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Red Ribbon Week: October 23-31

The Red Ribbon Campaign, founded by the National Family Partnership, formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth, advocates for the education of youth in communities and encourages youth participation in drug free activities.  The Red Ribbon Campaign is a weeklong campaign in October that began in 1985 and encourages parents, teachers and community leaders to speak to the youth about the dangers of drugs. Studies have shown that children who have parents who talk to them on a regular basis about drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs compared to children whose parents do not talk to them regularly about drugs. Unfortunately only 25% of teenagers report that their parents have these important conversations with them.

Redribbon.org provides parents and teachers with conversations starters on how to talk to their kids about drug use, prescription pill safety and peer pressure. This website also provides a guide for parents on how to lock away prescription medications properly and make sure their home is “teenage” proof. Substance abuse is rampant amongst the teenage and adolescent populations and this behavior can result in trouble with the law and a decline in academic performance, among other things. Statistics have shown that 50 percent of high school students will have taken an illegal drug and 20 percent will have used a prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose by the time they have reach their senior year. Marijuana and prescription medications such as opiates and benzodiazepines are the most commonly abused drugs among teenagers and adolescents. As a parent, it can be very scary to learn that your teenager is experimenting with drugs, or worse is addicted to drugs.

Why teenagers use

Teenagers use and abuse drugs for many different reasons, including the desire for new experiences, an attempt to deal with problems or perform better in school, and to attempt to fit in with their peer group. Adolescents are “biologically wired” to seek new experiences and take risks, as well as to carve out their own identity. Trying drugs may fulfill all of these normal developmental drives, but in an unhealthy way that can have very serious long-term consequences. Many factors influence whether an adolescent tries drugs, including the availability of drugs within the neighborhood, inherited genetic variability, community, and school and whether the adolescent’s friends are using them. The family environment is also important: Violence, physical or emotional abuse, mental illness, or drug use in the household increase the likelihood an adolescent will use drugs. Even if you think you are doing everything right as a parent and are providing a safe and healthy environment that does not automatically protect your child against experimenting with drugs or becoming addicted to drugs.

How to recognize warning signs

While it is normal for teens to be moody, to crave independence and to spend more time with their friends than usual, certain behaviors are warning signs that something more serious is going on. Don’t just look for the obvious signs of a problem such as legal troubles or dropping grades; look for the early warning signals such as lying, moodiness, losing interest in activities that used to be important to them, and a change in peer group, appearance or sleep habits. Alone, each of these can be a part of normal adolescent development. The time to express concern is when you notice a combination of changes or a complete turnaround (a good student loses all interest in school, a normally calm teen becomes angry or hostile, or a late sleeper is suddenly awake at all hours). You know your child. If something seems off, investigate.

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