It is very likely that the teens we encounter know someone with a drug or alcohol addiction, considering that there are 17 million alcoholics and several million drug abusers in the United States, and each one affects about four other people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Plus, 86 percent of U.S. high school students say that some classmates are drugging, drinking and smoking during the school day, reports The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Opening up about sensitive subjects like substance abuse can be a challenge at any age, but for teenagers it may be extra difficult. It’s not cool to admit something is bothering them or to talk about something that makes them feel vulnerable. Mentioning a problem they’re having with an alcoholic or drug addict is a topic they might avoid at all costs. We who work with young people (I am a college professor and help to facilitate a teen support group) also can feel vulnerable when we have to communicate about sensitive or potentially volatile matters.
While we hope that we — and the teens we serve — will have the courage to engage in conversations about important matters like drug and alcohol abuse, we can also have inner conversations with ourselves to help us cope — and teach the young people we know how to do the same. I have a dear friend in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), so I’ve made an effort to understand the 12-Step approach in AA, as well as Al-Anon Family Groups, for adults who have an alcoholic in their lives, and a teen support group called Alateen. As I learned about these support groups and the ideas that people help them cope, I came to realize that all of us who promote the growth and development of young people can use ideas from these recovery programs to maintain healthy perspective, and persevere in our communications.
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