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Opinion

Addiction in the suburbs series: 5 myths about teen substance abuse

Community Voice

Anita Casey is the director of addictions services at Pillars.
Anita Casey is the director of addictions services at Pillars.

We love our kids, don’t we? In my experience, the vast majority of parents truly don’t believe their kids will be the ones who get caught up in substance abuse. But the statistics don’t lie. Today the number of people who have a substance use disorder is on par with the number of people living with diabetes – and is actually higher than the annual prevalence of all cancers combined, according to a November 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General.

Numbers aside, just look around. Substances are readily available to our children, whether it’s liquor at a family reunion or prescription pills left over from an injury.

To beat the addiction epidemic, we have to become more aware and work together (with compassion) to address it as a community. Here are five myths we can start busting now.

1. “It won’t happen in my family. My kids know better.”
Teens try substances for a variety of reasons, and it’s not just to fit in and look cool. They might be curious or bored, or they might try to replace stress with good feelings amid a personal or family crisis. The drug use of an influential friend – maybe a friend you didn’t know existed – could also impact their future use.

2. “He only does it under my watch. He won’t do it when he’s on his own.”
Parents often don’t understand the power of the messages they send. You set an example by your own substance use (yes, even beer and cigarettes) and by the extent to which you make it available to your children. We like to think our kids understand the boundaries we set for them, but adolescents’ brains are still developing. When you tell them they can have beer…but only under my watch…they may only hear, “I can have beer.”

3. “My kid doesn’t need help – it was one joint.”
Even when your kid is just trying things, support is essential. Whether it was vodka, marijuana, Xanax or heroin, experimenting once often leads to experimenting again and could eventually develop into dependency. We know, for example, that teens who use alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to abuse alcohol later in life.

4. “We talked about it. It won’t happen again.”
One chat with you or even one counseling session may not be enough. Often substance use is an outcropping of an issue (depression, bullying, etc.), brewing beneath the surface. If you don’t help your child deal with the roots of the problem, it will keep growing back. Maintain communication with your child and continue seeking professional support.

5. “We have to quietly deal with this as a family – we don’t need the whole town talking about us.”
As a community, we must stop talking about drug addiction and alcoholism as “evils” or as problems that need to be “locked up.” It creates stigma that can stifle the brave individuals who might otherwise seek help. At Pillars, we treat addiction as an illness. We know it won’t go away on its own. But with professional help – in our case, with outpatient treatment that doesn’t require you to stay somewhere overnight – we know people can make change.

If your child is experimenting with drugs or alcohol, you do not need to wait until the problem grows to get help. My team and I will support and guide you through the steps to help prevent substance abuse and dependency or treat an existing addiction. You are not alone. Reach out to Pillars today at 708-PILLARS (708-745-5277) or learn more at pillarscommunity.org/addiction.

Anita Casey is the director of addictions services at Pillars.

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Note to readers

This column is the start of a three-part series titled "Addiction in the suburbs." The series is the result of a partnership between Pillars and Suburban Life.

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