Drug Use Prevention as Part of Back-to-School
• September 2022 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Executive Director’s Message: Drug Use Prevention as Part of Back-to-School
With students back in school, it’s time to include drug use prevention education as part of the curriculum. Here in California, 24% of boys and girls in the 11th grade have used alcohol or drugs in the past month. And that’s not all:
- 9.7% of California high school students reported current use (past 30 days) of at least one tobacco product
- 22% of all students living in cities initiated marijuana use before age 13
- 29% of students in grades 9-12 reported alcohol use in the past 30 days
- 34% of LGBT+ students in grades 9-12 reported alcohol use in the past 30 days
- Prescription drugs are the fastest growing drug problem in America, and 14% of students reported misusing prescription opioids
Waiting until our youth reach high school to deliver the anti-substance use message, is often too late. Current research demonstrates that early prevention education is the only effective deterrence of substance use in high school students. For decades our communities have relied on prevention programs that are not evidence-based, while delaying their implementation until middle school or later. The cost of this non-research driven decision has been catastrophic for our youth and society at large.
Studies show that starting structured in-school substance use prevention education in Kindergarten is a best practice, supported by ongoing booster education in first, second and third grade. Once children start being influenced by their peers (fourth-fifth grade), prevention education starts to lose its effect in deterring substance use in high school. This is why waiting until middle school is simply no longer an option.
Realistically, many students are first exposed to alcohol and drugs in their family environment. Results from recent research suggest that siblings (particularly older siblings) have a strong influence on adolescents’ alcohol and other substance use. In fact, the influence of siblings is greater than parental influences. Yet, parents matter very much. Fifteen-year-olds whose parent use drugs are twice as likely to use drugs themselves.
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse has an active Youth and Families department that provides school-based and community-based prevention services. If you want more information, call us at (562) 906-2676.
“As they say in group, I’m Eva and I’m an alcoholic. I can’t even remember when I took my first drink – probably some neighborhood party. I’m the youngest. When my older brother and sister stole some beer, they always gave me some. Same with pot, just a toke at first. But I guess it was pretty funny to see a high eight-year old kid, so it became a regular thing. My parents knew about it, but their generation doesn’t think that’s a big deal. But for me, I needed alcohol to be able to be social since I am kind of shy. I snuck it from my parent’s cabinet or my friends’ houses. Plus, there are lots of family parties where no one pays attention. By high school, I was using pills – opioids– and drinking too. I got busted by my soccer coach and my parents put me in a program. They had family groups there and my brother and sister and mom and pops all came to it. We all learned to take responsibility. Today, I am one year sober and I can honestly say my life is much better now. Don’t wait like I did, get sober now.”
Are you recovering? Do you know someone in recovery? Or maybe you just want to understand more about behavioral health disorders? We invite you to join L.A. CADA in celebrating National Recovery Month. Each September, the event works to educate Americans about substance use treatment and mental health services that can help people with behavioral health disorders to live healthy and rewarding lives. Now in its 33nd year, Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those living in recovery.
SPOTLIGHT – Social Learning Theory for Substance Use Prevention and Recovery
Positive Peer Journaling
We know that substance misuse and abuse among children and adolescents is a significant public health issue. We also know it’s often associated with serious academic, psychological and health problems. But what works best to prevent and treat it?
Like other behaviors, the use of alcohol and drugs is usually learned by observing others. This is called social learning – a theory developed by Albert Bandura. Maybe we noticed how our parents relaxed and had fun when they smoked pot. Or we observed that they never socialized unless they were drinking. The behaviors that we saw at home and socially are the things we will be more likely try. Bottom line: many of us have learned through observation that substance use achieves a positive result.
As addiction progresses, there are fewer opportunities for an addicted person to interact with healthy, non-addicted persons. This is because friends and family eventually disengage from the addict. Simultaneously, the addiction occupies more and more of the addict’s time. Gradually, the addict’s entire social circle becomes other people who are associated with the addiction. At this point, it’s difficult to free ourselves from an addiction without forming new relationships with healthier people, while disengaging from people who are not.
This is where social learning can be used as a substance use prevention and recovery strategy. When we apply social learning theory to prevention, the goals include:
- Developing a new, healthier network of peers and role models.
- Observing and adopting new positive coping skills modeled by peers, counselors, and teachers.
- Learning refusal and coping skills to respond to peer pressure, cravings, and uncomfortable emotions.
Learn the basics of: Social Learning Cognitive Theory