Happy National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week! Held during the last week in January since 2010, this national health observance brings scientists and teens together to discuss the impacts of substance use on the body and brain. In preparation for National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, we interviewed Anne Moss Rogers of Richmond, Virginia in order to Shatter the Myths®. Earlier this week, we shared Part 1 of our interview. Here’s Part 2.
Anne Moss is the President of Beacon Tree Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for families with children struggling with mental health conditions. She is also the owner and founder of Emotionally Naked, a blog she created after losing her son Charles to suicide. Before he passed away, Charles found himself in the midst of a drug addiction.
How can we provide better drug and alcohol education for our youth?
Anne Moss: I actually think that “drug education” is not top priority to prevent substance misuse among our youth although it is in my top three. Here are what I feel are the priorities:
- Provide a culture of face to face connection. With the digital age and busy families, kids spend less face-to-face time with friends and that creates a culture of more loneliness and less opportunity for learning from experience. With the digital age, there are fewer “playground opportunities” to learn and shoulder things like rejection and failing, so we need to be more intentional with family gatherings, neighborhood events, and get-togethers in person to create that connection. It’s also good if a child has another adult in his or her life to turn to because they often don’t want to confide in a parent when they are struggling.
- Provide a home environment and educational culture where youth develop more resilience and coping skills. With more emphasis on standardized testing and school scores, there are fewer classes that help youth develop coping skills. Classes like home economics or woodshop gave youth opportunities to problem-solve and work in teams. With emphasis on core subjects and memorization, the “soft skills,” which I like to refer to as “essential skills,” have gotten lost. This has led to more anxiety in kids. Parents should ask their kids more questions instead of lecturing and let their kids solve their problems without interference. Most issues have a low price tag. Parents have gotten into the habit of helicoptering and doing things for our kids instead of letting them try fail and learn from that experience. In partnership with Dr. Jasmin Vassileva, we have won a grant to offer Preventure, life skills workshops for youth that show predisposition to addiction, which has been shown to reduce drug and alcohol misuse in schools by up to 80%.
- Drug awareness and education. I think any drug education needs to start by acknowledging that today’s environment is much different than the one the previous generation grew up in. So many things are at our fingertips but what’s difficult is the amount of distraction and content coming at kids, not to mention how booked up with activities they are. Learning to filter out all that noise is difficult. It makes for an anxiety-provoking environment, which we need to understand is a challenge for developing brains. We also need comprehensive mental health education that includes information on alcohol and drug use and teach substance use disorder (SUD) as a disease. If we don’t teach them, the drug dealers will, and they are not a trustworthy source of credible information.
How can parents best support their children who are using drugs and alcohol?
Anne Moss: This is the most difficult piece. We want so badly to fix, yell, or threaten them out of their behavior, and that’s just ineffective and can worsen things. We want to lecture and tell them it will “ruin their future,” which is something that parents think about but teenagers don’t.
So parents have to find support to learn how to manage the abuse and the family chaos that results from it. Because it’s not in the typical parenting manual. Traditional punitive efforts are not always the best practice and the strategies that are effective seem counterintuitive to parents.
- Parents should get educated. Here in Richmond, we have a Family Education group. Attend local lectures and events that educate parents and families on the latest party drugs and events like Hidden in Plain Sight.
- Parents should find support. You can find support through a professional counselor, Al-Anon, and Families Anonymous.
- Every human should go to a NA or AA meeting at some point in their lives. I learned so much by going. You go online and look for “Open meeting” which means guests are welcome. You basically sit there quietly and let them participate in the rituals and just listen.
- Look for outpatient programs that include the whole family, which is so hard to coordinate and attend. I know because we did it but everyone has to shift. Everyone has to understand the underlying reasons.
- Finally, and this is the most important, it is never wrong to tell a child you love them whether they are using or not. There is usually an underlying reason and disconnection is often what feeds more use.
Too many parents hand over digital devices they can’t monitor so I feel like we need to set more limitations on those devices as parents from the get-go. Digital devices with no limitations make it far too easy to score drugs. At the very least, there should be a no phone in the bedroom at night after 9pm rule and times during the day when service is unavailable.
What would you like to say to youth who have found themselves trapped in a cycle of substance use?
Anne Moss: Ask for help and that doesn’t always mean a parent. It could be a school counselor or even a coach.
You could also take the initiative and go to an NA or AA meeting. They are listed online. A friend of mine became addicted to alcohol at age 12 after his mother died and was the youngest to find recovery at AA at age 19.
Please know there is an underlying reason to the drug use which is anything from trauma to genetic predisposition.
UniWellness is working hard to improve access to mental health care for students through a secure telehealth platform. If your university or school could benefit from allowing remote mental health care visits with university staff, contact us for more information