Like many community organizations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finding creative and alternative ways to engage with each other while respecting “social distancing.” +PYD had many prevention events planned for the month of April, from a screening of Screenagers in D90 to discussions of social hosting laws as proms and graduations were right around the corner. The Drug Enforcement Agency has even postponed National Prescription Take Back Day.
Although we cannot implement the events as originally scheduled, we too are taking to ZOOM, Facebook, and Instagram to get our prevention messages out to the Oak Park and River Forest community. With all the attention on our health (rightly so) and the stay at home orders across the state, why not use this time to discuss the dangers of underage drinking and substance use with your children? If ever there was a time to focus on prevention, it is now.
Granted, there is not much to do but consume: Netflix, memes on Facebook, and yes, alcohol and other substances. This consumption may be driven by a lot of things, ranging from the boredom of being stuck at home, to anxiety over how the coronavirus outbreak may affect the health of loved ones, employment, or the future of the nation. Youth are also experiencing anxiety and uncertainty as they adjust to this disruption in their lives. While adults may find temporary comfort in clearing out the toilet paper aisle in Costco or indulging in a few ‘quarantinis’ with some pals during a virtual social distancing happy hour, these coping mechanisms are temporary and may leave our physical and mental health worse off. There are healthier alternatives to navigate this current situation.
PYD recently received a Drug-Free Communities grant that supports the community to address and reduce underage drinking and substance use by youth. Oak Park and River Forest have some of the highest rates of underage alcohol and drug use in the state for 8th -12th graders. While not all youth drink, alcohol still remains the number one drug of choice for teens. Ron Elling, a PYD Workgroup member states, “at a time when youth can’t even go to the library, let alone school, we need to be seriously concerned about permissiveness and access, not to mention idle time.”
Children report that their parents’ opinion matters the most when it comes to not using alcohol or drugs. Experts say parents should start conversations early about the dangers of alcohol and substance use. April is Awareness Month and what better opportunity to have the conversation when we have the additional family time! SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggests talking early and talking often. Parents are the number one protective factor when it comes to making healthy choices. Visit the SAMHSA website for information and guidance on how to start the conversation, samhsa.gov/underage-drinking.