KIDS AND COMMUNITY by Judy Shepps Battle: Finding alternatives to substance abuse

Family is the best preventative against teen substance abuse.

By: Judy Shepps Battle
   High stress. Frequent boredom. Extra spending money. These are three characteristics associated with the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs by our nation’s teens.
   A survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that highly stressed teens are twice as likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs as teens with low stress. In addition, frequently bored teens are 50 percent more likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs than those not frequently bored. And teens with $25 or more a week in spending money are nearly twice as likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs as teens with less spending money.
   CASA reports that more than half of American youth aged 12 to 17 falls into at least one of these categories. Frankly, I am surprised that percentage is so low.
It isn’t easy being teen


Stress is a part of being a teen. Concern over grades, popularity, body image and peer pressure creates anxiety. Normal hormonal changes add fuel to an already smoldering fire.
   "I’m bored. There’s nothing to do" is a familiar refrain among this age group. During this uncomfortable life stage, nothing feels right for very long, and mom’s and dad’s best suggestions often are met with the teary accusation that "You just don’t understand."
   It is the rare teen who does not have at least $25 a week in discretionary money. Whether from allowances, part-time jobs, gifts for birthdays and holidays, or simply asking parents for money, most teens have plenty of cash at their disposal.
   Still, not all teens use or abuse alcohol, tobacco or other drugs as a means of alleviating stress, relieving boredom, or spending their money. What separates the group that does from the one that doesn’t?
Drug use not inevitable


The CASA study points to two "protective factors" that counteract the pressure to use chemical substances: parental attitude against the inevitability of teen drug use, and attendance at religious services.
   Some parents believe that experimentation with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is an inevitable part of growing up. Perhaps they remember their own experiences sneaking a smoke or getting drunk or high for the first time. Or maybe they feel that peer pressure is too much for any child to resist. Whatever the reason, parents are — surprisingly — more likely than their teens to believe drug use is unavoidable.
   In the CASA survey, four out of 10 parents said that teens are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to try drugs. Only one of every 10 teens shared this pessimistic belief. Most importantly, teens whose parents believe that future drug use is "very likely" are more than three times more likely to abuse substances than teens whose parents say future drug use is "not likely at all."
   It appears that our kids do listen to parental expectations — negative and positive — and welcome being taught to make healthy choices, despite their sometimes convincing rebellious façade.
Family togetherness


The CASA study also found that teens who attend religious services at least once a week are at significantly lower risk of substance abuse than non-attending peers. Does such attendance defuse stress, relieve boredom or decrease the amount of discretionary money? No, it does something much better. Because participation in weekly religious services is usually a family affair, as well as a continuation of a childhood ritual, it serves as a reminder that "home base" exists and that the family structure is still there. This knowledge benefits both parents and teens. Attendance at religious services also provides a conflict-free time when a family can be together.
Expecting the best


Raising healthy, drug-free children is not an easy task.
   Expecting the best of our children, providing an unconditional "home base," and acting as healthy role models in our own stress-related behaviors are effective strategies we can learn to help our kids travel through the teen years safely.
   I can’t think of a better New Year resolution for all of us — parents or not — to make.
Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her Web site at