As the opioid crisis continues to touch cities around the country, the need for parents to educate their children about the dangers of drugs is perhaps now more important than ever. In 2015 the leading cause of accidental death was drug overdoses, driven by the recent fentanyl epidemic. While topics such as addiction and death are never easy to discuss, especially with children, it is vital to do so. The misuse and addiction of illicit opioids among the 18-25 age group are on the rise, and studies show that many start using during adolescence. So, at what age should parents start talking to their children about the dangers of opioids, and how can parents make sure that their children listen? Here are some strategies that will help when discussing this all important topic and improve your odds of establishing a connection with your child.
Start talking about medication early.
Children as young as pre-school age can be told about medication and shown proper usage. Tina Muller, program manager for the family wellness department at Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Connecticut says, “One way you can broach the subject when they are young without explicitly diving into opioids is by using vitamins as an example,” she says. “When you give your children vitamins, explain to them that vitamins are good for you and will help you to grow up to be big and strong, but they can also be harmful if you take too many. This will start the understanding that while medicine can be helpful, it can also be harmful if taken in wrong amounts or in the wrong way.” As children get older, the conversation can continue and expand. For example, your child may have questions about medications that you or other family members take. In those instances, it is important to explain what they are for and how important it is to take them correctly. Also, as they grow, start asking them about what they know of drugs and alcohol. Muller advises, “As your child enters middle school, begin asking them what they know about drugs. What have they seen on TV or heard from their peers? Has their favorite musician or actor been in a drug scandal? Open up the lines of communication.”
Discuss the proper and improper use of prescription drugs.
It is important to explain that prescription drugs, particularly opioids, can be used safely and appropriately to treat serious pain from injuries or illnesses, such as pain after surgery or cancer. It is also important to explain that it is vital that medications such as these only be used under the supervision of a doctor, and that proper dosage should always be followed. In addition, it should be made known that taking medication prescribed to someone else is not only dangerous and potentially lethal, but also illegal.
Have an honest discussion about why people use drugs.
If your child is in middle school or high school, chances are that they already have some knowledge of illegal drugs in some fashion, either from television or from the stories of their peers. Be straightforward when discussing the allure of drugs. Dr. Nasir Naqvi, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City, says that It’s important to explain that “drugs can make you feel good, and like many things that make you feel good, they can also damage you, especially because you can lose control and they have harmful effects on your body.” Acknowledge that drugs can temporarily evoke feelings of euphoria and that for some they can offer an escape from life. Only discussing the negative effects of substance use can threaten your credibility. “It’s absolutely important to talk about both sides,” Naqvi says. “If you just talk about the down side, it will sound like any other admonishment.”
Don’t just lecture your kids, or try to instill only fear.
Teenagers especially tend to want to do the opposite of what their parents tell them to do, and simply saying “Don’t use drugs” doesn’t cut it, especially when their friends start experimenting. Discuss the dangers of opioids and also how addictive they are. Also, discuss fentanyl, and how deadly it is. Unfortunately, there is plenty of news about this dangerous synthetic as of late, but use this time as an opportunity for discussion.
Don’t just talk at them; encourage a conversation.
Discussions should always be a two-way street. Allow them to voice their opinions and concerns, voice yours in return. If you have any experience with drugs yourself, open up to them. While discussing things with your child, be sure to ask open ended questions rather than questions that can be answered with just a yes or no. The more time you spend listening to your child the more they will feel that they can open up to you.
Be honest about your own past drug use.
They don’t need to know every detail, but disclosing your past struggles with them can bring you closer together and help them feel that they can tell you anything. How much you share is a personal decision, and only tell them what you’re comfortable with.
Talk about the role that genetics play in addiction.
If you’ve struggled with drugs or alcohol, or someone else in the family has, it is important for them to know about it. There are components of addiction that are passed along in the DNA, and you are doing your children a disservice if they aren’t aware of this. Disclosing this information can make it easier to avoid substances if they know that they run a higher risk of developing a problem from the beginning.
Talking to your children about drug addiction and opioids in particular can help them to avoid problems as they grow older. Even if they haven’t positively responded to talks in the past, keep trying. Every day there is someone’s child that is lost to opioid addiction.
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