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Did you know that by the time most parents talk to their kids about drug and alcohol, most youth have already either used or been exposed to drug and alcohol use? The average age of first-time use of alcohol/drugs is 13 years old for females and 11 years old for males. By senior year, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose. (NIDA, 2014)
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The adolescent years are a critical window of risk for substance use disorders, because the brain is still developing and some brain areas are less mature than others. The parts of the brain that process feelings of reward and pain—crucial drivers of drug use—are the first to mature during childhood while the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for risk assessment, making decisions, and controlling impulses typically doesn’t mature until the mid-20s
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Simply put, the more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs. Since 1996, this finding has been confirmed year after year by CASA surveys as well as other prevention surveys.
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There are certain periods when adolescents are more likely to try drugs, which usually center around major transition times (such as entering high school) or at specific times (such as after school or at a friend’s party). During any or all of these times, your child’s attitudes about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs may change. Parents on the lookout for these changes can utilize these high risk times to provide appropriate support, encouragement, and discipline.
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The early signs of substance use are subtle, and often easy to miss. That’s why it is so important to recognize the risk factors that often precede use. Early signs of substance abuse are often indistinguishable from normal teenage behavioral changes, such as mood swings, erratic sleeping patterns, an increased demand for privacy, and changes in hobbies, interests, or friends. So how can you differentiate between normal teenage behavior and indications that your child might be using drugs and needs your help? According to Dr. Califano, author of “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid, it’s a matter of degree. Dr. Califano identifies “Siren Signals” which are behaviors that should prompt parents to ask additional questions and monitor their child’s behavior more closely than usual.
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