Youth today are so connected through Facebook and Twitter that word travels quite quickly in their world. My 18 year old daughter, Liz, informed me of the death of Whitney Houston as soon as the news was released to the press. We speculated that cocaine may have played a role in her death, but at the time of this writing speculation is that she died from a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.
Unfortunately, our sons and daughters are becoming accustomed to drug and alcohol overdose deaths. As we talked, she mentioned Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse.
For my generation, celebrity deaths were more often tied to illicit drugs, especially heroin. John Belushi, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison come to mind. For me, these deaths were a cautionary tale against a lifestyle much removed from my personal experiences. For Liz and her peers, however, overdose deaths are more likely to be attributed to prescription drugs, particularly when substances are mixed together or mixed with alcohol, and often strike much closer to home.
Such tragedies provide prime opportunities to talk with teens and young adults about alcohol and drugs. Ask open ended questions such as “What do you think about that?” One in three teens surveyed say there is “nothing wrong” with abusing prescription drugs “every once in a while”. Talk to your teen about the dangers of abusing alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These are powerful drugs that, when abused, can be just as dangerous as street drugs.
Make sure that teens know that they can come to you as a trusted adult if they need help or know someone who needs help. Keep the lines of communication open, and use the news to start meaningful conversations.