Youth Addiction Prevention: What Works?

Youth Addiction Prevention: What Works?
By Dr. Beth Fishman, Manager of the Addiction & Misuse Services at JCFS Chicago

As the old adage goes, “the best defense is a good offense.”  That is no less true when talking about problematic drug use by young people.  So how do we build a strong offense to help the youth in our community resist the pressures and temptations to begin using drugs and alcohol?  For youth drug prevention, what works?

Here are four insights to get you and the burgeoning young adults in your life on the right track. 

Start young.  

By 8th grade, a young person’s alcohol or other drug use may already be established.  There is a tremendous amount of first use in the middle school years.  There are developmentally appropriate ways to talk with elementary aged children about drug use, and entire curricula are targeted at early middle schoolers.

Don’t underestimate your influence as parents.  

It is hard to feel like your voice is heard among so many competing influences:  advertising, media depictions, friends, and the example set by other adults.  There is a flood of pro-alcohol and pro-drug messages that youth in our community receive.  Regardless, research has shown that parents are among the most effective proponents of healthy choice making for their children.  Talk to your kids about the use of alcohol and other drugs.  Don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts!

Teach skills.  

Youth today will face many situations that encourage them to try alcohol and other drugs; it can be extraordinarily hard for young people to say no without fear of losing social status.  We can teach skills for refusing alcohol and other drugs in ways that can keep the situation light-hearted, socially supportive and engaged.  Role-playing is highly effective in preparing youth for these encounters.

Jewish values can support healthy decisions.  

Young people need a moral compass to help guide them through what can seem like a minefield of challenges at younger and younger ages.  A child who has a strong “guidance system” based on community values will have an easier time making healthy, life-affirming choices.  These values can be taught within the context of Jewish tradition; doing so enhances the power and influence of the message.

A very generous Breakthrough Grant from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago will enable the addiction and misuse services and Response at JCFS Chicago to initiate youth drug prevention in the Jewish community.   The initiative will launch this fall with an extraordinary performance entitled “Freedom Song” by members of Los Angeles’ Beit T’shuvah recovery community.  Addiction and misuse services and Response will partner with Jewish Day Schools, Jewish camps and synagogue youth groups throughout Chicagoland to teach Beit T’shuvah’s Partners in Prevention drug prevention curriculum.  

For more information on this Breakthrough initiative, please contact Dr. Beth Fishman, Manager, Addiction & Misuse Services or 847.745.5422.

Photo credit:  TCI program of The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore/JTA), via Times of Israel.