I am often asked: What is normal adolescent "experimentation" with drugs and alcohol versus a process that is unhealthy, addictive, and not normal? My answer is simple: If someone uses illicit drugs it is not healthy. There is no merit in using the term "normal." It is at best arbitrary and difficult to define.

Alcohol and marijuana, for example, are dangerous drugs. Some kids experiment with them, but they are not legal (in the case of alcohol, for example, under the age of 21 in the United States) and are dangerous to one's health - especially for brains that are under the age of 25 and still evolving. This is particularly true for the developing frontal lobe which is involved in executive functioning - one's ability to effectively use cognitive functions that lead to goal directed behavior - not a minor thing to play around with.

It is always fascinating that so many articles focus on the adolescent who uses alcohol and, or, drugs. Indeed, according to SAMHSA (2007), the majority of youngsters between ages 12 and 20 don't drink or use drugs. This type of statistic points to the resiliency of many adolescents. Factors such as self- esteem, self-efficacy (one's belief in their ability to accomplish a task), bolster resiliency and are all strongly influenced by family cohesion.

Do you know that just sitting down with your youngster (by the way, parents are the greatest role models that their tweens and teens have), and letting them know that perhaps there is addiction in your family can raise their consciousness. Think how simple that is.

Stop abdicating responsibility. You are not your child's buddy, you are the parent and believe it or not adolescents may complain about rules and regulations, but many studies demonstrate that they want their parents to set boundaries and offer guidance despite protestations.

Parents who model alcohol and drug use for their teens just don't get it. This is not about guilt, but come on admit it: beers at the beach, sporting events, drinks before dinner, holidays, weddings, special events, or just to relax. We have become the "microwave generation," one of immediate gratification.

If the day is sunny and warm and the sky is blue, it's even better on booze or a joint, or perhaps a Vicodin. The false sense of instant relief -- a speedy perception that one can breathe deep and feel the tension leave their body -- never mind that it can and often does lead to addiction, blackouts, hangovers, all sorts of diseases, vehicular disasters, etc.

Parents need to understand that the greatest armamentarium for their children to deal with alcohol and drug use is for parents to have zero tolerance for use. Zero tolerance for underage drinking period. Zero tolerance for use of any drug that is not prescribed and managed by a licensed physician period. We should try starting with that premise for a change.

About the Author

Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., CASAC

Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., CASAC, is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; he is also with Caron Treatment Centers.

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