Help kids avoid substance-use problems with communication, facts

Published 5:52 am Wednesday, March 4, 2020


Contributing columnist

When it comes to knowing how to best educate young people effectively about substance misuse and addiction, there often seems to be no road map right now. If you are a parent of school age children and youth in Kentucky, you may be confused. If you are a Kentucky teacher, you may be confused. If you are an adult who plays any role in the development of the life of a child — and that’s most of us — you may be confused. 

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We live in a state which is currently experiencing a vaping crisis in teens fueled by deceptive and unethical advertising. The importance of the bourbon industry to our economic future is a source of daily statewide business forecasts. And our state legislators are considering legalizing medical marijuana while some people sit in our overcrowded prisons because of marijuana-related crimes.

It’s hard enough for adults to understand all of this in the context of the state’s worst addiction crisis ever — the opioid crisis, and the related loss of lives and effects on the criminal justice system and families. Imagine what it’s like to figure all this out through the eyes of an elementary, middle-school or high-school student. 

Nevertheless, it’s still our job as adults to help our young people to follow safe life paths forward. Abdicating this responsibility means leaving a gap in their lives that will be filled by false advertising, adults who just want to make a profit, other kids with the same challenges or outright lies on the Internet. As has been repeatedly shown in recent studies, parents and other caregivers and mentors are still key in educating youth to prevent substance use disorders in the next generation.

The White House Office of Drug Control Policy just published a “Rural Community Action Guide: Building Stronger, Healthy, Drug-Free Rural Communities.” The recommendations in the guide are targeted to communities like ours. The report includes strong messages about more effectively engaging parents in the fight against addiction, and encouraging strong family bonds — a researched protective factor in preventing substance misuse and mental health disorders.

Recommendations also include proper medication storage and disposal in rural homes; more honest and informed conversations about substances in families; more open communication with primary health care providers; and the use of more evidence-based school prevention programs.

Growing up in a family with healthy communication and strong values doesn’t absolutely ensure an addiction-free future for a child, but it does go a long way. Every list of recommendations to parents who are looking to prevent their children from having a future substance-use disorder includes the following: set clear expectations with your kids; maintain open and honest communication; know the early warning signs of problems; and seek outside help when needed. 

And, in the current changing public policy environment, parents do well to address the following: the difference between what is legal for adults and what is legal and safe for their underage children to do; their family history of problems with substance misuse and addiction; and how to understand the differences between public opinion and validated facts about substances.

Members of our local ASAP organization who have recently spent time speaking and listening to students in local schools can tell you that students want to talk with adults about these hard topics. And their teachers are happy to have community partners to be part of a caring, informed, extended community circle of support for youth. Relationships matter when it comes to building a prevention-support network. 

There’s no doubt that mixed messages about potentially addictive substances are rampant right now. Instead of letting confusion keep us from acting, it’s important that we move forward with what we know to be true, continue to ask for more research on the prevention of substance use disorders, and providing support to our children and youth — even when we don’t have all the answers.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.