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Teens prefer harm reduction messaging over zero-tolerance on substance use

ANI | Updated: Apr 25, 2019 19:39 IST

Washington DC [USA], Apr 25 (ANI): Discussing substance use with teens is an uphill task for parents. Most of the time they don't know what and how to talk about to their children when it comes to substance use. However, recent research has shown ways to deal with the problem.
Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing, who studies youth substance use, and her colleagues interviewed 83 teenagers. Interestingly, they found that a harm reduction message resonated the most with teens, instead of the typical "don't do drugs" talk.
"Teens told us that they generally tuned out abstinence-only or zero-tolerance messaging because it did not reflect the realities of their life. Either they or their peers were already using substances, or substance use was happening in their own family circles," said Jenkins.
Harm reduction is a philosophy and set of practices that acknowledge that substance use - be it drugs, cigarettes or alcohol - is a part of life. It aims to reduce the harmful effects of substance use, rather than simply ignoring or condemning it.
"Youth were more receptive when their parents talked in a non-judgmental way about substance use or could point to resources or strategies to help minimise the harms of use. This approach seemed to work better in preserving family relationships and youth health," said Jenkins.
Some teens who used substances despite their families' zero-tolerance approach reported feeling disconnected from their families. One participant, who consumed alcohol occasionally, experienced difficulties with her mother, who never drank. "When she was a teenager she never did any of to her, that's like, I am going to hell," she teenager said.
Another participant whose family took a zero-tolerance position found himself unable to help a friend who was struggling with cannabis use and whose family also shunned substance use of any kind. "I just can't help him if his dad's not going to say anything," he told the researchers.
However, teens still valued setting limits, the study showed.
"An overly lenient approach to substance use did not work either. One participant who drank alcohol frequently said she was 'sick of it' but did not know how to scale back her drinking as her parents did not really care about what she did. She could go home drunk and they won't do anything," said Jenkins.
"The numbers show that the greatest levels of substance use and related harms occur amongst young people, yet youth perspectives are often missing when we formulate parental approaches to substance use," said Jenkins.
"This study goes beyond the typical approach, which features adult perspectives, and brings youth knowledge and expertise, a critical missing element in substance use programming," she added.
Going forward, Jenkins recommends that parents access research-based resources to educate themselves and inform their strategy for talking to their kids about substance use.
"The recent legalisation of cannabis further strengthens opportunities for parents and other caregivers to have an open and honest dialogue with youth about substance use and related harms, in a way that is developmentally appropriate and positions youth to make informed - and hopefully healthier - decisions," she said. (ANI)