It can be a challenge for young people to see how decisions can affect them later. However, it is important to make the connection. Early substance use increases the risk of substance failure in adolescents and young adults. By identifying risk and protective factors that affect your youth's relationship with substances, you can help create an environment in which they thrive.
A risk factor that many parents may be familiar with is the presence of a psychiatric disorder in childhood. A 2017 study showed that the presence of anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, depression, behavioral disorders, or oppositional defiant disorders has an increased risk of future drug abuse. While many mental illnesses are unavoidable, they can be treated through counseling, medication, and positive lifestyle habits.
Another risk factor is the normalization of substance use in the community. The positive attitude of adults towards alcohol, tobacco or other drugs increases the attitude among adolescents and can initiate substance use earlier than their peers. It is important for parents and other adults in the life of a young person to demonstrate the attitudes that young people should adopt.
While risk factors put adolescents in a vulnerable position for drug abuse, protective factors promote successful youth development by counteracting negative measures. Protection factors help to successfully manage stress and promote positive decisions. A high level of community engagement among young people is a protective factor against substance use.
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Parental supervision has proven to be a factor of protection against abuse of juvenile substances for both legal and illegal substances. Taking an active part in the life of your youth may seem presumptuous, but it is important to know their habits and attitudes towards partying and to know whether their peers are users. Not all parents have the ability to be heavily involved in the life of their youth, but other trustworthy adults can play a key role.
Trustworthy adults can be parents, trainers, teachers, youth ministers and anyone who can build trusting relationships with young people in their lives. Young people need adults in their lives who are exemplary for healthy behavior and decision-making and with whom they like to speak openly. When adolescents have someone to talk to without fear of judgment or anger, they are more open to struggles, including attitudes to substances.
Whether you are a parent or a trusted adult, it is important to have open and honest communication with young people in your life. Our job is not to control young people, but to prepare them for success. You can get as much information as you can so that you know that the choices you make help prepare young people for a healthy and productive life. More resources on risk factors, protective factors and drug abuse can be found at grandfutures.org.
Written and edited by Rachel Kandierski and Amber DeLay of Grand Futures.