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Parents In The Dark: Survey Says Parents Underestimate Risks Of Kid's Alcohol and Drug Use

As youth drug and alcohol abuse continues to grow, many parents say they are uninformed — and largely unconcerned — about the threat to their children.

So finds a new nationwide survey commissioned by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit addiction treatment provider.

“These startling findings suggest that some parents are under-concerned about the dangers of alcohol and other drug use by their children and are overly confident they would recognize signs of their children’s use,” said Audrey Klein, PhD, executive director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research. “This is particularly worrisome given the consequences of teen alcohol and other drug abuse — including poor performance in school, a higher rate of accidents, unintentional overdoses, violence, sexual trauma and legal issues — and, unfortunately in some cases, even death.”

Research has shown that parental involvement is an effective way to prevent chemical use and addiction among you. Yet this national survey revealed a remarkable lack of parental awareness and concern about this important issue. Among the key findings of the poll are:

  • Lack of concern by most parents. Nearly six in 10 (59.2%) parents of youth ages 12 to 24 say that they are not concerned about their children’s possible use or abuse of alcohol or other drugs. This despite government surveys showing illicit drug use among teenagers remains high.
  • Easy access to drugs and alcohol. One in four homes reports having prescription painkillers (opioids) in unlocked cabinets or accessible to their children. More than half of the homes surveyed (54.4%) have alcohol out in the open.
  • False sense of knowledge. Even though almost eight in 10 (78.9%) parents think they have adequate education about child alcohol and other drug abuse, on average they could name only two warning signs out of 38 commonly known indications.
  • Don’t know where to turn for help. Approximately one in five parents (18%) admitted they did not know where to turn for help if their child is struggling with alcohol or drugs. One in five (20%) said they would seek out their primary care physician, yet most physicians are uncomfortable discussing alcohol and drug use with patients and feel unprepared to adequately diagnose addiction.

Most doctors lack training in identifying substance abuse. Less than 20 percent of primary care physicians consider themselves “very prepared to identify alcohol or drug dependence,” compared to more than 80 percent who are very comfortable diagnosing hypertension and diabetes, according to the National Center on Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Resources are available for parents to educate themselves on how to recognize signs of drug use and discuss the issue with their kids on the Hazelden webpage:
•Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction Handouts
•Talking with kids about alcohol and drugs

Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS