BALINTFY: Binge drinking is also a concern for parents. As is drug abuse. Researchers know that while the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, drug addiction is a disease of the brain that compels a person to become obsessed with obtaining and abusing drugs despite their many adverse health and life consequences. Research has also shown that addiction usually begins in adolescence. I’m talking with Dr. Gaya Dowling the chief of the science policy branch at the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse about a new tool to help keep kids drug free. It’s called the Family Checkup.
DOWLING: It’s a tool for parents that provides them with some questions that they can think about how they interact with their children to prevent substance abuse among their kids.
BALINTFY: Why does the Family Checkup focus on the role of parents in preventing substance abuse in their children?
DOWLING: Decades of research have shown that good parenting is a protective factor for substance abuse in teens and so this is a tool that we felt really filled a gap in what we have out there for parents in helping their teens learn to navigate the world of substance abuse.
BALINTFY: What kind of research was conducted to develop this initiative?
DOWLING: Research at the Child and Family Center at the University Oregon demonstrated the kinds of family interactions that put kids are greater or lesser risk for substance abuse and showed how improving specific parenting skills could lower that risk.
BALINTFY: Dr. Dowling, how did they do that?
DOWLING: They worked with families and so they would work with both kids and parents to understand how the family interactions would affect the children, mostly teens in this case.
BALINTFY: What are the parenting skills that are highlighted in the Family Checkup?
DOWLING: The Family Checkup that we have on the drugabuse.gov website focuses on five primary skills, communication, encouragement, negotiation, setting limits, and supervision.
BALINTFY: Why were these parenting skills selected as the most important to highlight?
DOWLING: These are the main skills that the group at the University of Oregon really felt focused efforts to have the maximum effect. So on the family checkup website, we have information about these skills, questions that parents can ask themselves and answer for themselves as well as information on how they can improve how they handle certain situations with their teens by using these skills.
BALINTFY: How do the videos add to the online Family Checkup?
DOWLING: The videos are designed to really provide examples of how to interact with your teens. So it’s one thing to read information about what are the best ways, what are the best strategies to interact with your teens, it’s a lot harder to implement them. So the videos are designed to give parents examples of how to really use the strategies that are outlined on the website.
BALINTFY: Does NIDA have an online site where teens and/or their parents can find science-based information on drug abuse and addiction?
DOWLING: Yes, we have a lot of information on our website for both parents and teens. We have a teen specific website, teens.drugabuse.gov that has information on the effects of drugs, different drugs of abuse on the brain and body specifically designed for teens. We also have information on our main website, drugabuse.gov, specifically targeting parents that has a little bit more information for parents both on parenting skills like in the family checkup as well as prevention, treatment, and individual information on different drugs of abuse.
BALINTFY: Just as a reminder Dr. Dowling, what are the dangers of drug abuse in teens?
DOWLING: We know that drug abuse or drug abuse and addiction is a developmental disease. Kids are more likely to start using in their teens and young adult years and the earlier they start, the more likely they are to have problems later on. One reason for this is that the brain continues to develop until people are in their mid-20s and so the effects of drugs of abuse in the brain can be more severe. So we really want to encourage parents in particular to pay attention to this issue and help their kids understand the dangers so that they can make healthy decisions.
BALINTFY: Is there anything else you would emphasize regarding drug abuse and teens?
DOWLING: There’s one other issue that I think is important for parents to understand. If they do have a teenager or, you know, a young adult in their family that they are concerned about whether they are abusing drugs, a very good resource is also to talk to the family physician. Physicians are in a unique position to identify substance abuse and we actually have resources for physicians on our website as well. But physicians are somebody that parents and teens themselves can talk to if they’re not sure how to handle a situation and they can really help.
BALINTFY: Thanks to Dr. Gaya Dowling at the NIH. Again the resource for parents is the Family Checkup and those websites Dr. Dowling mentioned are teens.drugabuse.gov and www.drugabuse.gov.