The Power of Parents in Preventing Substance Abuse

The heroin epidemic in Maryland continues to make headlines, with both Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Anne Arundel County officials having declared it a “public health emergency.”

But as any parent would tell you, it’s not just heroin they worry about but a whole host of temptations that seem to be impacting kids at even younger ages.

Parents are still the #1 influence on their teens. According to research done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 93 percent of teens reported their parents would be disappointed if they used alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs.

“Education is definitely one of the biggest keys in the fight against adolescent drug use,” says Keshia Brooks, prevention education coordinator for Pathways. “The earlier we can teach them about the dangers of drugs and what these substances can do to their body, the better chance we have of them not wanting to try them.”

So what power do parents have in preventing substance abuse?

“The safety of our children’s future is at stake and parents have a very important role in the sobriety of their children. The first thing a parent has to do to is to educate themselves about the current drug trends. They should learn about what’s going on in their community and use that information to start a conversation with their kids,” Brooks says.

The Academy of Pediatrics calls it Purposeful ParentingThe National Institute on Drug Abuse cites the importance of family bonding saying it is the bedrock of the relationship between parents and children.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be a parent to your child, not a friend.
  • Educate yourself about what’s happening in your child’s school, in the community and about resources available to help.
  • Be a positive role model and promote positive behaviors.
  • Communicate effectively.

Effective communication helps reassure family members that they care about each other and appreciate each other’s efforts. Good everyday communication can also make it easier to bring up issues, make requests when needed, and resolve conflict when it arises.

Every family needs ongoing communication about shared interests and concerns—running the household, recreational activities, and solving problems—to name just a few. Family members also need to be able to express feelings to each other, emotions such as happiness, anger, sadness, concern, and anxiety.

“You will be surprised how comfortable a child is about talking about drugs, especially if it is something that is so prominent in their environment,” Brooks says. “A parent’s knowledge of drugs, positive influences and productive conversations with children can carry their child a long way in having a healthy and productive drug free life.”

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers these tips on things to remember for effective communication with your child:

Expressing Positive Feelings

We all feel good when our efforts are acknowledged. When we give people positive feedback about what they’ve done, however small, we let them know they are appreciated. And that sense of being noticed and cared about can help foster further change and growth. Try deliberately expressing positive feelings using these steps:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Tell the person what he or she did that pleased you.
  3. Tell him or her how it made you feel. For example: “I’m proud of you for talking to your teacher about that, even though I know you didn’t feel like it.”

Expressing Negative Feelings

We all have negative feelings at times. Learning to express them constructively is crucial to resolving conflicts and getting along with others. To air negative feelings in a way that will help resolve them, try these steps:

  1. Look at the person and talk with a serious tone of voice.
  2. Tell the person what he or she did that displeased you.
  3. Tell him or her how you feel as a result—be specific
  4. Make a request for change, if possible. For example: “I was worried when you didn’t come home from school at your usual time. In the future, if you think you’re going to be late, please call me.”

Express Feelings Clearly with “I” Statements

Describe your own feelings and avoid putting others on the defensive. By using words such as “angry,” “happy,” “upset,” or “worried,” you can tell your own truth and help prevent the misunderstandings that can occur when people have to guess each other’s feelings. “I” statements, such as “I feel anxious when . . . ,” are direct, and they make an impression. When upset feelings are involved, “I” statements work better than blaming “you” statements.

For example, instead of saying “You really ticked me off when you were late for dinner last night” (a blaming statement), try this: “I was angry when you came home late for dinner last night. I’d appreciate it if you’d be on time or call if you’re going to be late.”

 Do you have a family member struggling with drug use, alcohol use, or a combination of substance use and mental health problems?

Pathways hosts free one-day “Family Wellness Workshops” to help families gain facts and understanding about addiction, substance use and co-occurring mental health issues, as well as relapse prevention strategies. At Pathways, we believe that family involvement is an integral part of the recovery process. Find information on upcoming workshops here or call 410-573-5449. If you’re traveling in from out of town, you may want to check into staying at our Hackerman-Patz House

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