May 15, 2021

In It Together: Understanding Critical Connections Between Drug Use/Abuse and Mental Illness


LYME/OLD LYME —
As we recognize both National Prevention Week this week (May 9-15) and National Mental Health Awareness Month during the whole month of May, the Lyme-Old Lyme Prevention Coalition is actively working to educate the community about substance abuse, our youth, and the role of prevention. 

Understanding how substance use and abuse before the age of 25 has a profound impact on our youth is a critical step in preventing adolescent alcohol and drug use.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction is classified as a mental illness because addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires, and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using drugs. The resulting compulsive behaviors that override the ability to control impulses, despite the consequences, are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.

In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the definitive resource of diagnostic criteria for all mental disorders, includes criteria for drug use disorders, distinguishing between two types: drug abuse and drug dependence.

Drug dependence is synonymous with addiction.

By comparison, the criteria for drug abuse hinge on the harmful consequences of repeated use, but do not include  compulsive use, tolerance (i.e., needing higher doses to achieve the same effect), or withdrawal (i.e., symptoms that occur when use is stopped), which can be signs of addiction.

Many people, who regularly abuse drugs, are also diagnosed with mental disorders and vice versa. The high prevalence of this comorbidity has been documented in multiple, national population surveys since the 1980s. Data shows that persons diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders are about twice as likely to suffer also from a substance use disorder (abuse or dependence) compared with respondents in general.

The same is true for those diagnosed with an antisocial syndrome, such as antisocial personality or conduct disorder. Similarly, persons diagnosed with substance use disorders are roughly twice as likely to suffer also from mood and anxiety disorders.

Adolescence – A Vulnerable Time

Although substance abuse and addiction can happen at any time during a person’s life, drug use typically starts in adolescence. Photo by Gras Grun on Unsplash.

Although substance abuse and addiction can happen at any time during a person’s life, drug use typically starts in adolescence, a period when the first signs of mental illness commonly appear. It is therefore not surprising that comorbid disorders can already be seen among youth.

Significant changes in the brain occur during adolescence, which may enhance vulnerability to drug use and the development of addiction and other mental disorders. Drugs of abuse affect brain circuits involved in learning and memory, reward-comprehension, decision-making, and behavioral control, all of which are still maturing into early adulthood. 

One of the brain areas still maturing during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that enables us to assess situations, make sound decisions, and keep our emotions and desires under control. The fact that this critical part of an adolescent’s brain is still a work-in-progress puts them at increased risk for poor decision-making (such as trying drugs or continuing abuse.)

Thus, introducing drugs while the brain is still developing may have profound and long-lasting consequences. This is especially true as we see a rise in marijuana use and the extremely high amounts of THC found in today’s cannabis market.  

The more we learn, the better we understand the abilities and vulnerabilities of teens, and the significance of this stage for life-long mental health. The fact that so much change is taking place beneath the surface may be something for parents, family members, and others to keep in mind during the ups and downs of adolescence. 

Research has shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective in reducing drug abuse.

For more information about the work of the Lyme-Old Lyme Prevention Coalition, visit www.lysb.org.   

The Lyme-Old Lyme Prevention Coalition also hosts a Community Podcast:  L-OL:In it Together where you can find episodes related to prevention. Find links to the show at www.lysb.org/podcast.             

(Source: NIDA)

Alli Behnke

About the Author: Alli Behnke, MSW, MA is the Prevention Coordinator at Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau. She has been a Social Worker for 20 years working in the fields of prevention, therapy, youth leadership, and health coaching. Alli believes strongly in providing accurate information, education, and tools for success when empowering the Lyme/Old Lyme Prevention Coalition and REACH Youth Coalition to work together on strengths-based campaigns. The Coalitions address substance abuse and other risky behaviors challenging our youth and families. Contact her at abehnke@lysb.org or visit  www.lysb.org to become involved in this important community work.

In It Together: April is Alcohol Awareness Month so Let’s STOP Teen Access to Alcohol

LYME/OLD LYME — April is Alcohol Awareness month and one way we can work to prevent teens from drinking is to prevent easy access to alcohol.

Teen drinking is not inevitable.

Nationally, more than 70 percent of high school seniors do not drink alcohol regularly. Unfortunately, according to 2019 data, 73 percent of 12th graders at Lyme-Old Lyme High School (LOLHS) report that it is easy to get alcohol.

Most teens who drink obtain alcohol without having to pay for it. They get it from friends or family members, at parties, or by taking it without permission.

Underage drinkers who pay for alcohol usually give money to someone else to purchase it for them.   

Here are some steps you can take to reduce access to alcohol:

  1. Liquor stickers are available from LYSB and LOL Prevention Coalition.

    At home, make sure teens can’t access alcohol without your knowledge. Unmonitored alcohol, including alcohol stored in a cabinet, refrigerator, basement, or garage, can be a temptation. When in doubt, lock it up.

    This is also important for grandparents, family, and anyone else with youth in their homes. Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau and the Lyme/Old Lyme Prevention Coalition have “Liquor Stickers” available to help secure open bottles in the home.

  2. Exercise your influence. Data shows that teens continue to care what their parents think, even while they are in high school and college. Let your teen know that you don’t want them to drink and that most teens, in fact, don’t drink. Talk often and talk early.
  3. It may have happened already. A neighbor announces she is hosting a teen party, but you shouldn’t worry — she is taking the car keys from every kid who comes in. Or a colleague says he is serving alcohol to his high school son’s friends so they can “learn to drink responsibly.” Speak up, because silence can be misinterpreted.
  4. According to Connecticut’s Social Host Law not only is it illegal to provide alcohol to a person under 21, but as a host you are advised to actively prevent use by underage youth on your property.  Connecticut’s law on hosting reads that hosts “knew or should have known” that underage drinking was taking place. Monitoring during the course of the entire party is required.

  5. If you hear about a situation — speak up! Say that you don’t want other people serving alcohol to your teen or condoning teen drinking.  Let your friends, neighbors, and family members know that the minimum drinking age and Social Host Law are policies that protect teens, and that you don’t want your teen to drink.
  6. Take action before a situation arises. Start talking to the parents of your child’s friends early — as early as 6th grade. Talk together about the risks of teen drinking and share that you don’t want anyone to allow your teen to drink alcohol. Talk to adults who host teen parties. Let them know that the overwhelming majority of parents support the legal drinking age and agree that it is not okay to serve alcohol to someone else’s teen — and it is not okay to turn a blind eye to teen alcohol consumption.
  7. Let local law enforcement know that you encourage active policing of noisy teen parties that may signal alcohol use. Tell local alcohol retailers that you want them to check ID’s before selling alcohol. Limiting alcohol sales to legal purchasers is an important goal and well worth the time it takes.

For more information on how to help your teen make healthy choices surrounding drugs or alcohol, visit www.lysb.org or email Alli Behnke at abehnke@lysb.org 

(Sources:  Federal Trade Commission, MTF 2019,  LYSB Youth Survey 2019)

In It Together: The E-cigarette Epidemic Among Youth

LYME/OLD LYME — The Lyme/Old Lyme Prevention Coalition is recognizing National Drug and Alcohol Fact Week (March 22-28) with a look at e-cigarettes, vaping and its impact on our youth.  We are proud to be working with youth leaders at both the High School (REACH) and Middle School (Upstanders) to bring awareness to peers, families, and the community.

Considerable progress has been made in reducing cigarette smoking among our nation’s youth. However, the tobacco product landscape continues to evolve to include a variety of tobacco products, including smoked, smokeless, and electronic products, such as e-cigarettes.  E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine, THC (marijuana), flavorings, and other additives to the user via an inhaled aerosol.

In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students, used e-cigarettes. 

In 2019, Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau (LYSB) partnered with the schools to survey student use in grades 6-12.  Data reveals that recent electronic cigarette use is reported by 10 percent of youth in grades 7-12 with use going up as students move to a higher grade.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and many feature kid-friendly flaors.

E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine – the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain – which continues to develop until about age 25.

Nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory, and attention. Using nicotine in adolescence can also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs. 

In addition to nicotine, the aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can expose themselves and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. 

Many e-cigarettes also come in kid-friendly flavors. In addition to making e-cigarettes more appealing to young people, some of the chemicals used to make certain flavors may also have health risks. E-cigarettes can also be used to deliver other drugs, including marijuana.  

You Can Take Action 

We must take steps to protect our children from these highly potent products that risk exposing a new generation of young people to nicotine. The bad news is that e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people.

The good news, however, is that we know what works effectively to protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes. We must now apply these strategies to e-cigarettes, including USB flash drive-shaped products such as JUUL and Puff Bars.  

These strategies include:

  • Recognize that you have an important role to play in addressing this public health epidemic.
  • Learn about the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes and the risks of all forms of e-cigarette use for young people at   https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/.
  • Set a good example by being tobacco-free. If you use tobacco products, it’s never too late to quit. Talk to a healthcare professional about quitting all forms of tobacco product use. For free help, visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Adopt tobacco-free rules, including e-cigarettes, in your home and vehicle.
  • Talk to your child or teen about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them. It’s never too late. Talk early. Talk often.
  • Get the Surgeon General’s tip sheet for parents, Talk With Your Teen About E-cigarettes, at https://ecigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/.
  • Start the conversation early with children about why e-cigarettes, including JUUL, are harmful for them.
  • Let your child know that you want them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they are not safe for them. Seek help and get involved.

Set up an appointment with your child’s health care provider so that they can hear from a medical professional about the health risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. 

Speak with your child’s teacher and school administrator about enforcement of tobacco-free school policies and tobacco prevention curriculum. 

Encourage your child to learn the facts and get tips for quitting tobacco products at Teen.smokefree.gov.

For more information or support, contact Alli Behnke, MSW, who serves as the LYSB Prevention Coordinator at  abehnke@lysb.org or visit www.lysb.org

Alli Behnke

About the Author: Alli Behnke, MSW, MA is the Prevention Coordinator at Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau. She has been a Social Worker for 20 years working in the fields of prevention, therapy, youth leadership, and health coaching. Alli believes strongly in providing accurate information, education, and tools for success when empowering the Lyme/Old Lyme Prevention Coalition and REACH Youth Coalition to work together on strengths-based campaigns. The Coalitions address substance abuse and other risky behaviors challenging our youth and families. Contact her at abehnke@lysb.org or visit  www.lysb.org to become involved in this important community work.