Do you talk with your young people about substance use? By Meg Keigley- Program Specialist

I am pleasantly surprised by the number of youth who tell me that their parents have had conversations with them about substance use.  I know many parents do because I always make it a point to ask about this when giving presentations in schools.  So now I am curious as to how you all are talking about this topic.

Remember D.A.R.E.?  Turns out that D.A.R.E. did the exact opposite of what it set out to accomplish.  By teaching young people about specific drugs and the dangers that come from using those drugs D.A.R.E. was actually increasing the likelihood that youth would try these drugs out.  Why?  Because the program highlighted the risks associated with substance use. During adolescence, youth and risk taking might as well be moths and flames. 

Developmentally, youth are primed to take risks.  Their brains are designed to reward them for taking risks.  It’s the cerebral push they need to become independent.  It’s also the driving force behind a lot of poor decisions young people make from driving too fast to testing out marijuana for the first time.

We now know that talking about the risks associated with substance use is not always the most effective way of approaching this conversation.  So what is the best way to talk with youth about substance use? 

Here at Team we like to approach this conversation from a perspective of “concern and hope”.  I learned this term a few years ago at a conference and like how it can capture the true risks associated with substance use while focusing on the positives aspects in young people’s lives. 

I still think it is important to educate youth about the risks of substance use.  But I do this through a scientific lens.  Instead of comparing a brain on drugs to a fried egg in a skillet (something that most youth will laugh at anyways) I talk about the science of addiction.  I talk with teens about where their brains are developmentally and how introducing substances can drastically change that development, sometimes permanently.  Then, we talk about why people are compelled to use substances and how we can meet those needs, whether it be to cope with stress, fit in with friends, or take a risk, in a healthy way. 

Youth who talk with their parents about substances are less likely to initiate use.  This is an important conversation to have but an easy one!  

Gordon Coombes