Youth Addiction Prevention: What Works?

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

As the old adage goes, “the best defense is a good offense.”  This is certainly true when talking about problematic drug use and/or other addictive behavior by young folks.  How do we build a strong offense to help the youth in our community resist the pressures and temptations to begin using alcohol or other drugs, or engaging in addictive behavior such as gambling, internet overuse, or compulsive eating?  For youth addiction prevention, what works?

Here are four insights to get you and the children and adolescents in your life on the right track. 

Start young.  

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

Don’t underestimate your influence as parents.  

It can be 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; compulsive social media use and gaming seem to be normative.  Regardless, research has shown that parents are the most effective proponents of healthy choice making for their children.  Talk to your kids about the use of alcohol and other drugs and your expectations about their internet use, sexual behavior, and other family values. 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 or to engage in other risky compulsive behavior; 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 or to participate in other compulsive habits 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 benefit from having 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 may 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.  To this end, JCFS Chicago: Response for Teens partners with synagogue youth groups and religious schools as well as Jewish Day Schools teaching the Partners in Prevention drug prevention curriculum.  

For more information on addiction recovery and prevention services, please contact Dr. Beth Fishman, Program Manager, JCFS Chicago Addiction 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.