According to a report recently released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “approximately 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time, 5,000 try their first cigarette, and 4,500 begin using marijuana” during the months of June and July. Yes, this is surely problematic, but it’s also a call for ardent preventative measures. Adolescent substance abuse isn’t a rite of passage; it’s an emblematic symbol of the frightening difficulties facing our teens. The substance abuse conversation needs to happen year round, not as a one-time discussion, but as an ongoing dialogue between parents and their burgeoning teens.
The media has a multitude of public service announcements (PSAs), which target adolescent substance abuse. In particular, this study suggests increasing the frequency of these PSAs during the summer months in hopes of increasing awareness. In areas where there is limited access to preventative measures, however, the study suggests communities create “attractive alternatives” to alcohol and substance abuse, inspiring curious adolescents to move in a safer direction. Some of these alternatives could include community events or youth activities that encourage sober fun. It’s definitely possible to combat adolescent substance abuse in a non-preachy and informative way. The biggest challenge might be grabbing the interest of teens, who tend to steer away from any adult-led suggestions of fun, engaging entertainment.
We have the facts: adolescent substance abuse is up in the summer. What are we, as parents, educators, and mental-health professionals going to do about it? For starters, we’re going to do our darndest to create safe, open spaces for our kids to talk to us. We are going to leave our hearts and minds open to having a consistent, transparent dialogue with our adolescents. It’s not easy; frankly, it’s one of the toughest things to do, but this is prime time to be present for our kids. They need us more than ever during this period of their lives, even though they may tell you otherwise.
If you are a parent, friend, or relative of a teen struggling with adolescent substance abuse, there is help. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to–you are not alone.