The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) addresses teen substance abuse on its website, stating the most commonly used substances by teenagers and the extent of the problem include:
• Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are substances most commonly used by adolescents.
• By 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol.
• About half of 9th through 12th grade students reported ever having used marijuana.
• About 4 in 10 9th through 12th grade students reported having tried cigarettes.
• Among 12th graders, close to 2 in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.
Although it is illegal for people under 21 years of age to drink alcohol, the CDC said its findings show that people from 12 to 20 years of age consume about one-tenth of all alcohol consumed in the United States.
Parents can play a big role in the prevention of underage substance use and gambling. In the following guest column, prevention specialize Janane Krongos responds to the most common questions that many parents have about teen substance abuse.
Why are these conversations important?
Many children have questions about substances and gambling. Parents are the best people to answer these questions, because their children trust them. Parents should help youth understand the negative health consequences of underage substance use and gambling. When youth are knowledgeable about health consequences, their perception of harm increases. An increased perception of harm will reduce the likelihood of experimentation.
Are underage youth really using substances and gambling?
Yes, some underage youth are using substances and gambling. To learn about the prevalence of underage substance use and gambling, I would recommend reviewing the Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) 2020 Student Health Survey. This survey is an anonymous school-based survey of Oregon students (6th, 8th, and 11th grade). Survey results include the following information regarding substances, student’s perceived risk of harm, parental norms, peer norms, age of first use, and 30-day use. Additionally, information about gambling, types of gambling, and gambling behaviors is also included. You can find this survey on the Oregon Health Authority’s website (www.oregon.gov).
When should I have a conversation?
As soon as you can. For the best results, parents should have these conversations before their children are exposed to substances or gambling.
How often should I have these conversations?
These conversations should happen regularly.
At what age do I stop having these types of conversations?
There is not a specific age to stop having these types of conversations. Parents should plan on continuing to have these conversations until their children reach early adulthood.
Is there a perfect time or occasion to have these conversations?
No, there is not a perfect time or occasion. Parents should integrate these topics into everyday conversations.
Where should I have these conversations?
These conversations can happen anywhere.
Try having a conversation:
• In the car: on a road trip, running errands, and transporting youth (sports practice, school, club meeting, or to a friend’s house).
• At home: while doing chores, preparing a meal, or playing a game.
• Outside of home (in private): on a shopping trip, at a park, sharing dinner at a restaurant, or taking a walk.
Are there some basic tips that will help me make the most of the conversations?
Yes, here are some tips that may be helpful.
Before the conversation:
• Learn the facts of underage substance use. One online resource that I would recommend for this is the National Institute on Drug Abuse website (www.teens.drugabuse.gov).On this website, parents can learn the facts about underage substance use, learn about the health consequences of underage use, learn common questions that youth have about substances, and learn how to prevent underage substance use.
• Learn how gambling can affect a person’s health. I recommend the OHA’s Impacts of Gambling on Public Health. Health and social impacts featured in this document are substance use, mental health, physical health, relationships, criminology, and economy. This resource is located on the OHA website (www.oregon.gov).
• Learn how to have conversations about substance use with youth. One place that I would recommend for this is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Talk They Hear You (TTHY) campaign website (www.samhsa.gov). Campaign resources include: 5 Conversation Goals, Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions, Keeping your Kids Safe Brochures, and the SAMSHA TTHY podcast.
• Learn about problem gambling prevention. I recommend the Oregon Problem Gambling Resource (OPGR) website (www.opgr.org). Prevention resources on the OPGR website include warning signs, responsible guidelines, and conversation tips.
During the conversation:
• Remind youth of family rules regarding substance use and gambling.
• Let youth know that underage substance use and gambling can negatively affect their health.
• Provide youth with ideas on how they can decline offers of substances or gambling.
• Role-play with youth to help them feel comfortable declining substances or gambling.
• Help youth identify other caring adults that they can go to ask questions.
• Let youth know that they can come to you if they have questions about substance’s or gambling.
Following the conversation:
• Check in after the conversation to see if they have any questions.
• Repeat the conversation often.
I hope that this column has been helpful to you. If you have questions about this column, please feel free to contact me at Janeanek@tfcc.org.
Janane Krongos is a prevention specialist with Tillamook Family Counseling Center. She can be reached at Janeanek@tfcc.org or at 503-843-8201.