Southwestern Ontario health units working together to curb teen substance abuse

Various alcoholic beverages. (Photo courtesy Can Stock Photo Inc. / draghicich)

In an effort to deter drug and alcohol abuse among teens during the ongoing pandemic, health units across Southwestern Ontario are teaming up for a new campaign.

The new Parent’s Matter campaign provides parents and caregivers with practical, everyday strategies that health officials said are known to prevent substance abuse among teenagers.

“We know that parents are feeling the impact of COVID-19, but so are youth. Canadian studies have shown that youth are very concerned about the COVID-19 crisis and have been affected by social distancing from friends,” said Jessica Austin, a health promoter at Southwestern Public Health, in a news release.

The campaign’s strategies include knowing what is going on in your child’s life, developing open and regular communication, and setting expectations and consequences together. Other strategies include being a positive role model, building a close and caring relationship, and not providing alcohol or other drugs.

COVID-related stress has been linked to depression and loneliness among teenagers, especially those who
spend a lot of time on social media.

“Fears, depression, and concerns for how social distancing may affect their reputation with peers, have led some teens to increase drinking when alone, and others to drink more through virtual or in-person meetups with friends,” said Austin.

According to data provided by McMaster University, 49.3 per cent of adolescents have reported engaging in solitary use of alcohol and cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic, 31.6 per cent are consuming with peers via technology, and 23.6 per cent are consuming face-to-face with friends.

Caregivers have also reported an increase in the frequency of drug and alcohol use during the pandemic.

Health officials said drinking under the age of 25 can harm the development of the brain, leading to issues with memory, learning, decision-making and problem-solving. It can also lead to mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or addiction.

The Parent’s Matter campaign is an initiative created by the Rethink Your Drinking collaborative, which is made up of Southwestern Public Health, Middlesex-London Health Unit, Huron Perth Public Health, Grey Bruce Public Health, Lambton Public Health, and Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

For more information about the campaign, click here.