Celebrating Young Men’s Health with Gateway Lake Villa’s Bridge Program



For National Men’s Health Month, we sat down with Executive Director of Lake County services Karen Wolownik Albert at Gateway’s Lake Villa campus to discuss the Young Men’s Bridge Program. This program helps young men develop the coping techniques to overcome the issues caused by their substance use disorders – and the life skills to succeed during this critical transition point in their lives.

Drug & Alcohol Use in Adolescents

Nearly 70 percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol, 50 percent have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20 percent have used a prescription drug for a non-medical reason, studies show. Research has found the majority of people are most likely to misuse drugs and alcohol during this transformative time.

Why is this the trend?

  • Underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex
    • The parts of the brain that process reward and pain first mature during childhood. However, the prefrontal cortex – responsible for controlling impulses, emotions, and decision-making – does not mature until people reach their mid-20s. Therefore, adolescents are motivated by the desire to feel pleasure and avoid pain, both of which are associated with drug and alcohol use.
  • Genetic factors
    • Certain genetic traits, for instance a low harm-avoidance personality trait, make individuals more susceptible to using drugs and alcohol.
    • Mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety also increase the likelihood an adolescent will turn to substances.
  • Social environment
    • Teens are more likely to try drugs and alcohol if their friends are also using.
  • Accessibility of drugs
    • Adolescents are at an increased risk of trying substances if they have easy access to them.
  • Family environment

Compared to adults, adolescents are much more likely to hide their substance use from loved ones. Adolescents are also less likely to show signs of a problem because they have a shorter history of use. However, there are still red flags.

What are the signs?

  • Loss of interest in school and hobbies
  • Sudden need for more money and unwillingness to explain spending habits
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, and an increased desire to be alone
  • Change in friends
  • Change in behavior or personality
  • Unresponsiveness to communication
  • Frequent rule-breaking, especially of curfew

While most adolescents who try drugs and alcohol do not have substance use disorders, the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greater for people who begin using in their early teens. According to a study, 15.2 percent of people who start drinking by age 14 develop substance use disorders, compared to 2.1 percent of those who wait until they are 21 or older.

What are the effects?

  • Difficulties with schoolwork
  • Relationship problems
  • Loss of interest in normal healthy activities
  • Impaired memory and thinking ability
  • Increased risk of contracting an infectious disease
  • Mental health problems—including substance use disorders
  • Increased possibility of partaking in unsafe sexual activities
  • Overdose
  • Death

The key in the battle against adolescent addiction is time: We need to involve adolescents in professional treatment programs as soon as possible. Adolescents are less likely to seek out help on their own, so it is crucial loved ones help them into treatment.

Connect & Protect: Talking to Your Child About Drugs and Alcohol

teens and substance abuse, talking to teens about drugs and alcohol, parent resourcesWe understand that it’s scary to think about the extremely widespread use of drugs and alcohol among today’s adolescents. As experts in the substance abuse treatment field, we can tell you not to be lulled into thinking it can’t happen to your child. The fact is a wide variety of drugs and alcohol is available to your child if he or she wants them.

Conversations are one of the most powerful tools parents can use to combat a child’s drug and alcohol use. The truth is adolescents do listen to their parents when it comes to drinking and smoking, particularly if the messages are conveyed consistently and with authority. In fact, research suggests the majority of teens – around 80% – feel parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol.*

Keys to Driving Meaningful Conversations with Your Kids
Click to View Gateway's Roadmap to Understanding Substance Abuse: A Guide for Parents and Families

Click to View Gateway’s Roadmap to Understanding Substance Abuse: A Guide for Parents and Families

Figuring out how to approach the issue with your kids can be tough. Realize this issue cannot be adequately addressed in a “one-and-done” talk, instead it’s an on-going conversation you will revisit and reinforce many times over the years. Consider these helpful tips:

  • When you talk with your child about drinking and drug use, listen and respect what he or she has to say. If your child feels judged they are less likely to turn to you with concerns.
  • Make your expectations of no drinking or drug use clear to your child, and let them know you will enforce those expectations.
  • Teach your child about the dangers of drinking and drug use. Discuss laws, potential repercussions and health-related outcomes.

For more information on teens and substance abuse, click to view our Roadmap to Understanding Substance Abuse: A Guide for Parents and Families.

      *National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol Use.

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/adolescentflyer/adolFlyer.pdf. July 2013

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