At The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), we’ve been working for years to identify practical, realistic ways to keep kids drug-free. Why? Because a child who reaches age 21 without smoking, using illicit drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. In other words, sober children become sober adults. And we’ve found that the best chance kids have of reaching age 21 drug-free is engaged parents. Parents have the greatest impact on whether their children will smoke, drink or use drugs.
I know that for many parents, raising drug-free kids seems a daunting task. That’s why I have distilled 17 years of CASA research on the factors that influence a child’s risk of substance abuse into a user-friendly, easily accessible book for parents. How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid teaches parents specific things that they can do that will make a real difference in their children’s lives, including how and when to talk to their children about substance abuse, how to identify when their child is at risk for drinking or using drugs, and what to do if they detect the warning signs of use. For example, one of the best ways to prevent adolescent substance abuse is to have family dinner as often as possible.
This book is a must-read for parents, especially those whose children are at risk for delinquency, and anyone responsible for children who are involved with the juvenile justice system. The most effective way to keep children out of the juvenile justice system is to keep them from abusing alcohol or other drugs, because the majority of kids who wind up in the system are there for substance abuse-related reasons. Many of these children suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders; many have been subjected to circumstances, such as child abuse and neglect, which increase their risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, few of these children receive appropriate medical treatment, which would reduce their likelihood of addiction and recidivism, and increase the chance that they would go on to lead healthy, productive lives.
Substance abuse and addiction can be prevented, but it’s imperative to reach kids while they’re young. The earlier and more often an adolescent smokes, drinks, or uses illegal drugs, the likelier that adolescent is to become addicted. Adolescents are more sensitive than adults to the addictive properties of alcohol and drugs like marijuana, OxyContin, and cocaine; and teenagers who abuse substances are much more susceptible to developing chronic substance-abuse problems later in life.
When it comes to preventing substance abuse, parents have the greatest influence on their children; that’s why it is so important that parents set a good example and establish clear and realistic expectations for their children about substance use. How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid will provide parents, grandparents, and others responsible for children in the juvenile justice system with the tools they need to influence, teach, encourage, correct, and support children so that they develop the will and the skills to make healthy, drug-free choices.
Joseph A. Califano, Jr. is Founder and Chair of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and author of
How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents, published in August 2009. You can find it at your local bookstore or at www.straightdopeforparents.org. Don't forget to check out the How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid group on Facebook for further insights on preventing adolescent substance abuse.