A Sure-Fire Way to Protect Our Children from Substance-Use-Disorder
Investigative Journalism, professional publications, expert Speakers in the Addictions field, and good old common sense tell us that we will never control the occurrence of Substance Use Disorder in our country by “supply side” solutions only. Although interdiction, strict regulation and law-enforcement are crucial, the demand for drugs will always be met by the supply of both criminal and legitimate entrepreneurs.
We must, as a culture, over time, devote our resources to substantially reducing the demand for all psychoactive chemicals. This will occur over the coming generations, accomplished by our children. We must prepare them for this. What’s known as “resilience” is the key.
Drug use prevention, in part, means equipping all of our children, as they move into adolescence, with the cognitive, emotional and social stability necessary to cope and manage stress in healthy ways. These capacities are brain functions, they are learned, they are a product of the child’s brain’s interaction with the environment, or, more specifically, with the adults in their world.
All too often many of our children find themselves in situations which ill-equip them developmentally to constructively respond to the inevitable stressors of adolescence and young-adulthood. These children are at-risk for the development of substance use disorder, as well as a host of other unhealthy behaviors which cause serious health-related problems.
The situations I’m referring to are ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as, but not limited to (see sources*):
• Child abuse or neglect
• Violence in the home
• Chaotic family conditions
• Unsafe neighborhood conditions
• Cumulative effects of developmental needs not being met
ACEs are environmental conditions likely to create what’s known as “toxic stress”. Toxic stress is the “prolonged activation of the brain’s stress response systems in the absence of protective relationships.”
What occurs as a result of exposure to toxic stress is nothing short of impaired brain development. Children learn to manage stress from attentive adults. Without the continued support of an attentive adult to mediate and buffer stress, children are likely to develop what is called “rapid stress response”.
Rapid stress response is the tendency to react to stress impulsively. Toxic stress actually effects the manner in which genes regulate the development of organs, in this case the brain. This is known as epigenetics. The developing brain of a child or adolescent, exposed to continued high levels of environmental stress, unfiltered or mediated by an adult, will be conditioned to respond in ways that are impulsive, or relief seeking, rather than deliberate and considered. This tendency toward impulsive decision making puts the individual at-risk for developing substance use disorder.
Part 2 of this series will explain resiliency, and the many ways parents and caretakers can actually affect the developing brain of a child in ways that will serve to protect the child from the consequences of impulsive decision making later in life.*Sources for ACEs data