Anyone else feeling the stress of homeschooling right now? I know I’m not alone in that! What about stressors of having to work from home with kids there, losing a job, not having access to valuable resources, worrying about medical issues?
Many parents, guardians and adolescents are facing a big change in their lives right now…being stuck at home – unable to go to work, school, attend social gatherings or be out in the community. Not only have our days changed but big life events have been cancelled and futures are uncertain. What might be some negative things that you and your teen experience during the COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing guidelines that have disrupted normal routines? Fear, Stress, Boredom/Freedom (lack of supervision), Loss, Trauma.
So why is it important that we take careful thought and action during this adjustment period? Because when any of the above negative thoughts, emotions or situations occur, it can lead to substance use problems.
Let’s start with the basics: why do people begin using drugs or alcohol?
- To feel good – most abused drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure (stimulants produce “highs” followed by feelings of power, self-confidence and increased energy: opiates produce euphoria followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction)
- To feel better – to lessen feelings of pain (injury or chronic medical condition) and distress (social anxiety, stress, and depression)
- To do better – pressure to chemically enhance or improve their cognitive or athletic performance
- Curiosity and “because others are doing it” – engage in risky behavior to impress friends and express freedom from guardians or social rules (strong influence of peer pressures where adolescents are particularly vulnerable)
* Children and adolescents are at a vulnerable age as early use increases the chances of developing an addiction
How can we effectively cope with these unique stressors to protect our teens from substance use?
As I provide some education about the risk and protective factors for substance use and associated resources, know that risk and protective factors associated with substance use are common across multiple mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.).
Here are the main risk factors for early substance use as well as some tips, resources and interventions for these risks:
- Lack of parental supervision – This often leads kids to hang out with older individuals and to be exposed to more dangerous environments. Here’s a helpful resource on the power of parental supervision.
- Academic problems – Online tutoring: keep them learning.
- Undiagnosed mental health problems – If you suspect your child is dealing with mental health issues, please contact a mental health professional. Georgia HOPE would love to help!
- Peer pressure/peer substance use – Talk with your child about peer pressure and know their friends. Here’s a great resource around content preventing substance use in teens.
- Drug availability – A child’s first experience with substances is usually in the home, so safely dispose of prescription medicines. Here’s a resource on safely disposing your prescription medicines.
- Poverty – Find a free and reduced-price prosocial activities for children.
- Peer rejection – Ask your child if they are being bullied; ensure that they are having ongoing positive social interactions.
- Child abuse or neglect – Take care of your own mental health as parental mental health and substance use issues are the number one reason for child welfare reports.
- Genetic predisposition and parental exposure – If your family has a history of substance use, talk to your child about predisposition and the probability of addiction from experimentation
- Trauma – If your child has experienced something traumatic, ensure they can process it with a mental health therapist.
Here are the main protective factors and some tips, resources and interventions to build these protective factors:
- Parent-child attachment – Foster a strong relationship with your child.
- Commitment to school – Make education and learning a priority (help them with their new way of doing school at home, go on virtual vacations like visiting a museum from home with a free virtual tour). Here’s a resource of an out of school toolkit.
- Family values – Have family meetings and create family values together.
- Expectations of future career – Tell your child about the skills and talents they have and help them grow an utilize those abilities.
- Positive peer group – Provide opportunities for them to create friendships with other families that hold similar values as your own.
- Positive self-esteem and good mental health – Speak life, hope and kindness in your home and to your children. Help them learn positive coping mechanisms. Here’s a resource on how to talk with your teen.
- Extra-curricular/prosocial activities – Assist in building character, talents, interests, positive peer groups and prosocial behaviors.
- Positive parenting: Here is a good outline for positive parenting practices to prevent youth drug use:
- Relationship: Meet basic needs and develop close relationship.
- Role model: Be a good role model when it comes to drinking, taking medicine and handling stress.
- Know your child: Know your child’s risk level and know your child’s friends.
- Monitor, supervise and set boundaries: Remember that you are the parent and not the friend.
- Talk to them: Have ongoing conversations and provide information about drugs and alcohol
- Social Distancing: I’ve heard from a lot of parents who are struggling to force their teen or young adult to quarantine and practice social distancing. Here is a great resource to help with your teen understand social distancing: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_teens_shelter_in_place.
- Vaping: There is currently an adolescent vaping trend that can impact peer groups. Smoking drugs increases addictive potential as it enters the brain in seconds producing a powerful rush of pleasure.
- COVID-19 and Substance Use: Substance use takes a negative toll on your health and weakened immune systems are more likely to contract and have complications from disease, including COVID-19. Social practices connected with drug use increase exposure to infections pathogens, including COVID-19P. Inhaling smoke of any kind can be damaging to your lungs and COVID-19 is a respiratory disease which impairs breathing.
Georgia HOPE is here for you and your family during, always. Whether it’s providing tips through our blog and social media channels or online family therapy. If there is anything we can do to help you and your family, please feel free to reach out to us! HOPE is here.