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Drug and Alcohol Awareness Helps Teens Steer Clear

Thursday, March 21, 2024

During National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, start a conversation with your preteen or teenager. Photo shows mom talking with her daughter on a couch. Alcohol and drug awareness is crucial for teenagers because the adolescent brain itself is a risk factor for addiction. During National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week, parents, educators and other caregivers should have open conversations with teens about their susceptibility to developing substance use disorder.

Teenagers’ developing brains tend to make them more impulsive. Adolescents are more willing to take risks to get the reward of dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the body and linked to feelings of pleasure, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The goal of drug and alcohol facts week is to inspire conversations about the science of drug use and addiction that help teenagers make better decisions. “Raising awareness about substance abuse can help prevent addiction, create a supportive environment and improve mental health,” said NewBridge Services CEO Michelle Borden.

“Communication is key and a protective factor between parents and children,” noted Derk Replogle, NewBridge’s director of Addiction Services. “Showing interest, being involved and speaking to your children about substances (as well as gaming/gambling) are very important first steps.”

National alcohol guidelines provide that adult men have no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one. But no amount of alcohol is appropriate for adolescents. Alcohol consumption can interfere with normal brain development and increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction reported. Drug use and drinking by adolescents can contribute to poor judgment, poor school performance, and injuries and death.  

Alcohol and Drug Awareness Survey Results

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 12.2% of respondents ages 12 to 20 had vaped nicotine in the prior month, and 15.1% had consumed alcohol. Over the prior year, 11.1% of that age group vaped marijuana. The survey estimated 554,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 used inhalants.

NIDA has compiled a list of the 10 questions teenagers most often ask about alcohol and drugs. The top question is, “What is the worst drug?” The response delves into the difficulty of answering that question: while synthetic opioids like fentanyl claimed the most lives in fatal overdoses in 2021, long-term damage from cigarette smoking causes 480,000 deaths a year.

Effective Treatment

Another popular question during National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week is whether there’s a cure for addiction. Though the answer is no, NIDA emphasizes successful treatment options that include behavioral counseling and medications. 

NewBridge Services provides outpatient addiction treatment for adults and adolescents, with clients attending one-on-one and/or group sessions each week. NewBridge uses evidence-based practices to help clients alter harmful behaviors, work toward recovery and prevent relapse. Medication and support groups may be part of treatment. Individuals can continue working and living at home.

Alcohol and Drug Awareness Warning Signs

Signs of addiction to alcohol or drugs in a teenager include:

  • Losing interest in favorite activities
  • Getting in trouble at school or in the community
  • Missing classes or skipping school altogether
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Changing sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Having more conflicts with family and friends

When someone has an addiction, they will continue to use the substance in spite of its negative impacts on their health and relationships.

Advice for Families, Schools

Addiction often takes root during adolescents, so the best defense is to prevent substance use or delay it by raising awareness among teenagers and families. School-based prevention programs that are most effective strengthen teens’ resiliency through skills training. NewBridge offers such programs to schools in Morris and Passaic counties. Contact Beth Jacobson, NewBridge’s director of Community Outreach and Education, at (973) 686-2242 or ejacobson@newbridge.org.

Parents are encouraged during National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week to start the conversation about the risks of alcohol and drug use with their children, and return to it frequently as they grow. It’s best to open the dialogue before they are exposed to drugs and alcohol, often in middle school. Doing so can help protect them from addiction and high-risk behaviors associated with alcohol and drug use.

“Keeping lines of communication open plays a crucial role in prevention and early intervention, and parents are a vital influence,” Jacobson said. “Having conversations early and often about sensitive topics like substance use and mental health will increase the likelihood that your child will open up to you,” she said. “It is important that you show that you care about your teen’s health and well-being, and set clear expectations about alcohol and drug use.”

Please support NewBridge Services’ efforts to prevent and treat addiction by making a donation at newbridge.org/donate.

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