A guest blog by Hailey Kanipe, MPH, CPS, Prevention Specialist
If I had a dollar for every time, I’ve heard a parent ask me, “Won’t talking to kids about drugs make them want to try them?” I’d be a very wealthy woman.
The truth is, this “What they don’t know can’t hurt them” mentality is DANGEROUS. As a Prevention Specialist, I always encourage parents to talk to their children early and often about substance misuse. Talking to your kids about substance misuse could be what protects them from trying drugs, and potentially dealing with addiction at some point in their lifetime.
Addiction is a brain disorder.
Want to know why? Whenever the brain encounters a positive stimulus, such as a person eating, laughing, or participating in an activity they enjoy, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which we will call “happy chemicals.” When happy chemicals are released, the person feels a sense of pleasure and well-being. When the person’s brain encounters chemicals produced by drugs, the chemicals from the drugs bind to the pleasure receptors that normally release the happy chemicals, causing the receptors to react differently. Instead of releasing normal amounts of happy chemicals in the person’s brain, the receptors release A LOT more happy chemicals, causing the person to feel “high.” The person will enjoy these intense feelings of pleasure, and use the drug to continue to feel “high.” Over time, their brain will get used to feeling high when presented with a drug. The person’s brain will begin releasing less happy chemicals than normal whenever they eat, laugh, and participate in activities they used to enjoy. The only thing that will make the person feel happy anymore is when they use a drug. At this point, the person’s brain has gone through a biological change. That is why we refer to addiction as a brain disease! The person experiencing addiction is hopeless and will do anything in order to feel pleasure, which causes them to continue to seek drugs despite experiencing harmful consequences like the loss of relationships, job loss, homelessness, and involvement with law enforcement.
Children are exposed to many risk and protective factors throughout their lifetime.
These factors either increase (risk factor) or decrease (protective factor) the likelihood that they will develop a substance use disorder. Some examples of risk factors include a family history of a substance use disorder, low socioeconomic status, low self-esteem, lack of parental supervision, and lack of programs at school that address substance misuse. Some examples of protective factors include the presence of family rules and consequences, children having reliable and trusted adults in their life, participation in extra-curricular activities, having a safe home environment, and the presence of programs and resources in the community that addresses substance misuse.
By taking the time to talk to your children about substance misuse, you are preparing and arming them with the information they need to know in order to protect themselves.
Start with talking about healthy choices, the consequences of a person’s actions, your family’s morals and values, your family history of addiction, and how to refuse drugs if someone were to offer them. Help your child identify a few trusted adults that they can go to for help if they are offered drugs or need help with thinking out tough decisions. Remind your child that they can come to you with any questions they may have, and if you don’t know the answers to their questions, reach out for help and find them!
Kids are naturally curious about things they don’t know about.
Don’t let them become curious about drugs and seek out information from unreliable sources. Talk early and talk often, parents! What your kids don’t know can definitely hurt them.