Sara and John Miller* had been having difficulties with their 17-year-old son, but they were still shocked and heartbroken when he was expelled from school for prescription drug abuse.

"We thought we were doing everything right," says Sara. "We'd grounded him, taken away his driver's license, taken away his car, and restricted his time with his friends. We just never imagined it would get this bad."

The Millers aren't the only family affected. In the last year, several obituaries of teens that have died as a result of alcohol and drug abuse have appeared in the daily statewide paper.

"It certainly feels like an epidemic," notes Sara. "We are losing good kids from good families in record numbers. Something has to be done."

"Not My Kid"

Parents should never assume that their children are “too good” to use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. In Arkansas, 16.2 percent of students in grades 6-12 report using alcohol. Of those, 9.9 percent drank five or more drinks on one occasion. Arkansas leads the nation in teen pain reliever abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“[Arkansas] has a tremendous problem with prescription drug abuse,” says Fran Flener, Arkansas director of Drug Control Policy. “Kids who have so much potential, so many opportunities … it's taken hold of the entire family.”

The good news is that these figures can be changed. Strong family bonds where healthy beliefs and high expectations are clearly communicated have been proven to lower the risk of youth using substances. Here are some strategies for parents to keep their children from becoming a statistic:

Talk early and often to youth about the expectations about alcohol and drug use.  Often, parents think they should start talking to their children in junior high about drugs and alcohol, but the numbers show that the youth are already using by then. Arkansas youth have their first cigarette by 12.2 years old, use marijuana for the first time by 13.7 years old and have their first drink of alcohol starting at age 12.7. Of sixth graders who reported use in 2010, they began using alcohol and cigarettes at around 10 years of age.

Secure and monitor the alcohol in your home. Make sure tweens and teens do not have easy access to the liquor cabinet at home. And remember, allowing youth to drink at home as a means of controlling their behavior can have consequences for the parents. Act 976 of 2009 holds individuals responsible for knowingly allowing underage drinking to occur on property they control. Individuals who violate this Act are subject to a Class C misdemeanor on the first offense, a Class A misdemeanor on the second offense, and a Class D felony on a third or subsequent offense.  Buying for or giving alcohol to youth, no matter where they drink, results in fines and possible jail time.


Don't assume alcohol and drug use is inevitable. Contrary to what many parents think, youth using substances is not a rite of passage. It is a dangerous game of chance. Many factors come into play in determining which child will develop an addiction and how individual bodies will react to the substance. Unknown medical conditions or the wrong combination of drugs can cause immediate death or permanent disabilities. Genetic traits, behavioral health conditions, and social issues can lead to addiction. Social scientists have discovered that the longer people wait to use substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana the less likely they will develop an addiction.

Keep an eye out for "Alcopops." The marketplace is full of new products that are dangerously appealing to tween and teens, including such beverages as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Barcardi Silver, and Blast by Colt 45. With their fruit flavors and celebrity endorsements, these malt beverages are geared toward younger drinkers and created to familiarize them with distilled spirits. In Arkansas, these are currently regulated like beer and sold in convenience stores, which increases their accessibility to minors.

Remind teens: It's illegal. Period.  Even more serious than the consequences suffered at home for breaking the rules, there are legal consequences to be suffered in the courts. Make sure teens understand that minors under age 21 possessing alcohol can be fined and placed on probation. It is illegal for youth under 18 to possess tobacco. Possessing fake identification can result in suspension of driver’s license, fines, and jail time. Public intoxication results in fines and possible jail time.


{For information or assistance, contact the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health, Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention at 501-686-9030.}


10 Steps to Take Today

Parents are the first line of defense between youth and substance abuse. Parents need to talk early and often about the issue. It only takes a few moments but it can have a lifetime effect.

  1. Talk to your children about the dangers. Research indicates that kids who learn about the risks of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs.
  2. Have family dinners. Eating dinner together 5 to 7 nights a week as opposed to 0 to 2 nights reduces the chances of children abusing drugs. 
  3. Set and enforce a curfew and monitor late night activities.
  4. Lead by example – be a good role model. Don’t use illegal drugs and be careful of use of legal drugs.
  5. Don’t assume your teenager or his/her friends have not, do not, or will not use drugs because they are “good kids.” Plenty of good kids make bad choices.
  6. Treat yours and your child’s prescription medications as if they were loaded guns. Allow no access by anyone other than yourself.
  7. Monitor and secure alcohol. The easiest place for teens to get beer is next to the milk in their own refrigerators.
  8. Learn the signs and symptoms of substance use and abuse. Seek professional help early.
  9. Watch television with your children and use it to discuss family values, norms, and expectations.
  10. Know your child’s friends and their friend’s parents.

(Information from National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Partnership for Drug Free America, Office of the Arkansas Director of Drug Control Policy, and Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)