The dictionary defines prevention as a way to stop something from happening before it starts. How do we prevent addiction from happening? Addiction is a disease. It centers in the brain.
The best answer we have so far is to educate children about substance use and abuse as early as possible.
How early is early?
I think you can start as early as second or third grade. Talk to kids about what they already know. What does it mean to be healthy? How do they stay healthy? Ask them why they take medication when they are sick? Ask them why it is important to store medication in places where children can’t reach it? Teach them the difference between an over-the-counter drug like children’s Tylenol and a prescription drug like an antibiotic. Explain that a prescribed drug is for a specific person’s ailment. Ask them why it would be dangerous to take a drug that is not prescribed for them?
This age group may be too young to understand addiction but they are old enough to understand what it means to have an allergy. Ask them if anyone they know has an allergy to peanut butter, a bee sting, grass, pets or gluten? Young children with allergies have already learned refusal skills at an early age. Their parents have taught them to say no to things like peanut butter or how to avoid food with gluten, or the reason to stay away from pets that can trigger an allergic response.
Addiction is like having an allergy to alcohol and other drugs. This explanation sets the groundwork for moving the conversation about prevention to young people in grades 4 through 6.
I am a prevention education specialist. I visit classrooms across the country talking to teens and preteens about the danger of alcohol and drug use on their brain and body. Teenagers are a curious and engaged audience. They have heard about alcohol and drug use but are sometimes ill informed.
As a prevention specialist, I had to get educated before talking to teenagers. As a parent or caregiver, you also can get educated. You can initiate the conversation about drugs and alcohol.
The best place I have found to learn about all drugs and their effect on the body is by going to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website: https://www.drugabuse.gov/. Click on the link for Drugs. Every drug imaginable is listed. You can learn how each one impacts the body.
The most common drugs used by teens nationwide are alcohol, nicotine and marijuana. Learn about these drugs. Try to avoid saying things that are hearsay and may not be factual. Teenagers are very smart. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they know about drugs?
I ask them this question all the time. This helps me understand what they know and where their information needs clarifying.
Help your teen know the facts about alcohol, nicotine, vaping and marijuana. Knowledge is power!!