BLOOMINGTON - More leisure time during summer will mean more alcohol consumption, "pharm parties" and smoking marijuana for some teens, McLean County substance abuse counselors and teenagers said this week.
But there are steps that parents and other teens can take to reduce the risk of summer turning tragic.
"Most kids are making good choices," said Kellie Rubbel-Henrichs, program manager for Project Oz. But, by 12th grade, most McLean County teens have tried alcohol or marijuana or misused prescription drugs at pharm (pharmaceutical) parties - and usage increases during summer, local experts said.
"Summer is a time of high initiation" into alcohol and drugs, said Alan Markwood, prevention projects coordinator for Chestnut Health Systems. "Teens have more time on their hands."
Project Oz and Chestnut are Bloomington-based drug prevention, education and treatment agencies and are members of the Heartland Coalition for Youth and Families, which deals with alcohol, drugs and violence.
Some summer parties mean drinking alcohol, passing weed
(marijuana) and sharing prescription drugs taken from home, said Dhalvin Gomez-Bonner, 16, a junior at Normal Community West High School, and Hannah Brown, 16, a sophomore at Bloomington High School.
Teens abuse substances because they're bored and want to try something different, they want to "fit in," they want to numb themselves emotionally or they want that elusive great feeling.
The substance abused most is alcohol because it's available from home or from an older sibling or friend.
Most teens drink to get drunk. While drunk, judgment is impaired, resulting in driving while intoxicated and traffic crashes, vandalism, premarital sex and fighting, counselors and teens said.
A trend is "pharm parties" or "Skittles parties" in which teens grab leftover prescription medicines from home and bring them to a party, where they are poured into a punch bowl for partygoers to try.
"They grab a bunch and down it like Skittles," Gomez-Bonner said. "They don't even know what they're taking."
Taking medicine not prescribed for you is dangerous but combining it with other medicines - and sometimes with alcohol - can be deadly, said Deborah Zilm, Project Oz prevention specialist.
Warning signs of substance abuse vary with the drug used but universal red flags include significant changes in behavior such as lying, avoiding family activities, changes in friends and breaking curfew, said Lisa Fosnot, a Chestnut counselor on the residential female adolescent substance abuse unit.
Reduce the odds of your teenagers abusing alcohol and drugs by:
• Being a good role model.
• Building trust by talking and listening to them daily and being involved in their lives.
• Allowing them to be involved in activities they enjoy - such as athletics - in which they can achieve a natural high.
• Making boundaries clear, including no alcohol, drugs or curfew violations.
• Knowing their friends and friends' parents and calling them when questions arise.
• Locking up alcohol and medicines; if that's not possible, keeping track of them.
• Taking no-longer-used medicines to drop off locations, including Bloomington and Normal police departments, Illinois State University Health Service and pharmacies that have agreed to accept old medicines.
If you suspect your teen is using alcohol or drugs:
• Wait to talk with them until they are sober. Express your concerns. Be honest, direct and respectful.
• If the first conversation doesn't go well, revisit the topic later.
• Get advice and support from a school counselor, private counselor, Project Oz, Chestnut Health Systems or PATH.
SOURCES: Lisa Fosnot, Alan Markwood, Deborah Zilm, Kellie Rubbel-Henrichs,Hannah Brown, Dhalvin Gomez-Bonner