YOLO. Be Drug Free. Red Ribbon Week 2016

Michael Forsythe, LADC

October 23 – 30, 2016 is Red Ribbon Week. Sponsored by National Family Partnership, it is a week dedicated to education about and prevention of substance abuse by teens. Though the economic cost cannot be accurately measured, substance abuse by adolescents and young adults has a serious impact on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole.

Students who abuse substances are more likely to underperform academically and have a higher dropout rate. In addition, long-term substance abuse can lead to permanent effects on cognitive ability. Families are affected emotionally as substance abuse can lead to isolation and neglect of personal relationships. The costs to society include the inability of substance abusers to become self-supporting and the increased need for medical and mental health services related to substance abuse in adolescents and young adults. Young people who abuse substances can turn to cred-ribbon-week-teensrime, including shoplifting, theft and drug dealing in order to support their habit.

There are encouraging trends in recent data reporting substance abuse by young people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), teen age students report lower rates of past-year usage for a variety of substances including, alcohol and synthetics, and misuse of prescription drugs. While those trends are encouraging, there is still work to be done. Alcohol is the most widely used substance, with 58.2% of high school students reporting drinking within the past year. One concern is that the use of marijuana has remained flat rather than declining, perhaps due to a perception that cannabis use is not dangerous. In addition, the use of e-cigarettes by teens is on the rise.

Prevention begins in the home. Research has shown that teens whose parents talk to them about the dangers of drinking and drug use are less likely to use substances, yet just 25% of families have such conversations. NIDA points to the effectiveness of evidence-based prevention programs in reducing substance abuse by youths. Many of these programs require little training and can be implemented at the individual level, in a family setting or in schools.

At the other end of the prevention spectrum, programs such as those promoted by Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR) can be effective in supporting high school and college students who are in recovery from substance use disorders. TYR is dedicated to providing a substance free and supportive environment for students who choose not to drink or use drugs. There are now 22 drug free high schools in the country; the first one in Minnesota was established in 1987.

Family and Children’s Center supports the efforts of campaigns like Red Ribbon Week to address the issue of substance abuse by teens.

For more information: