The Time for the Family Has Finally Arrived
Throughout the year, every year, there are weeks and months dedicated to raising awareness about serious aspects of the impact of alcohol and drug use disorders. Why so many?
Advertising tells us that average people need to get the same information at least seven times (and from various sources) before it becomes engrained their psyches. It is also well known that the primary “educator” of young people about alcohol comes from the alcohol industry in the form of enticing advertising. Young people and their parents need to receive accurate and engaging education from credible sources in order to counter the very powerful social influence that the alcohol industry exercises over our young people and indeed over our society at large. This is why we have the need for special weeks and months to arm parents and other caring adults with the information and tools they need to protect the health, safety and success of our youth.
September is National Recovery Month. For the first time in twenty-six years of celebrating and strengthening public awareness about the transformational nature and breadth of recovery, this year’s theme is focused on family recovery. Finally, in legislation and in federal and state program policies, and in increasing numbers of treatment programs across the nation, wording demonstrating concern for those impacted by another’s addiction is being added, such as “. . . and impacted family members, including the children.”
This September’s celebration of Recovery Month offers clinicians and advocates alike a public platform to remind clients and collaborating professionals that it is no longer acceptable to help only the addicted person to find recovery. The family members who have suffered in silence and sadness for too long deserve to recover as well!
You can visit www.recoverymonth.gov for ideas and tools to feature family recovery throughout September. Find the section on the “Road to Recovery” video program series, and view or download the April program titled “Generational Issues Affecting Recovery: From Childhood to Grandparenthood,” which features NACoA’s former board member Dr. Steven Wolin and advisory board member, Dr. Tian Dayton. Review the other new broadcasts in the series and note that there are discussion guides for each to help groups or individual families to develop a deeper understanding of addiction and its family impact at their convenience.
In October, early education about living a drug-free life through the Red Ribbon Campaign, which is sponsored by the National Family Partnership (NFP), begins the positive messaging children and youth need, from multiple credible sources, to help them make the decision not to use any alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. While the impact of any drug use on the developing brains of children and teens can be damaging and put them at risk for a lifetime of negative consequences. This message is especially critical for children with a family history of alcohol or drug addiction who are at higher risk for lifetime problems from alcohol or drug use. Young people must be encouraged to say “no thanks” until their brains are fully mature—that is, when they are at least twenty-one years of age—every time the opportunity presents itself.
The National Family Partnership organized the first Nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988. Since that time, the campaign has reached millions of US children and families encouraging them to participate in drug use prevention activities in their schools and communities each October. Since its beginning in 1985, the Red Ribbon has touched the lives of millions of people around the world. In response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena, angered parents and youth in communities across the country began wearing Red Ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction cause by drug use in America.
The international celebration of CoA Awareness Week, which is always in the week in which Valentine’s Day falls, was featured in the February 2016 issue of Counselor. Its purpose was to help children and adults alike to understand two things:
- That a child living in a family with a parent or other family member who is alcoholic or drug addicted generally suffers in silence, trapped in a home where the people they depend on for their safety and support are the very people who are frightening them and setting them on a path to a life of sadness, pain, and loss
- That it only takes one caring adult to help them understand that what is happening in their family is not their fault and gives them the information and emotional support they need heal and to change their life trajectory
Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. With this year’s theme—“Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use”—April 2016 was filled with local, state, and national events aimed at educating the public about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
NCADD stresses that alcohol use by young people is extremely dangerous—both to themselves and to society—and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex, and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction. In the nearly thirty years of this special month, local NCADD affiliates as well as schools, colleges, churches, and countless other community organizations have sponsored a broad array of activities each year that create awareness and encourage individuals and families to get help for alcohol-related problems.
April is also Child Abuse Awareness Month. When 80 percent of child abuse cases are alcohol-abuse-related, the overlapping of these two critical awareness raising months seems appropriate. As the now widely understood Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study points out, alcohol or drug use disorders are prevalent in families where children are experiencing life-damaging trauma resulting from the chaos these disorders create or exacerbate.
Furthermore, National Drug Endangered Children Awareness Day, sponsored by the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, was held April 27, during which state DEC Alliances and law enforcement organizations sponsored educational events, worked to obtain proclamations from their governors, and reminded the public that children who live in families with drug abuse are suffering in often frightening and dangerous home environments.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day was held May 5, 2016. Communities across the country as well as national collaborating organizations and federal partners planned Awareness Day activities that took place throughout the month. To support their efforts, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosted the national awareness event titled “Finding Help, Finding Hope” on May 5 in Washington, DC. The event explored how communities can increase access to behavioral health services and supports for children, youth, and young adults who experience mental or substance use disorders and their families. NACoA urges early preventive education programs for children of parents with alcohol or drug use problems in order to prevent lifetime mental health problems resulting from living in the chaos such home environments tend to create and sustain.
In addition, National Prevention Week is also in May and is an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues. The overall theme for 2016 is “Strong As One. Stronger Together.” The week had three primary goals:
- To involve communities in raising awareness of behavioral health issues and in implementing prevention strategies
- To foster partnerships and collaboration with federal agencies and national organizations dedicated to behavioral and public health
- To promote and disseminate quality behavioral health resources and publications
National Prevention Week is an opportunity for all of us to continue all year long to promote children’s wellness, which includes staying away from alcohol or drug use to help insure a present and future life without the pain and loss suffered by substance use disorders.
And finally, each May is also National Foster Care Month, which provides an opportunity for people all across the nation to focus attention on the year-round needs of American children and youth in foster care. This campaign raises awareness about foster care and encourages many more citizens to get involved in the lives of these youth, whether as foster parents, volunteers, mentors, employers or in other ways.
Participating in these special weeks and months throughout the year helps to keep a vigilant spotlight on prevention for our young people and their families to protect them from unhealthy involvement in alcohol or drug use that can wreck their lives and devastate their families. I have featured two more such campaigns than the seven the advertising world suggests is necessary, but, then we need to get ahead of the damaging influence of alcohol advertising and, increasingly, the advertising of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana ads are misleading the American public and steering our youth to believe that this drug is now safe, even though it creeps into their brains where the receptors for cannabinoids are the same ones as those for opioids.