Written by Sepia Sharma 

Preventing substance abuse in children & youth

23/07/2015 3:06:13 PM | 0 comments |
Parenting is a lot like a journey – full of many beautiful and exciting moments and some unexpected detours. Our destination is to ultimately have healthy and happy children, that will one day be well-adjusted, successful, and resilient adults.

Parenting adolescents can be particularly bumpy, and you will notice some interesting changes in behaviours and attitudes. As my son is approaching his teen years, I am getting all too familiar with those bumps. Like many parents out there, I sometimes worry about how these changes will affect my relationship with my child. I understand that these changes are part of his physical, mental and emotional development, and I try my best to support and guide him.

When I feel I am losing patience, I remind myself of my younger years and what an exciting time it was for me as I gained my independence. At the same time, I feel that my parent’s continued support and guidance by way of education, and role-modelling, helped me avoid making poor life choices.

Last month, Delta police organized a Youth Forum, and as I sat there listening to what some of our young people are facing and getting involved in, I could not help but wonder the steps we need to take as parents, service providers and members of the community,  to support our children. What can we do to support our youth to avoid mistakes that could cost them dearly, and instead how can we redirect them to living a more positive lifestyle?

The teen years are marked by physical, emotional and social changes. For some youth, the stress that go along with these changes surpasses their ability to cope, and contributes to mental health problems, substance abuse issues, or both.  In situations like these, teens typically engage in riskier conduct. While some risky behaviour can be normal, others such as violent behaviour, unhealthy food and weight-related behaviours, and substance abuse can result in immediate and long-term harm for them.

Substance abuse is a serious and increasingly costly health issue in Canada.

According to Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse 2011, the hospital costs for treating substance abuse was $147 million for alcohol, $15 million for opioids, $14 million for cannabis and #13 million for cocaine.

These numbers only account for the small proportion of Canadians admitted to a hospital with the primary diagnosis of a substance use disorder, and does not include the costs for accidents or injuries that happened as a result of alcohol or other drug use, or of community treatment facilities or outpatient services.​

“Substance use” is used to refer to the use of legal or illegal drugs, including alcohol, that affect the way a person thinks, feels or acts. Some of the more commonly used substances by young people include alcohol, illegal drugs such as marijuana, and non-medical use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

All substances as indicated above have risks associated with their use and can range from very low to very high.  Harm can occur even from first-time use.

Substance use most commonly begins during late childhood and early adolescence. Young people use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons adults do including peer influence, to fit in, mood management, stress and pain in their lives.

Some young people with mental health issues also use substances to help manage their symptoms.

It can lead to problems in adulthood, including chronic disease, substance abuse and mental health disorders.

In Canada, alcohol is part of our culture. It is the only psychoactive drug that is both socially acceptable, and legally available to adults without prescription.

Many youth see adults drinking regularly at family celebrations and other social settings, or while watching sports. Also, movies and video games often aimed at children and youth portray substance use as the norm.

Kids are going to be exposed to alcohol in many ways. They learn from what they see at home and around them. It is imperative that we talk to our children frequently about alcohol and promote responsible use. Responsible role modelling is key to setting that stage for prevention.

Young people also need to be engaged in positive endeavours so they understand that they don’t need drugs and alcohol to have a good time.

Having a strong relationships with your children means staying in touch with them. The more positive relationships young people have in their life- people they feel will empower and keep them accountable – the  better.

Kids need to understand that with increasing freedom comes increasing responsibility. So as we let them spread their wings and set them free, they should be prepared to deal with what is out there. Good problem solving skills will help them address life challenges so that they do not have to resort to unhealthy practices and risky behaviours.

As a community, we have a role to play. I remember reading this quote that one wise community colleague of mine mentions in her outgoing emails:  “If you care for your own children, you must take an interest in all, for your children must go on living in the world made by all children.”

When substance use progresses and becomes chronic addiction, efforts by the individual, his or her family and friends, and social networks may not be sufficient. In these circumstances, access to treatment is critical.

Individuals living with severe mental health and substance use disorders can have access to Fraser Health’s mental health services at home, in shelters, at drop-in centres or wherever else in the community that is most comfortable to engage.

Here are some resources that can help

This article was original published in the Delta Optmist.

Community Health Specialist
Sepia Sharma is a community health specialist with expertise in community development, program development, planning, and management.
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