Pubdate: Sun, 18 May 2014
Source: Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT)
Copyright: 2014 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author: Lois M. Collins

Derailing Kids


Ask experts what parents do wrong when it comes to preventing 
children from using drugs and alcohol, and many share this image: A 
parent comes home from a tough day at work and announces he or she 
needs a drink. Or there's a promotion -- great cause for celebration 
- -- and the wine bottle comes out.

Parents who use alcohol to celebrate, to wind down after a tough day 
or to rev up to socialize set children up to use alcohol and drugs. 
Few things have power to derail young lives as thoroughly as 
substance abuse, but parents are often oblivious to the signs -- and 
to the messages they send their children that may encourage use, 
experts told the Deseret News.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that 23 million 
Americans need treatment related to drug and alcohol use, including 
minors. For some children, drinking starts as young as 8 or 9, drug 
use not much later.

"If you had a tough day, talk about it, verbalize it. Take a hot 
shower. Turn on music and relax a little," said Stephen Wallace, 
director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at 
Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. "Do not model 
alcohol use as a way to self-medicate."

Parents have more power than they may recognize: They are the top 
reason that children make good choices, Wallace said.

Talk, talk, talk

Conversation is the "single most potent weapon" against drug and 
alcohol use, he said. "When parents take time to engage early and 
often in honest dialogue and express parental expectations, children 
are much less likely to use alcohol and drugs."

Wallace described a "big spike" in alcohol use starting between sixth 
and seventh grade, so addressing the topic around high school time 
may be years too late. At the least, children have seen others experimenting.

"Talk often and encourage them to come to you with concerns. And when 
they do, don't freak out," said Jesse Matthews, a licensed 
psychologist in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. "Many parents 
encourage communication, but then discourage it by overreacting."

Talk about drugs and alcohol, "but don't demonize them. You want to 
instill good values in your children, but you cannot control them," 
he said. "Teenagers are often rebellious, so being too controlling 
will only encourage more of this."

The "big" talk about drugs and alcohol is probably less effective 
than snippets here and there. One of the best ways to have serious 
chats is walking or sitting in the car. It's less threatening and 
will probably not come across so much as a lecture, said Dr. Karen 
Khaleghi, co-founder of Creative Care, an addiction treatment 
facility in Malibu, California.

If a parent blows the conversation, her advice is revisit it 
directly. She's gone back to her son, she said, and admitted she 
didn't do a conversation justice because she was distracted.

Parents need to help kids plan for situations where they don't want 
to imbibe or do drugs, but they also don't want to appear uncool. 
Conversations can yield strategies.

A zero-tolerance policy works, too, Wallace said. Kids need to know 
expectations and consequences. "It needs to be a conversation, not an 
edict. When it comes to parenting style, the most effective is 
authoritative -- high on both warmth and control."

David Gomel, senior vice president and COO of The Rosecrance Health 
Network in Rockford, Illinois, has important conversations about 
drugs and alcohol at work, but also at home, where he's dad to two 
teens and a preteen. "I am looking for opportunities, the teachable 
moments as they arrive, which is often in the car or as we watch TV 
or in a conversation about a friend who may be more progressive than 
my kids are."

Gomel criticizes parents who supply alcohol for kids and their 
friends on the theory that "they'd drink anyway but at least they're 
here and safe." He is blunt when talking to parents of his children's 
friends: "It is not OK for my kids to use alcohol, just so you know."

Khaleghi advocates parenting that is attentive and focused. Parents 
should look for the root of problem behavior and recognize that 
children who feel at ease in the world and can soothe themselves when 
they feel worried or challenged are less likely to use drugs or 
alcohol. Khaleghi said children with addictive, nervous traits need a 
strong support network so they won't fall prey to temptation or peer pressure.

"Addiction forms over time through a series of events. There are ways 
for parents to prevent and address addictive behavior," Khaleghi 
said. "Parents follow nutrition guidelines to create healthy eaters, 
read to kids to create lifelong learners and limit bad language 
around them to create respectful adults. Children take their cues and 
model behavior after what they witness at home."

Starting early

Start early is the advice from Rina Das Eiden, developmental 
psychologist and senior research scientist at State University of New 
York at Buffalo. When a parent soothes a fussy baby, chooses not to 
use physical punishment and meets a child's need for interaction, 
that parent is helping prevent substance abuse later, she said. 
Parents should know what's normal or not at a given age and create 
time for shared meals, interactions and open communication.

Children at a young age are tiny mirrors who reflect back the 
behaviors they see far more than the words they hear, Eiden said. She 
recommends a Family Check Up, available online at

Videos show good and poor communication with a teenager, as well as 
tips that help parents work through strategies. "I really think this 
kind of online help is helpful for parents," said Eiden. "Kids know 
how to push your buttons, and it's difficult to not let yourself get 
emotionally worked up. But you can't really learn to communicate with 
your child or how to set limits for them unless you're calm."

Dr. Melissa Deuter, a psychiatrist in San Antonio, treats adolescents 
and young adults. She likes peer mentors for older kids. It helps to 
have sounding boards like counselors or youth ministers -- "somebody 
who is not a parent and can't administer consequences," but who can 
help sort through the issue and offer sage advice.

Stick with real science, not scare tactics. The truth is serious 
enough. Drugs and alcohol can damage the brain. When Deuter's young 
patients say marijuana is harmless, she points out that pro-marijuana 
websites leave out that studies show it increases risk of 
schizophrenia onset. The sites don't mention it can alter hormone 
levels, so young men who smoke it heavily may become impotent, she said.

"The pro-marijuana lobby has worked hard to create the perception 
it's not a big deal. That's the message kids are getting. It causes 
cognitive changes in kids, and adolescents don't always see the 
nuances," said Wallace, who believes legalizing marijuana has 
increased drug use.

On the plus side, it may prompt better research, Deuter said. That 
happened with alcohol.

Roots of addiction

Khaleghi knows genetics may play a role in addictions; she saw it in 
her own family. "It was not my personal issue, but one I had to learn 
to cope with and understand," she said.

One in four people has someone in their lives who struggles with 
addiction, she said. Some don't recognize it. While society tries to 
figure out how to address addictions, a great deal is known about how 
addiction works and the brain chemistry behind it.

Khaleghi thinks people who use have higher levels of anxiety and when 
that becomes unmanageable, they use alcohol and drugs. The solution 
to addiction is discovering what one's self-medication issue is, she 
said. Effective treatments connect emotion and behavior.

Genetics is just one puzzle piece. Khaleghi proposes an experiment: 
Watch TV with a child and see how many times problems are solved with 
a pill or a drink -- for headache, for indigestion, for sexual 
dysfunction. Or how often a parent, on screen, drinks -- to 
celebrate, to cope, or just because. Her count shocked her.

Warning signs

Warning signs of substance abuse include suddenly having new friends 
or losing old ones, skipped classes, falling grades, wanting to be 
left alone at home or loss of interest in formerly favorite 
activities, among others.

Those can happen without drugs. But a cluster may indicate use, Eiden said.

Khaleghi said most of her patients started with alcohol or 
prescription medications. "It's an issue of availability."

Parents often have no idea what's going on in their communities and 
even in their homes. Deuter described parties where kids bring 
whatever prescription drugs they can find. They are pooled together 
and kids take them by the handful, unsure and uncaring what they are 
and what the effect will be.

If a child is already drinking or using, Eiden said it's crucial to 
figure out the extent of the problem. Consult someone who knows a lot 
about drugs and alcohol. Severity, frequency, type of drug, context 
for use, abuse, dependence and other issues need to be part of the 
evaluation, she said.

An in-patient program may not be required. But if children are 
addicted or using at a level that could result in addiction, Deuter 
said they probably need to go into a program where use "forcibly 
stops. If it has its hooks in, you can't reason them out of it. It's 
like being taken hostage. At that point, it's too big" without 
professional help.

People need to seek help from those who regularly treat others with 
the same issue, Deuter said. Especially since brains are still 
forming up to about age 25, it's a mistake to go to someone who might 
with best intentions but little experience provide the wrong 
treatment, including medication dose.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom