Campaign Educates Military Families on Substance Abuse

Campaign Educates Military Families on Substance Abuse

With the rise in drug and alcohol abuse among teens, three organizations are undertaking an online educational campaign to encourage parents and children of military families to talk about substance abuse.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, along with the National Military Family Association and the National Association of School Nurses, are providing guidance and scripts online to parents about good ways to bring up what the teens are going through.

The Associated Press writes that a key risk factor for children in military families is the fact that teens are more likely to experiment with alcohol or drugs during times of transition—and many military children have experienced multiple transitions as their parents mobilized for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan on top of ordinary military relocations, which happen on average nearly every three years.

"When these families are moving their adolescent kids, they’re introducing another transition, another point of time where those kids can fall into drug and alcohol abuse," said Steve Pasierb, president of the New York-based Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "That’s what we’re hearing from military families, that their kids are under a lot of pressure."

Another concern is military teens’ access to prescription drugs, which are common among war veterans under treatment for a mental or physical injury. After alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are the next most highly abused drugs by teens, according to a study by the partnership.

There’s no research that shows whether military teens are abusing substances at a higher rate than the rest of the population. But the organizations say they’ve heard enough anecdotal reports to be concerned.

Amy Garcia, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, based in Silver Spring, Maryland., said her son, Jim, developed an addiction at age 14 while she was in Germany tending to her husband, Ernie, a Marine Reserve who broke his neck in a 2004 dining hall bombing in Iraq but has since recovered. The injury occurred when Jim was also dealing with other changes, such as attending a new school.

"Jim was acting brave and I thought he was OK," Garcia said. "Would talking with Jim about the transitions he was experiencing have made a difference? Possibly. Probably. Our children do listen and we had not taken the time to talk about those particular issues."
She said Jim is in a 12-step program, and their family spent more than $138,000 on treatment for him last year at a private hospital.

As part of the initiative, the organizations are providing tools online that parents can use to initiate conversations. Garcia said she’s hopeful that families will add them as part of their to-do checklist before a soldier deploys.
Robyn Lutzkanin, 16, of Stafford, Virginia., whose dad has deployed twice to Iraq, said it was difficult to adjust last year when her dad was transferred to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. She said she does not use drugs or alcohol, and many of the issues she’s faced were made easier because her family meets regularly to discuss them.

"Being in the military is about being strong and some people think it’s weak to cry. They think it’s weak to talk about what’s bothering you. They think you have to be strong and push through it and it doesn’t work," Lutzkanin said. "It doesn’t solve the problem if you don’t communicate."

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