Talking About Alcohol and Drugs with Kids of All Ages: Q&A with Jessica Lahey from ‘The Addiction Inoculation’


It is certainly easier, and often more attractive, to turn a blind eye for some parents. They all drink beer and smoke marijuana. It’s all part of growing up, especially for parents who grew up with access to many different substances. Right?

CNN spoke with Lahey about why the adolescent brain is especially vulnerable to alcohol and drugs and how parents, caregivers, and other adults with children in their lives can help rapidly growing children make better decisions when it comes to drinking. of alcohol and drugs. He also shared how his own sobriety inspired the book.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: Addiction is personal to you. How did that come into play in writing this book on children and substance abuse?

Author Jessica Lahey's own experiences with sobriety inspired

Jessica Lahey: It was scary because not only did I have a substance use disorder; it is also a lot of my extended family. But I completely believe that the more I talk about what I’ve been through, the easier it is for other people to talk about their experiences. The more I talk about it, the more I can erase the stigma of what it is.

It wasn’t until I recovered that I realized that almost anyone you meet can be an alcoholic. There are many perfectionists who deal with their anxiety about alcohol.

CNN: How does the adolescent brain develop in a way that makes them more vulnerable to addiction?

Lahey: The adolescent brain is in this process of development and transformation, and it doesn’t finish cooking until young people are in their early 20s. Teens are not programmed for addiction, but they are programmed to take risks. Their initial levels of dopamine (a type of neurotransmitter associated with pleasure) are lower than those of children or adults. Drugs and alcohol became a path to novelty and risk: feeling something.

CNN: It is also more damaging to them. Why?

Lahey: Mainly because it is developing so much, and once the damage occurs, you cannot go back and fix things. There are receptors in the brain that are critical for learning, memory, and emotions that are honed and refined during the adolescent period.

CNN: You write about how addiction prevention starts early. What are some of your suggestions for young children?

Lahey: As with sex, there is not a single conversation about drugs or alcohol. With young children, the best prevention is social and emotional learning in schools.
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It is also good for parents to discuss medications in their cabinet. For example, in the case of my home, why does Mommy and not Daddy take it? Have conversations about our health and what we put into our bodies from a young age.

In elementary school, be careful what you say to your children. “I’ve had such a difficult day, I need a drink to relax.” We use this language with children, and boy, do they listen to us and do what we do and not what we say? When they see us using alcohol and drugs to deal with sadness or emotions, they get the message that that’s what alcohol and drugs are for.

CNN: This seems particularly important during the pandemic, when many parents and children are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or all three.

Lahey: Surveys have shown that adults have been drinking much more alcohol during this pandemic, and our children see the way we use drugs, alcohol, and food, for that matter. Again, I’m not saying we can’t drink, do drugs, or eat cookies, but I’m saying that when we show our children that those things are a valid way to mask or numb our feelings, they are much more likely to do so. do the same. As a side note, I say this as a woman coming out of this pandemic and weighing 10 pounds more than I came in.

CNN: How do you talk to teens?

Lahey: Turn it into a conversation about how they are marketed. Teens hate being manipulated. “Do you think drinking that beer will make you beautiful and slim?”

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In general, what teens want from us is honesty, real information, and evidence. When we use scare tactics, they just don’t believe us. We need to inform them about how their brains are developing, their risk factor, and give them refusal skills.

The best we can do is give them as much information as possible.

CNN: How does this look in your house?

Lahey: At first, I had completely believed in the idea that to raise moderate drinkers, I should be more European and let my kids sip at home.

Turns out this doesn’t work. Not only because, despite what we think, the European Union is, according to the World Health Organization, “the region where more alcohol is drunk in the world.” But also because parents of children who have a clear and consistent abstinence message until alcohol use is legal are much less likely to develop a substance use disorder.
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If we can make them reach the age of 18, it will protect their brains and prevent them from being at risk of substance use disorder for their entire lives.

In our house, we have a clear message that you cannot drink until you are 21 years old.

CNN: What about the college years?

Lahey: At first I did not know if I would do a university chapter. We thought of drinking as an inevitable part of the college experience, and I thought I’d just be yelling at the wind.

But I learned that the number of kids who drink during college is less than I thought. It is a very small group of children responsible for the majority of alcoholic beverages on campus. Schools are increasingly recognizing the importance of sober alternatives.

Children tend to have a misperception, an overestimate, to be specific, of how much other college students drink, as well as how much alcohol matters to them. They then increase their own alcohol consumption to match their incorrect beliefs about how much other students drink.

CNN: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing right now about college and alcohol, what would it be?

Lahey: I would love for colleges to be more supportive of kids who don’t drink or who choose to drink from time to time. I am not anti-alcohol or anti-drugs. I’m only in favor of protecting teenage brains and keeping children safe. If our expectations change, they will live up to those expectations.

Elissa strauss She is a regular contributor to CNN, where she writes on the politics and culture of parenting.

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