By Justin McBride – program manager for DrugFreeAZKids.org, a program of Southwest Behavioral & Health Services

Many parents worry about kids getting their hands on drugs, especially those with teens. This is understandable considering the most recent results from the Arizona Youth Survey (AYS). Conducted every two years by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, AYS provides us with valuable information on youth substance abuse, including where kids report getting different drugs. It indicates more than two thirds of youth will use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs before they graduate high school.

Among all substances, Arizona teens report that their friends are the number one source. When it comes to obtaining alcohol, which is the number one drug used by teens, there is a shift from eight-graders to 12th grade. A quarter of eighth-graders simply take their alcohol from home compared to only 15 percent of twelve-graders. This may be due in part to parents of older teens being more mindful of alcohol in the home. Twelve-graders are also more likely to have other options for obtaining alcohol with 51 percent finding it at a party. We can see the importance of talking early with our kids about the dangers of alcohol and not waiting until they are older to implement safeguards in the home.

Marijuana, the number two drug of choice among Arizona teens, is now more accessible than ever before. In fact, an increasing number of teens from all grade levels get marijuana from Medical Marijuana Card (MMC) holders. Eleven percent of eight-graders, 13 percent of tenth-graders, and 18 percent of twelve-graders say they get marijuana from someone with a MMC. The trend of kids using marijuana has taken a shift with its increased availability. Additionally, 14 percent of teens report getting marijuana from a family member and 81 percent from a friend.

Medication abuse is something that many parents are not too familiar with as this issue was not as prevalent when they were younger. The current reality is 25 percent of Arizona teens who have abused prescription medications acquired that medication from home. Some teens do not have to steal, with almost one fifth of twelve-graders saying the medication they abused was prescribed by a doctor and received from a pharmacy. This is common when extra medication is left over after an injury. Even if a teen does not have access at home, friends with extra medication have become the new suppliers, with 59 percent of twelve-graders getting prescription drugs from peers. This makes it crucial for parents to make sure they properly dispose unused, unwanted and expired medication.

With all this data, it is understandable that parents might feel overwhelmed. There are steps parents can take to prevent their kids from drug use as well as how to respond if they know or suspect their kids are using drugs. Talking early and often with your kids about the dangers of drugs is the best ways to prevent them from starting down this path. In the event that they are already using, here are a few important considerations:

1. Address the problem as soon as possible. If your child is drunk or high or if you are angry and unprepared, it is best to wait until you are ready and can talk calmly with your child.
2. Talk with your spouse or partner to make sure you’re both on the same page.
3. Focus on your child’s behavior you want changed, but make sure you are not being judgmental. Remember this is a matter of your child’s health and well-being. Misbehavior should not be addressed through judgment.
4. Clearly communicate your expectations and what the consequences are that result in misbehavior.
5. Follow up. Do not assume that one talk is enough to have with your child.

There are times when parents may not be able to handle the problem on their own. They can seek guidance from school counselors or professional therapists, family doctors, and other caring adults such as coaches and clergy. Intervention and treatment guides can also be found online at DrugFreeAZKids.org.

For more information on where kids get drugs, tune into a free webinar on January 20, 2016. Register at DrugFreeAZKids.org/Webinars.

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