October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Almost everyone has a close friend or family member struggling with a substance use issue. Whether the substance is alcohol, misused pain medications, heroin, meth, marijuana, tobacco or another drug, there is good news: Prevention works, and you can make a difference!

Substance use is a community problem.

  • Alcohol: The cost of excessive alcohol use in Wisconsin exceeds $6.8 billion per year. That equates to over $1200 annually for every man, woman, and child in our state! Revenue from taxes collected on the sale of alcohol covers only 1% of the total economic cost.
  • Opioids: This year to date, there have been 3380 suspected opioid overdoses responded to by ambulance. $93 million was allocated to the opioid epidemic in Wisconsin for 2018. A report released in August by the Wisconsin Policy Forum noted that life expectancy has dropped for the past two years, with alcohol and opioid use named as a leading factor.

Prevention is a community solution.

Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project put out a great infographic “Ten Ways Your Community Can Provide a Positive Alcohol Environment.” The ten ideas help communities to reduce youth substance use and adult drinking-related accidents. Municipalities and town boards can limit the number of places that serve and sell, and develop responsible alcohol serving practices for local festivals and events such as wristband requirements or separate drinking zones. Business owners can adequately train their staff on properly checking identification before selling tobacco and alcohol. Coalitions can review and propose policies to limit youth exposure to tobacco and alcohol advertising, and work with law enforcement to support age compliance checks for underage tobacco and alcohol sales. Family and neighbors of senior citizens can have specific conversations about dangerous alcohol-drug interactions that can increase falls. Healthcare organizations can increase screenings and referrals and provide education. Schools can raise awareness of the consequences of underage and childhood substance use.

We might think of prevention as a job for government, healthcare providers, or school officials, but prevention is much more successful when driven by families and communities.

Did you know? Teens whose parents talk to them regularly about drugs and alcohol are 42% less likely to use than those whose parents don't. Parents and caregivers: You are the most influential factor in preventing youth substance use!  The two most important ways you can aid in prevention are to talk to youth and share your expectations about underage alcohol and drug use and reduce access to alcohol and prescription drugs.

Talk to youth:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has developed a set of tools designed to aid parents and caregivers in initiating conversations about alcohol and other drugs, called “Talk. They Hear You.” Start talking to the children in your life before the age of nine. Here are five conversation goals:

  1. Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse. A child’s perception of disapproval (or approval!) influences their decision for future use.
  2. Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success. Strong bonds between families and positive expectations are important.
  3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs. Seek out & share information from reliable sources, such as https://teens.drugabuse.gov/
  4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors. Youth are more likely to drink or use substances if they think no one will notice.
  5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding drinking and drug use. Help your child develop a plan to get out of situations where other teens are using.

Reduce Access to Drugs and Alcohol:

Most youths obtain their alcohol from friends or “borrow” from their own family’s supply. Here are three important ways you can reduce youth access:

  1. Keep all beer and liquor in a locked refrigerator or cabinet. Refrigerator and cabinet locks are available for under $15 online.
  2. Keep all prescription opioids, stimulants, and depressants in a locked medication box. Lockboxes are available at Walmart for approximately $15-$20.
  3. Dispose of all unused or unneeded prescription medications as soon as possible. Prescription Drug Collection Boxes are available at most pharmacies, hospitals, and police and sheriff’s departments year-round. Plan to participate in Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on October 26, 2019.

Check www.DoseofRealityWI.gov to find a disposal location near you.

Remember, parents and caregivers are the most powerful tool in preventing youth substance use through sharing expectations and reducing access. Schools, healthcare organizations, business owners, coalitions, and municipalities must play a part in preventing substance use. Substance use is a community problem. Prevention is a community solution.


Submitted by: Stacy Hilde, We Support Recovery

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