By Frances M. Harding, Director, SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
A youth’s perception of risks associated with substance use is an important determinant of whether he or she engages in substance use.
A recent SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report surfaced several important perceptions among adolescents aged 12 to 17. Binge drinking can be categorized as having five or more alcoholic drinks once or twice a week. The good news is that the percentage of adolescents who perceived great risk from binge alcohol use has increased from 38.2 percent in 2002 to 40.7 percent in 2011; during the same period, the actual rate of binge alcohol use among adolescents decreased from 10.7 to 7.4 percent.
The bad news: between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of adolescents who perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week decreased from 54.6 to 44.8 percent, and the rate of past month marijuana use among adolescents increased from 6.7 to 7.9 percent.
Parents and other caring adults who provide adolescents with credible, accurate, and age-appropriate information about harm associated with substance use are an important component of prevention programming. The importance of strong, effective parenting throughout the adolescence, teenage, and young adult years has long been known to be central to helping prevent adolescents from engaging in substance use. However, it is less known but equally true that parental influence can continue to help affect their children’s behavioral environment when they become young adults. Many parents feel that when a child turns 18 that their work is done—that the young person has to make his or her own choices. We often see this with parents whose children go off to college. Yet, many of these students are making poor decisions.
High rates of binge drinking take a heavy toll in injury, assault, death, risky sex practices, damages to ongoing brain development, and diminished short-and long term achievements. One way to help prevent underage drinking is by talking with teens you know about the risks of drinking alcohol. Resources are available for families, educators, and communities to help make sure that young people understand that they do not need to drink to fit in, have fun, or deal with the pressures of growing up. In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has released a new resource, Family Checkup – Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse to help families prevent substance use.
As parents, you have the power to prevent substance use and to help your children live happy, healthy, and productive lives.