As a parent, I know raising a child is one of the hardest jobs in life. For most of us, it’s also the most rewarding. We parents wonder whether we are doing things “right.” We know the lessons we teach, the role models we are, and the values we instill will affect how our children overcome life’s challenges.
As a heath care practitioner and a public health official, I also know that preventing substance abuse and addiction is important. Drug abuse affects the developing brain and its effects are long-term. The effects are felt not just by the individual, but by families, friends and communities. Because addiction’s roots are often in adolescence, parents, teachers, health care providers and public health officials need to work together to stop it before it starts — when our children are young.
Just as heart attacks can be prevented, so to can addiction. Prevention of heart attacks happens before people get high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Prevention of addiction happens before substance use starts and before abuse and addiction begin.
Just as people can recover after a heart attack, so too can people recover after drug abuse and addiction. In both cases, people need help from families, friends, health care programs and society on the road to recovery.
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This is a societal problem:
• 85 percent of inmates in the United States are addicted; had histories of substance use; or were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation.
• More than 20 percent of deaths each year in the United States are substance use- and addiction-related.
What are risk factors for substance abuse and addiction? Genetics is one of the risk factors, which we can’t change. Other risk factors include our environment and our age at first use. One in 4 Americans who began using addictive substances before age 18 is addicted, compared with one in 25 who started using at age 21 or older. Environmental factors include poor parent-child relations, physical or sexual abuse and trouble in school.
Parents are the most influential people in a teen’s life. This relationship influences whether a teen starts using. Compared with teens with strong family ties, teens with weaker ties are:
• Four times likelier to have tried tobacco.
• Almost three times likelier to have tried alcohol.
• Four times likelier to have tried marijuana.
So, how do parents help prevent use and abuse of these addictive substances to begin with?
•Know your children’s friends.
Seventy-five percent of teens say they would get marijuana from a friend if they wanted it.
•Make family dinner the norm rather than the exception.
Aim for three or more nights per week. More is better.
•Be aware of the ups and downs of your children’s lives.
Pay attention to changes in grades, friends, and connections to outside activities — these can all be signs of depression or substance abuse.
•Demonstrate healthful behaviors.
Be active, be social, be responsible and solve problems. These are tools you can pass along to help your child avoid risky behavior.
And how do we as teachers, friends, and community members help those who are abusing or addicted?
• Look for changes in behavior.
• Help those in need with support or resources.
• Advocate for policies that prevent use.
• Promote expanded access to treatment.
• Seek alternatives to incarceration.
Thurston County works to prevent addiction and offers help to those who are caught in the disease. Our website provides resources for prevention and treatment at co.thurston.wa.us/health/sscd.
With its focus on many aspects of life here in the county — education, housing, food, health care and resiliency — Thurston Thrives intends to be part of the solution. The clinical action team recognizes that drug abuse and addiction are contributing factors for those in jail. This affects us all — jail and criminal justice account for 75 percent of our county’s discretionary budget.
However, state budget cuts to these areas threaten the initiative’s ability to implement these strategies. This is a place where the community can make a difference. We can prevent drug use and addiction before they start if we make it a priority and work together.