a bygone era. Today’s reality is that binge drinking is now a global epidemic. In fact, a survey conducted in 2011 found that a majority of European countries have higher intoxication rates among the young than America. In addition, European youth report getting drunk before the age of 13. Therefor the research concluded there is no evidence that a liberal drinking policy in the home reduced the likelihood of alcohol abuse.
Another long-term study of 561 middle school students found that those who were allowed to occasionally sip their parent’s beer or wine were four times more likely to binge drink once they reached high school.
The takeaway here is: while you may think you’re telling your children “drinking in moderation is okay…” what they may be hearing is, “my parents are okay with me drinking.”
3. Real Emotional Trouble May be Lurking Behind the Abuse
Many people experimented with drugs or alcohol growing up because they were curious, they’re friends were doing it, or they just wanted to appear cool. And it’s tempting for parents to assume that’s why their own child is experimenting now.
But it’s important for parents to understand that oftentimes, substance use is an attempt to self-medicate to escape sadness and depression. Adolescence is a time when mental health issues most commonly present themselves. For the first time in your child’s life they may feel anxious or depressed without knowing the cause or how to deal with these new feelings.
The key takeaway here is to pay attention. Your child’s substance use may not be about experimentation but rather a real cry for help.
If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, speaking with a therapist can help both of you. If you’re interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.
Chelsy A. Castro, JD, MA, AM, LCSW