It’s been all over the news this week that actor Cory Monteith, 31, who played Finn Hudson in the TV show Glee, was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room Saturday. The coroner reported yesterday that Monteith’s tragic death was caused by an accidental overdose of alcohol and heroin. Monteith himself had publicly revealed his past struggles with substance abuse in the hope of helping others.
We also believe this marks an important time to speak with your child about substance abuse. “I’ve already had that conversation,” you might think. But it’s a conversation you need to have more than once.
When it comes to underage drinking, the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism has found that “underage drinking is associated with many adverse outcomes, ranging from immediate consequences such as academic and social problems, injuries, and death, to longer-term consequences including increased risk for alcohol dependence as well as potentially enduring functional and structural changes in the brain.” With regard to other drugs, illegal substances have become increasingly available. Teen misuse of prescription drugs and heroin is growing and more teens are smoking marijuana today.
Children look to their parents for answers in times of tragedy and there’s a lot you can do to try and guide them. In fact, the death of a celebrity that is linked to substance abuse is a teachable moment. The Partnership at DrugFree.org says, “Kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who do not.”
Still, it can be challenging to discuss drinking and drugs with your child. Caron.org offers a guide on talking to your kids at any age about drugs.
Below are tips for talking about Monteith’s passing:
• Ask your child what he thought when he heard the news and express your own feelings of loss and sadness. Ask him what Monteith’s family must be feeling and explain how substance abuse affects the family as well.
• Discuss the risks inherent in underage drinking and taking other illegal substances. Ask your child what they’ve learned in school about substance abuse and recovery and whether they have any questions. (If you’d like to arm yourself with information on addiction and recovery, visit sites such as Caron.org and The Partnership at DrugFree.org.)
• Reinforce the fact that anyone can become a chronic user and become addicted. Celebrities may make the news, but no one’s immune.
• Emphasize your child’s hopes for the future and how drinking and drugs can derail those plans.
• Sometimes kids are more likely to talk freely in the car rather than face to face. Consider errands with your child as another opportunity for a serious conversation about drugs.
• Show your child you care. A simple hug or shoulder squeeze says a lot.
• Bring the subject back to your child or teen and what you expect from him. The Partnership at Drugfree.org offers these suggestions:
–”I’m not trying to ruin your fun. I love you and I want you to stay healthy. The best way to do that is to stay completely away from drugs and alcohol. I need you to promise that you will.”
–”I realize there’s a lot of temptation out there. I also know you’re a really smart, strong person. That’s why I expect you to stay clean — no matter what your friends are doing. Agreed?”
–”There’s a lot of new science about kids (or teens) and drugs and alcohol. It scares me to know how easily you could damage your brain or get addicted. I want your word that you’ll steer clear of all that and keep me in the loop on the kids you hang out with, too.”
Mylene Krzanowski is an Executive Vice President at Caron Treatment Centers