Protecting Your Children from Addiction

What were you stressed about when you were in eighth grade?

I remember worrying about rushing home after school to check the score of the Cleveland Indians game. I was also anxious to get my homework done before Good Times, M*A*S*H or The Jeffersons came on one of the three channels we had on our TV.

Back then, in 1974, an error in your Little League game, a wardrobe malfunction or walking out of the bathroom with a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe might make your friends laugh. But it would be forgotten the next day.

Today, those same events might be captured on a smart phone or an iPad. They might become a hit on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter — your embarrassment archived for eternity.

In my day, after school, I went back to my home and was under the eye of parents or my siblings pretty much constantly. We ate together, fought together and slept too-many-in-a-room together.

Today, with divorce affecting more than half of marriages, kids are often shuttled between homes. Their home might be with Mom four days and Dad three days. Or vice versa. Some kids have to check the calendar to know where they are sleeping tonight.

It’s easy to see that kids these days grow up in a much different environment than us. So protecting them from addictions is bound to require a different approach than when we grew up, right?

Not really. Maybe just more focus and effort on the approaches we already know works.

After decades of research, we have been able to identify very specific “risk and protective factors” that could make it more likely or less likely for your child to become involved in substance abuse and addiction.

You can see a list of these factors on the Meridian HealthCare website.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to incorporate these factors into your everyday life. Actually, most are just common sense.

One of the biggest negative, or “risk” factors is having parents who use drugs and abuse alcohol themselves — or accept the use of drugs and abuse of alcohol by friends and relatives in or around their home or at events and social settings. This acceptance of drug and alcohol abuse can inadvertently show that you are okay with this behavior which can send mixed messages to your kids.

Being involved in school activities and extracurricular activities can be considered a protective factor. A focus on good grades can be, too. If your kids are interested in getting good grades or participating in an activity, usually because you encourage this, they are less at risk. This is due to the fact that they now have something to aspire to and a way to achieve praise and accomplishment.

Divorces happen, and divorced parents strive for as much stability as possible. Which only makes this next protective factor even MORE important. No matter which parent or which home — EAT DINNER WITH YOUR KIDS as often as possible. Without the TV on. Or the iPad or iPhone.

Sound silly? It’s not. A very big protective factor is talking to and listening to your kids. Unfortunately, whether one home or two, it doesn’t happen a lot of the time. Fight to make sure it does in your home. I promise it’s worth it.

This may surprise you, but most adolescents care very much about what their parents say to them. Believe it or not, even if they’re acting otherwise, they’re listening to you. And you are a big influence on them. The biggest in fact.

Lastly, LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. There’s a Cat Stevens song that goes, “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.” They want to talk with you. They trust you and need you.

Of course, nothing guarantees your child will be spared from the curse of addiction. You can’t put a fence around them or assign a private guard to them.

But by using some common sense, and being aware of the risk and protective factors, you have a much better chance of what every parent sees as his or her first duty — protecting their children.


Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian HealthCare and currently serves as President of the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers. Send email to