PROBLEMATIC USE OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
The use of drugs and alcohol is an issue that affects families in every single parish in our Diocese. The Armagh Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility has studied this harmful feature of modern life, focusing in particular on the needs of children and young people.
Drugs are all around us. Some are illegal: cannabis (hash), amphetamines (speed), ecstasy (E), cocaine and heroin. Some legal substances are also addictive and harmful and are misused by millions of us: cigarettes, alcohol, solvents and so-called “legal highs”. Some prescription medicines are addictive, like tranquillisers and pain killers. What they have in common is the potential to damage our physical and mental health, affect our behaviour, distort our judgment and wreck our relationships.
A lot of valuable work is done in our schools and colleges. For example, in Northern Ireland all schools must have a drugs policy and teach pupils about substance abuse. In the Republic of Ireland, classes in Social, Personal and Health Education for 12-15 year olds deal with these issues.
So teachers are giving strong messages. What about parents? Here are some key points to consider as a parent, guardian or grandparent.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Have open and honest conversations with your child
Don’t assume that alcohol and drugs are not a part of your child’s social scene. Over half of young people aged 11-16 say they have had an alcoholic drink, so you should be aware that your son or daughter will be faced with the issue. Talk to them now – don’t wait until the problem comes into your house. You could maybe start by asking about their school lessons on this topic. Try to remove emotion from the conversation. An angry confrontation will not help but a calm, concerned discussion may make all the difference.
Give time and effort to your family
We work to live, not live to work. Give your family your time, not just your money. That’s what they want and need most – and so do you. Don’t just talk. Take time to listen to what they say.
Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs in front of your child
Parents often underestimate how much influence they have on their children from the earliest days. Set healthy examples and promote responsible attitudes to alcohol, prescription drugs and other substances. If you joke about yourself or friends getting drunk, your child will think you approve of that behaviour. If the first thing you do after a day’s work is reach for a beer or a gin and tonic, then your child will think that is the way to cope with a hard day at school.
Value your child’s education and support them through educational change
Moving schools, choosing new courses, facing new challenges, making new friends – these are all especially risky times. If people are worried, unhappy, lonely, bullied or demotivated, they are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol.
Get involved in church
Your participation in church worship and activities will benefit you and set a good example to your children. They will learn you can enjoy a social life, have fun and celebrate achievements without alcohol. They will see what is important in life.
Get your children involved in well-run groups with good moral standards
They will be protected. They will learn there are attractive and better alternatives to drugs and alcohol. They will develop attitudes and qualities that will help them deal with pressures from other people. They will see they don’t need alcohol or drugs to “fit in”. Peer pressure is very strong: if they hang out with people who use drugs, they will do that too.
Stay involved in their life throughout their adolescence
Continue to show your interest and support for your children as they grow up and become more independent. Set boundaries, know where they are, who they are with, what they are doing – that shows you care about them, not that you distrust them.
Face a problem, don’t add to it
There is help available. Please use it. If you have concerns, contact your GP, teacher or school counsellor, youth leader, child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) or local drugs project. Read “You, your child and alcohol”, a leaflet produced by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, available from www.publichealth.hscni.net. Useful websites are www.parentsadvicecentre.org, www.fasaonline.org, www.addictionireland.ie and www.fasaonline.org.
Come out of your churches
Re-engage with everyone in your local community. Develop new ways of meeting your neighbours. Ask yourself what the Church can do for people who are not part of the parish family. Look at the world around you and the young people growing up in it. What do they need and can you help provide it?
Open your facilities to the community
What can you offer people in your community, whether they are members of your church or worship elsewhere or are not yet involved in any church? Is there more you can do, especially for young people at risk? For example, is your church hall open for young people and families? Do you have sports equipment that is seldom used? Do you encourage people to join in your services and social activities? Do you offer coffee and conversation? Are you a welcoming part of your local community?
Pray for the people involved
Remember in your prayers the families struggling with these problems and the people working with them. The work is difficult and stressful. It can be emotionally draining and there are not always happy outcomes.
Help agencies deal with the problem
There are many agencies, statutory and voluntary, dedicated to beating this problem. For example, the Church of Ireland is part of ICAP – the Inter Church Addictions Project – which aims to set up a residential treatment centre in Northern Ireland for under 18’s caught up in substance misuse. We are also associated with FASA – the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse – in North and West Belfast. In state or secular facilities and hospitals, the spiritual dimension is often neglected but the longer term success rate is better where there is church involvement. So get involved in the work of statutory and voluntary agencies.
Continue to do the good work you have always done
The Churches are already doing a tremendous amount of useful work. For example, it is estimated that 78% of youth work in Northern Ireland is church-based. This is a key factor in protecting children and young people because their drug use is usually linked to boredom and aimlessness. Exciting and interesting activities divert them away from harm. Support your parish youth clubs and organisations and value the volunteers who give their time and talents to lead them.
Organise awareness training
Consider awareness training for clergy, youth workers, Sunday school teachers, Mothers Union, church groups and parents. This might start with a session on “What to look out for” to alert people to warning signs. There are statutory and voluntary agencies that will help you organise this if you approach them It could make all the difference to young people in your parish.
Provide information on where to get help