Preventing youth substance abuse improves community

Health Watch

Summer is a time for fun in the sun… or fun in the rain, as the case has been lately. Whatever the weather, our communities take advantage of the long summer days and milder temperatures to come together. At barbecues, bonfires and summer gatherings, we use the short time summer gives us to relax and recharge.

School has been out for a few weeks now, but the kids in our community haven’t stopped learning. Instead, from mid-June through August, our homes and communities act as social laboratories in which our youth get to experiment. Youths observe the peers and adults in their lives, and learn from the words they hear and the behaviors they see modeled. As we move deeper into summer, now is prime time to teach the young people in our lives about the potential risks of alcohol and other drug use.

Preventing adolescent substance use increases the health of our community as a whole. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reports, “Young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and are two-and-a- half times more likely to become abusers of alcohol than those who begin drinking at 21 years of age.” There is a significant body of research which shows that youths are at a lower risk of developing problems with substance use, violence and delinquency when they grow up in families and communities where attitudes and norms are clear in demonstrating the potential risks of engaging in these behaviors. In contrast, when youth believe that their families, communities and peers have favorable attitudes towards these things, or believe that they are “no big deal,” they have a higher risk of developing problematic behavior.

Doctors at the University of Michigan suggests several ways for families to send a clear message to their children about their attitudes toward substance use, by discussing the potential personal and legal consequences. They suggest that you talk to your child about how their future can be negatively impacted by using substances while trying to develop adult skills. They also recommend that parents remind their teens about the negative legal repercussions of substance use, such as increased risk of car crashes, violence and arrests.

At the community level, there are many steps that can be taken to promote healthy norms about substance use. Never buy alcohol for or give alcohol to minors. MDHHS survey results indicate that the majority of youths receive the alcohol they drink from an adult. At social functions, provide plenty of non-alcoholic drink options and model abstinence or responsible drinking while attending these functions. By working together to support healthy norms, we can create a supportive, safe community that empowers youth.

If you’re interested in more information about ways to reduce risk factors that contribute to substance use and other problematic behaviors, please check out Houghton Keweenaw Communities That Care (CTC) at, or find us on Facebook.

Megan Giacoletto is the facilitator for Houghton/Keweenaw Communities That Care.