To the editor:
Every time of year has its own challenges in terms of teens using alcohol and other drugs, but the holiday season can be particularly challenging.
The holidays can be very emotional. Stressful situations arise and we get overwhelmed. We work too hard and too long, spend too much money and have unrealistic expectations. Maybe it would be better to have lowered expectations and keep the focus on what the holidays are all about: family and friends gathering together and spending quality time with one another. The greatest “present” that one can give to another is to be fully “present” and engaged with them. That is more valuable than any gift you can purchase at the store.
Challenges of the holidays
The holidays are a very busy time and it can be hard to properly supervise children and teens on school vacation. As a result, when teens are “home alone,” they are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs and engage in other risky behaviors.
Alcohol is often available at most parties. It may be put out on a table where there is no supervision in regard to people helping themselves to drinks. Young people may help themselves at a crowded party where parents have a more difficult time keeping track.
There is a growing perception that marijuana is a safe drug as a result of recent public discussions and legalization of marijuana. Any drug can affect the developing teenage brain, and we now know that during this critical time of development, the use of substances can increase the risk of lifelong problems with substance abuse.
Use of alcohol and marijuana lowers inhibitions, increasing the risk of teens engaging in other risky behaviors, such as other drugs and unprotected sex.
It can be upsetting for young people to see adults consuming a significant amount of alcohol, misusing prescription drugs, or driving under the influence. When parents drive under the influence, teens may think that it is OK for them to do this as well. To offset the impact, parents can be proactive in keeping their teens safe.
First and foremost, try to be a good role model for your teens. If you are not, admit that you have made some unhealthy choices but want your children to be healthier than you. Also, talk about the ways that holidays can be difficult for some people and that they may look to alcohol and/or other substances to help them socialize and deal with stress, unhappiness, and depression.
A holiday celebration that involves an intoxicated friend or relative can be a teachable moment. After the event, discuss addiction, family history, genetic vulnerability, and the importance of delaying first use. Remember, the older the teen is at first use, the less likely they are to develop a problem.
What you permit, you promote. Set clear and consistent “no use” messages about alcohol, drugs, and other substances. Let them know that just because it is the holidays and they see adults drinking, it is your expectation that they will not drink or use other substances.
Wishing you a safe holiday season,
Healthy Lincoln County Substance Use Prevention Partnership