The national drug abuse and overdose crisis shows no sign of abating. According to the CDC, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2013. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose is now causing more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.
24.6 million Americans twelve or older – that’s 9.4% of the population – now live with substance dependence or abuse. Clearly something has to change and more has to be done to expose the dangers of substance use.
A first but important step is to talk about it. That’s why The Dr. Oz Show is organizing a ‘National Night Of Conversation’ on Thursday to encourage families across the United States to sit down to dinner and talk to their children about drugs and to have an honest discourse about the dangers of addiction.
“By removing the fear and shame surrounding addiction, through an open dialog in families we will save lives,” says the show’s host, Dr. Mehmet Oz. “Parents need to educate their children about the overall risks of drugs and drinking, and most importantly, we want to make it safe for family members to reach out for help.”
Dr. Philip Hemphill is the Chief Clinical Officer at Lakeview Health. He says an evening of open conversation is a great idea and an opportunity for parents to not only communicate information but also their values and feelings which are equally important. Children learn by observation so even when parents don’t say a word they are still conveying their beliefs.
I would encourage parents to really listen to what their children are thinking and what information gaps are present. Ask questions like “What do you feel about that?” or “What else do you think he or she should do in that situation?” Perhaps “What else would you like to know now?” or “How do you think we would solve that problem”
It’s important to use age appropriate language and to be patient as children learn and hear about substance use from numerous sources. Although this night is a great start, remember parents should make a commitment to remain engaged with their children and use “teachable moments” throughout the child’s life because education never stops.
Lastly, parents need to explore their own values, beliefs, and scripts before sitting down for a meal, for example by asking themselves “Do I believe marijuana should be legal?” or “What are my drinking patterns?” and “What are the limits of my knowledge base about drugs?” It’s okay to be nervous or anxious, share that with them and then say what you believe is important. If the topic is too uncomfortable and you sense you need help, then always reach out to professionals.
For his part, Dr Oz is encouraging people to post a picture of an empty dinner plate on social media on Thursday to show their support for the National Night Of Conversation. “On most nights of the year you can find people posting pictures of their meals on social media, but on November 19th, we are asking people to post a picture of an empty dinner plate, because on this night the conversation is more important than the food,” said Dr. Oz.