Today’s teen-preferred substances may be harder to spot for adults – Zoo House News
- December 10, 2022
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Despite advances in technology and availability, one of the best ways for parents and healthcare providers to prevent or stop teenage drug use is still an old-fashioned conversation, according to a new viewpoint published in the November issue of The Lancet Child & Adolescent Die Health. The piece, written by a team of University of Rhode Island trainees under Prochaska Foundation Professor Sarah Feldstein Ewing, emphasizes that relying on detection through informal observation is fast becoming a thing – as parents and providers commonly do have done with alcohol and tobacco use in the past. The paper provides healthcare professionals and parents with concrete steps for screening, detection and intervention.
Over the past decade, the use of e-cigarettes/vaping, cannabis and prescription opioids not taken as prescribed has increased significantly around the world. In some cases, this increase has been aided by entirely new methods of substance use and delivery—such as cannabis edibles and vaporization—as well as lower adolescent perceptions of harm and/or greater accessibility. These substances have “invisible symptoms” to adults and, in turn, can be much harder to detect by parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers.
“What’s so different today than in previous generations is that parents and providers have really been able to rely on what we traditionally think of as obvious signs to determine if children are using. Did you come home smelling like cigarettes or cannabis? Is there alcohol on her breath? “Are they slurring their language?” said Feldstein Ewing. “While some of these things still work, we’re running into problems today because the substances that children are using are becoming less recognizable. And the signs aren’t as noticeable as they used to be.”
This is of particular concern when it comes to the still-developing adolescent brain. While the way these substances affect the brain is still being studied, there is evidence that their use during adolescence may impair long-term neural and behavioral development. Because their use can be difficult for adults to discern, teens are more likely to transition from experimentation to heavier, more dangerous uses, in ways that often go undetected by providers or caregivers, to the point of having a significant impact on the school that Work or other comes their personal or family relationships.
In addition to her position as Professor of Psychology at URI’s College of Health Sciences, Feldstein Ewing is a child and adolescent clinician with over two decades of experience in the prevention and treatment of adolescent drug use.
“Families came to me for treatment for teens who were heavy drug users and said, ‘I didn’t even know my kid was on drugs.’ Parents are having a tough time, and now that many states are legalizing recreational cannabis, parents and providers are feeling really at a loss to cope,” she said.
The Viewpoint is primarily aimed at adolescent healthcare providers who, because of their recurring appointments with young people, are in a unique position to assist in identification and facilitate access to treatment services. But parents and caregivers might also find the recommendations helpful, says Feldstein Ewing. Opening lines of communication with young people can provide young people with a platform to discuss current life issues, including drug use. An easy way for parents or caregivers to do this is to increase the frequency of family meals, she says.
“It’s definitely tough today – families are busy with work, school, sports and other activities. But the point is, if this is a place where you can see and connect with your kids every day, it will be easier to be small in behavior changes or other patterns. It doesn’t even have to be dinner, it can too take the form of drives or walks – if you provide a forum to talk about “normal things” it will be easier for them and for you to bring up those things.”
As part of the framework, the use of well-validated drug use screening tools specifically for adolescents is recommended – as is active listening and the use of open-ended questions. Providers may also be able to communicate things that parents cannot, such as: B. the risks and potential long-term effects associated with such substances. Conversely, adolescents may be more open to providers in the patient-provider context. Parents and providers may find that asking about peer use can provide helpful insights, while young people find it less intrusive.
“The most important part of all of this is that this is new territory – and that’s okay. The things we did historically no longer translate well to these new forms of substances, so we need to re-adapt. Providers and parents are often uncomfortable discussing issues like substance use because they aren’t sure what to do when teens say, ‘Yes, we’ll take,'” said Feldstein Ewing. “But when it comes down to it, although we often think that teenagers spend most of their time with their friends, parents still have the greatest influence on their teenager’s behavior. So knowing where they are, who they’re hanging out with, it’s important to be open to these sometimes scary conversations on a consistent basis. And providers have a crucial role to play in supporting children and families.”
Feldstein Ewing is director of the URI Adolescent Neuroscience Center for Health Resilience, which focuses on translational approaches in adolescents to improve understanding of the connections between fundamental biological mechanisms – such as the brain – and effective treatments to reduce unhealthy behaviors in adolescents. Several of Feldstein Ewing’s trainees contributed to the play, including lead writer Genevieve Dash, MS, at the University of Missouri; and Karen Hudson, MCR, at URI; and her URI graduate students Emily Kenyon, Emily Carter, and Diana Ho.