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New Resource Helps Parents, Kids "Just Say Know"

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

When it comes to drugs and peer pressure, parents typically don't have enough facts to thoroughly discuss these challenges with their teens.

Substance abuse remains a big problem for today's kids. There are no easy answers, especially when you consider that substance abuse is a problem for many adults as well. According to the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 14 million Americans were estimated to be users of illicit drugs, 104 million people consumers of alcohol, and 46 million people binge drink at least once per month. Those figures represent approximately 6.3 percent, 46.6 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively, of the population aged 12 years and older.

"All of the hardest conversations parents need to have with kids are about their bodies," says Wilkie Wilson, a professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical Center. "Conversations that pertain to drugs and the brain are extraordinarily difficult because most parents have a hard time understanding precisely how the brain works and how drugs affect the brain. There is no question that it's even harder for them to explain those things to kids."

Where can parents and other people who care about kids and young adults turn for understandable, practical, science-based information about drugs and how they affect the body?

Wilson and two of his colleagues at Duke are authors of the recently published Just Say Know: Talking With Kids About Drugs and Alcohol. They wrote the book to empower adults with the information they need to have in order to educate their kids about their bodies, their brains and the effects of substance abuse.

"We give them everything they need to know about how the brain works, how alcohol and drugs affect the brain, and plenty of facts about individual substances of abuse," said Wilson. "Then we give our best suggestions for establishing a positive, honest dialogue with kids, especially adolescents."

One of the goals is to help parents teach their kids to have a sense of respect for their brain, as well as the rest of their body. The idea is that if kids respect their brain, they will be less inclined to intoxicate it.

Current research shows that most addictions develop during adolescence. While researchers are unsure of the precise mechanisms of addiction, they do know that the parts of the brain that inhibit inappropriate behavior are not fully developed until a person matures into their late 20s.

What this means, says Wilson, is that during adolescence - a time rife for experimentation with drugs, tobacco and alcohol - the not-yet-fully developed brain is most vulnerable to addiction and permanent physical, emotional and developmental damage.

"The key is to get to kids while they are vulnerable to addiction," says Wilson. "We believe this book is the best resource currently available for helping parents help their kids. It's never too early to start discussing this serious issue with them. It's important and people need to know the facts."

The authors are Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D; Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D; and Wilkie Wilson, Ph.D., all of Duke. Just Say Know is the third in a series of educational books about drugs and other substances of abuse. The books are published by W.W. Norton & Company.

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