Investing in prevention and kids

  • Founder of Reality Check Mary Drew launched the nonprofit organization to combat addiction crisis sweeping the state. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler

Friday, July 20, 2018 3:45PM

Drinking alcohol early in life can be an indicator of future problems, including alcohol dependence and other substance use. The majority of adolescents who start drinking start in seventh or eighth grade and are about 13 to 14 years old. That’s why for parents, caregivers, teachers, and other adults – the time to start talking with kids about alcohol use is well before the teen years, and to continue the conversations throughout adolescence.

Approximately 104,000 12- and 13- year-olds who completed the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health admit to drinking alcohol in the past month. And that number is much higher for 16- to 17-year-olds – up to about 1.65 million.

These statistics are an urgent indicator that everyone – business owners, faith leaders, school leaders, politicians, hospitals, law enforcement, seniors, municipal governments, and the media – must increase efforts to prevent underage use of alcohol and drugs. Effective prevention is the same – whether the focus is cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or kids using alcohol or drugs. We absolutely owe it to our kids to invest in them now because they’re the ones who are going to run our communities and our country someday. It makes absolutely no sense, socially or economically, for the adults of this country not to act on this knowledge.

Youth need continuing protection from violence in communities, in schools, on playgrounds, and at home. Some schools are helping eliminate bullying. Caregivers and parents are learning how to settle conflicts without using violent discipline. The media also has a significant role in substance use prevention by reinforcing prevention messages. Starting with cartoons and advertisements for preschoolers, children understand what they see and hear on television. Parents and other adults can help them decipher these messages, and later discern and question messages about alcohol and drugs in commercials, music, and movies.

What does it mean to be “dependent on” or “addicted to” alcohol or drugs? Drug dependence is the body’s physical need for, (or addiction to), a specific agent. Over time, dependence can lead to physical harm, behavioral issues, and familial, economic, and legal issues.

The 2015 NSDUH reported about 7.8 million people aged 12 or older are dependent on alcohol, and 5.7 million people aged 12 or older are dependent on illicit drugs. Of these, 236,000 kids (12 to 17 years old) and 1.6 million young adults (age 18 to 25 years old) are dependent on alcohol. Those numbers clearly indicate we have got to do more work to reach our kids early, before they start experimenting. Parents and caregivers are key in helping young children learn how to make healthy choices,” Drew continued.

“A big part of prevention is educating people about changing behaviors. But the challenge today is that lots of kids struggle with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, or other relatives, who struggle with addiction right in their home. So, breaking these behavioral patterns is difficult because we’re trying to change a culture or a social norm, that has not been challenged for years. Our work involves families, volunteers, schools, youth organizations, parent groups, law enforcement, and businesses. We know we can’t do this alone, and that only by working collectively are we ever going to interrupt inter-generational patterns of abuse. We need to work together to stop another generation from dying,” Drew said. “Because Reality Check has funding from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and SAMHSA, as well as local support from the town of Jaffrey voters, First Church, Monadnock Men on a Mission, Lions Club, Women’s Society, Jaffrey-Rindge Rotary, and many individual donors, our focus can expand beyond fundraising to concentrate on the implementation of comprehensive prevention strategies in school districts and in the larger communities. One way to improve those activities is to use the skills and knowledge that volunteers contribute. We invite anyone interested to join us,” Drew said.

For information about Reality Check, or to volunteer, go torealitychecknow.org, call 532-9888, or email Mary@realitychecknow.org.

Mary Drew is CEO of Reality Check in Jaffrey.