There are many approaches to educate your children about substance use disorders and addiction, but all experts will agree that prevention is the first and best way. It’s far better to start this conversation with your child early on rather than wait for them to discover drugs in their teenage years when many other factors will come into play in regards to their decision-making. More and more we are hearing heartbreaking news stories of young people giving in to drugs, especially in instances of lethal overdose. For thousands many other reasons, we need to start treating addiction as a disease and not a crime starting with early and fact-based education for young people.
Start Prevention Talk Early
When and if your child is prescribed an opioid painkiller for an injury, illness, or surgery, this is a critical time to talk about the realities of prescription medication. Children are raised to trust doctors and listen to their instructions. It’s easy to trust a doctor’s script and nod when the doctors say to “use as needed,” but sometimes children are not aware when medications like opioids are truly needed. They may think that because their doctor said it was safe to use, that there couldn’t be negative consequences. Sit your child down and explain to them that opioid painkillers, while they are used medicinally, can become a dangerous drug. If your child is older, around 9 or 10 years old, it’s not too early to begin the talk about the chemical and science-based effects the brain undergoes with opioid use. This talk may seem daunting at first, but your child’s natural curiosity will hopefully spark the desire to ask questions and become aware of potential dangers.
Be Clear About Expectations
There’s an old cliché of “kids will be kids,” but when it comes to drug use, there is no room for this kind of attitude. This adage came about long before the rampant misuse of opioids that has reached epidemic levels in the US. Make it clear to your child that you are not open to them “experimenting” with drugs as though it’s a normal part of growing up. Make it very clear that you do not want them using drugs at all, ever, with anyone. Don’t leave any room for interpretation and speak about the negative effects of “just trying it one time.” This can help you lay the groundwork for any future talk about addiction, making it clear that you are not okay with any drug use whatsoever because addiction needs to be taken seriously.
Every child has their own personality, but some personality types are more prone to addiction than others. Especially if addiction runs in your family, it’s important to be aware of signs that your child may become susceptible to addiction, but more importantly, they should be made aware too. Environmental factors play a huge role in their potential interest in drugs. If your child’s friends have parents that are known to leave alcohol and drugs out in the open around the house, it can quickly lead to adolescent curiosity gone wrong. Be interested and involved in your child’s social life, especially if they seem to be fond of hanging out at a particular friend’s house. Do some light investigating without being presumptuous and don’t be afraid to be open with your child about your worries around specific friends if you have a bad feeling. Teach them that parents who openly use drugs around their children are putting them at a very high risk for addiction and that it’s dangerous to be in that kind of environment.
Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
There will be a time where drug use is seen on tv, in movies, or when a commercial for something drug related pops up. This is an opportunity to bring up addiction in a non-threatening way where an honest conversation can take place. If your child is young, some of the more advanced concepts of drug misuse may be too technical for them to understand, but pre-teens and teens are the ones who need this kind of talk the most. Using these teachable moments, discussing addiction won’t be as “scary” and they won’t feel like you are unreasonably accusing or suspecting them of drug use. It’s an organic way to bring up such a complicated subject and educate them on the dangers and effects of all different kinds of addiction.
Use Quality Resources
Drug programs in schools have been around for decades, but your community may also offer child-friendly seminars that discuss addiction from a more medical perspective. The scare tactics that are sometimes used in school programs can be ineffective, so it’s important to consider using other programs to educate your child about addiction outside of a school setting. This can also include the many resources available online, including those that go deeper into the science behind how drugs can affect the brain. Especially for teens, this method could even spark their interest in chemistry and biology, making addiction education interesting and useful.
Teach Them About Treatment
Chances are, in your child’s lifetime, they will come across or meet someone who is affected by addiction. It could be a family member, friend’s family member or parent, or someone else who may be an influence to your child. It’s crucial for them to know that addiction is a disease that can be treated, just like any other disease. Teaching them to have compassion and to not judge others harshly for their ailments will help set the right attitude in their heads to prevent further stigma that affects people who have substance abuse disorders. If they are made aware that anyone can be affected by this disease, it will also help drive home the point that it doesn’t only happen to certain types of people, and that even “good families” can face these issues.