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Decorations? Check.

Snacks? Check.

Party invites? Check.

Alcohol, cannabis and prescription medications locked up? Check.

Holidays are often filled with fun celebrations, good food and quality time with loved ones. But they can also cause stress and high emotions. For some teens, these feelings can make using substances seem like a comforting solution.

As we enter the holidays, now is a good time for caring adults to talk to the young people in their lives about avoiding alcohol, cannabis and prescription drugs.

Talk, Track, Secure

Talk, Track, Secure is an initiative aimed at helping parents and caregivers set expectations around substances while securing them in their homes. The Windham County Prevention Partnership is sponsoring the campaign.

The partnership is a coalition of three organizations that support a comprehensive effort to promote wellness and prevent the use and misuse of substances, primarily by youth and young adults throughout Windham County. The three organizations are Building A Positive Community, Deerfield Valley Community Partnership and West River Valley Thrives.

“It is essential to have conversations with your child about your expectations around not using substances,” said Cassandra Holloway, executive director of Building A Positive Community. “Letting them know you are tracking the amount you have and keeping the substances out of sight will reinforce your message that it is not for them. You are also helping by preventing easy access.”

Home is where the heart is (and substances)

According to members of the county partnership, a general perception is that kids access alcohol or drugs from sources outside their homes. Not true, the members say. Many teens obtain substances from family members — alcohol from their parent’s liquor cabinet, cannabis from their aunt or uncle’s house or prescription drugs from their grandparents’ nightstand.

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For example, 69 percent of high school students in Windham County report that if they wanted to get alcohol or marijuana, it would be sort of easy, or very easy, for them to get some, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019.

Using substances can have an outsized effect on adolescents, because their brains are still developing into their mid- to late-20s.

According to the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, the prefrontal cortex is the final area of the brain to develop fully. This area controls executive functioning and skills like judgment, self-control and emotional regulation. As a result, young people can be more impulsive and might not consider the long-term risks of drinking or taking drugs.

Affecting the natural reward response

The Partnership to End Addiction adds that as the brain develops, one of the systems under construction is a person’s reward response. Substances that are used to make someone feel good can meddle with the body’s essential reward system. Because the internal reward systems are still being developed, a teen’s ability to bounce back to normal after using substances might be compromised because of how substances affect the brain, making teens more vulnerable than adults to developing addiction. People who wait until age 21 to use substances tend to have lower rates of substance misuse.

Talking with the teens in your life about substances, knowing the amount of alcohol, cannabis or prescription drugs in your house, and securing these substances can pay dividends over the long haul.

Partnership members said the holidays present an opportunity for adults to model positive behavior and responses to stress, for example, discussing positive and negative feelings, spending time being active outside and other positive ways to handle stress.

Holloway also reminded parents and guardians that Americans tend to use substances as a way to celebrate the holidays and to deal with the stressors related to them. For example, saying “Let’s have a drink” or “I need a drink” is messaging and modeling for children, she said.

Build warm memories

Building warm memories around the holidays are gifts teens can carry into adulthood. These experiences provide substance in teens’ lives, giving them alternatives to using substances.

“Youth are supposed to be curious and take risks. That is developmentally appropriate. It is important to help prevent temptation in your home,” Holloway said.

For additional resources for Talk, Track, Secure and talking with youth about alcohol, cannabis and prescription drugs, visit windhampartnership.com.