Stay Cool and Safe this Summer

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Today marks the first day of summer, finally bringing an end to a long and harsh Chicago winter and spring. While summer brings warm weather and longer days, it also brings some dangers.

Adolescents & Substance Use

For many adolescents, summer means an end to school. Long days are filled with free time without any classwork or after-school activities. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, first time use of most substances peaks during June and July. The exact cause is unknown; however, many point to the sudden swell of free time students have during the summer. If you have teenagers, be sure to talk to them about the harms of substance use, maintain a regular work or chore schedule and encourage them to participate in summer activities, like camps.

Accidents

Rates of car accidents are the highest during summer months, with June, July and August seeing the highest rates, particularly on weekends.

People  also partake in more outdoor and water activities with friends. Participants in outdoor water activities are at an increased risk of fatal injuries such as drowning, especially when alcohol is involved. According to a variety of studies, nearly a majority of people who drown while participating in outdoor water activities consumed alcohol. Studies also show the risk of death associated with recreational boating increases 10-fold compared to people who have not been drinking, with even minor amounts of alcohol increasing the risk of death or injury.

Health Risks

It’s patio and rooftop season and people will spend longer periods of time outside in the warmer weather. With this heat wave comes a tide of festivals and events. All of which tends to be accompanied by drinking. Like heat, alcohol draws water from your body, so be sure to stay extra hydrated and prepare for extended time in the sun.

Connecting to Social Media, Disconnecting from Mental Health?

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Loneliness has been perceived as a problem that mostly affects older populations. However, a new Cigna study found that Americans, as a whole, are feeling lonely, with adolescents and young adults reporting the highest rates of loneliness.

So what’s behind this wave of isolation? While some people blame the younger generations’ fixation on social media, the current evidence is inconclusive, in part because social media has only recently become prominent, making it difficult to study its long-term effects.

What is certain is a lack of face-to-face interactions is connected to people’s feelings of loneliness.

Teens today spend more time with media than anything else in their lives. Even when they are spending time with other people, many are still using their phones. And studies have shown the more time someone spends on social media platforms and the more social sites they visit, the more likely they identify themselves as socially isolated.

Passively spending time on these platforms and not engaging with others online can also result in feelings of isolation.

A’nna Jurich serves as executive director of Gateway Carbondale, which offers a program for self-esteem-related issues among adolescent girls. Jurich runs through some of the online trends associated with loneliness and mental health:

Cyberbullying

The rise of social media has raised with it concerns about online bullying. According to research, cyberbullying is often related to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, frustration, and other emotional problems. Bullying can be dangerous, especially for adolescents who are undergoing a lot of change, and ongoing.

“There are a couple of issues with the social media trend for adolescents: one is that they do not have the ability to disengage from all of the input from others, be it peers or media,” Jurich elaborates. “For example, if they are being bullied at school, they go home and log in and, often, the torment continues. They don’t have that period of afternoon and overnight to process and disengage from the negative messages.”

The Comparison Trap

Social media is a highlight reel and no one sees the daily behind-the-scenes; however, it can be difficult to keep that in mind while scrolling through endless photographs and videos everyday.

“Much of what is on social media is not always reality, so kids are often feeling that they need to live up to other’s perfect life experiences or appearances,” Jurich says. “They don’t see the everyday stuff, just the fabulous, and it puts a lot of pressure on them.”

FOMO

Also weighing on today’s younger generations is the fear of missing out on things, also known as “FOMO.” Many people’s moods shift after seeing their friends via social media having a good time while they aren’t. This trend is particularly common in adolescents and young adults, and it can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Online Community

Although social media facilitate certain issues, good can also come from these platforms.

“I think that social media could be a great way to reach kids who are isolated with symptoms of mental health by educating and starting positive conversations,” Jurich says. “Many of them would be more willing to say something online than they are in person. So hearing others’ stories and even sharing their own in that venue could be less intimidating and help them to reach out when they need it.”

Parents: How to Prepare for Prom

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It’s warming up (unless you’re in Chicago), finals are looming, bank statements are lowering, meaning one thing for high schoolers and their parents: prom.

For many, prom marks the end of high school and a transition into uncharted territory. Students may be leaving home for college, entering the workforce full-time, or struggling to figure out their next step, all of which may increase susceptibility to peer pressure and substance use. Studies show more than 75 percent of underage drinkers reported drinking in a group. And although adolescents and young adults drink less often than adults, they tend to binge drink, leading to consequences like visits to the emergency room or even death.

Gloom and doom aside, prom season can be fun; it can also an opportunity to start a conversation with your teens about substance use. Two of our Gateway experts, Aurora and Joliet’s Jim Scarpace and Lake County’s Karen Wolownik-Albert, share their tips for a safe prom:

Allow them to ask questions and be open to hearing their experiences with peers and even with drinking and using drugs. Help them understand the dangers and risks associated with using drugs and drinking, like the increased likelihood of unsafe sexual behaviors or victimization

  • Prepare them for what they may be exposed to on prom night.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of binge drinking and drunk driving or riding with an intoxicated driver. About a third of alcohol-related traffic deaths involving teens occur between April and June, the most popular months for prom. Try practicing their responses to different scenarios.

  • Establish a back-up plan.

Let your teen know they can call you immediately, regardless of the time or situation, and you will be willing to come get them. Develop a code word. Let them know they can text you instead of calling, if that is easier for them.

  • Figure out a structured and supervised post-prom event.

If this is not possible, be sure to meet or speak to the parents at any home where your teen may be hanging out after prom.

  • Do not provide alcohol to teenagers in your home.

Although it may seem safe, social hosting laws have established significant legal consequences for adults who allow alcohol or drug use in their home.

If your teen is struggling with substance use, be sure to express your support in overcoming the problem with them and reach out to professional resources and treatment.

If you’re a parent and have other questions about your children’s substance use or mental health, please contact us at Marketing@GatewayFoundation.org and we will work with our experts to answer them.

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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