Just Say Know! A Different Strategy for Teen Drug Usage

teens sitting on wall with shot showing their laptop and legs

It appears that drug use has somewhat stabilized at pre-pandemic levels which is a bit more hopeful.  Yet it also appears that the rate of overdosing is continuing to grow. There have been a number of approaches to help our teens see that illicit drugs are dangerous. One of the approaches for many years was a public relations campaign called “Just say no!”  It was not an effective strategy for a number of reasons, but we may be embarking on a different set of ideas that have some promise.

Now some experts are thinking through a more holistic set of ideas to steer kids away from drugs, or at least keep them from dying from illicit drug use and overdoses. The reality is that it was felt by our teens that drugs help them regulate some of their strong and sometimes destructive emotions so the messages given to them were not aligned with their experiences with the drugs they were using. The message of “NO!” from adults was largely rejected.

According to the American Psychology Association, therapists are working more to help kids see that the healthiest choice is not to put these drugs in your body while acknowledging that some of them will try drugs. This approach is called “harm reduction” and although it is yet to be research validated it is an attempt to prevent overdoses by emphasizing the consequences of using drugs. Psychologists have been a key part of the effort to create, test and administer developmentally appropriate, evidenced-based programs that approach prevention in a holistic, non-stigmatizing way. 

 A key tenet of modern prevention and treatment programs is to empower youth to make their own decisions around substance use in a developmentally appropriate way. This idea is to help kids learn how to weigh the consequences and emphasize the importance of making decisions that will lead to a healthier and safer future. We have always known that teens prefer to have personal power and often when we give them that power they do make better decisions if they have the right information. Adults can insist all they want about drug use but it will be more effective if kids are making the decisions for themselves. 

At Lakeside, we emphasize the need for brain regulation. When students can find better ways to cope with stress, anger, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues in more brain healthy ways, they can make better decisions and be much more cognitive in making those decisions. If we can give them the knowledge, strategies and approaches to wrestle with life struggles, they may be better able to cope in healthier ways. So “just say know” may be a much better approach as they are empowered to know what alternative decisions are available to them without considering using illicit drugs.

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