Parents Can Help Kids Stay Drug- and Alcohol Free

no drugs signThe recent death of Cory Monteith, star of the TV hit show “Glee,” serves as a sobering reminder to parents that it is important to start teaching their kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol at a young age, and it is essential to be tuned in to signs their kids may be using them.

Parents need to talk early–and often–about the need to stay clear of drugs and alcohol, and that means starting as early as fourth and fifth grade, according to Carol Burkett, Director of the Orange County Drug Free Coalition.

An early start is key. “Youth who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years,” states the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Fact Sheet regarding underage drinking.

An overdose of alcohol and heroin was reported to be the cause of actor Monteith’s death, and heroin also happened to be the reason for the creation of Orange County’s Coalition in 1999. At that time, Orange County had the dubious honor of having highest heroin overdose rate in the state.

Ms. Burkett said the numbers are now very low for adults and kids. The drugs of choice for local youth remain alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes.

But the good news is a 2012 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey showed use of some items has been declining. About 23 percent of middle and high school students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days in the survey, down from 26.5 percent in 2010. Past 30-day cigarette use declined from 7.8 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2012, and past 30-day marijuana use by Orange County students remained about the same at about 12.1 percent in 2012.

A new concern is synthetic marijuana, said Ms. Burkett. About 4.7 percent of youth taking the survey—mostly the high school respondents–reported using this relatively new drug during the past 30 days. The drug, sold under a variety of names such as K2, Spice and Bliss, can cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, agitation and suicidal tendencies.

And abuse of prescription pain relievers also remains a problem. About 3 percent of middle and high school students reported using them in the past 30 days, above the 2.3 percent statewide average.

Parents can help avoid many problems by securing both alcohol and prescription pain medications at home, and by providing education.

In addition, Ms. Burkett suggests parents watch for signs their kids may be using. These might include changes in appearance, secretive phone calls, mood swings, being silent and uncooperative.

Parents should discuss their concerns with their children and seek help if necessary, she said. She suggested parents contact the 2-1-1 information and referral hotline that provides help with a variety of needs including health care and counseling.

For more information on how to talk to your children about drugs and alcohol at different ages, click here.