A Healthy Dose of Reality

A social norms approach to prevention debunks assumption that "everyone's doing it"

"Tobacco. Alcohol. Marijuana. Heroin. Methamphetamine."

When prevention specialist Kari Y. recounts her personal history of substance use, the parents in her audience invariably get stuck on the h-word. Heroin.

"Parents react with shock at the mention of heroin, but they express far less alarm when I talk about tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana," Kari relates.

In reality, heroin is very rarely the first drug a young person may use.

"There's a tendency to underestimate the risks of other substances," she suggests. "We can more effectively prevent heroin use and the progression of addiction if we address all of these issues earlier."

As a senior prevention specialist with FCD Prevention Works, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Kari travels around the globe informing and empowering young people, school communities, and families. FCD's prevention initiatives are based on a social norms approach aimed at keeping healthy kids healthy and predicated on quantitative research about teen attitudes and behaviors.

"Our data show a much healthier situation than parents, schools, and even students, themselves often presume," she reports.

"Most teens are choosing not to use substances."

Kari's prevention efforts validate the majority of students who are making healthy choices, educate students who might be on the fence, promote student-parent communication about alcohol and other drugs, and cultivate healthy school communities. Research and data help to carry her message.

"We've worked with more than two million students in more than 60 countries, and we recognize that differences exist in laws, policies, religious values, and cultural practices," she observes. "We speak from a health perspective."

FCD prevention specialists focus on evidence-based findings about adolescent health, brain chemistry, and risk and protective factors associated with early substance use. It's a proactive approach that positions young people out ahead of potential challenges and situations that might come their way.

"The schools we work with do a great job of supporting student health. We help schools go even further with prevention, finding ways to keep health-based conversations going year-round and developing a prevention climate inside and outside of health classes," Kari notes.

"We help students notice early risk factors such as changes in their attitude, sense of self, or social circle. Students need to know how to dissect what they're hearing, seeing, and feeling so they're prepared to make healthy choices," she adds.

By talking openly and honestly about her own experience with addiction and recovery, including 11 separate treatment episodes by age 24, Kari also provides context and language that open up lines of communication. Students feel safe raising questions and concerns, parents feel reassured about starting conversations and setting expectations, and school leaders feel supported in fostering a healthy prevention climate.

"Addiction was rarely discussed when I was growing up, and when it was, the messages and scare tactics were often misleading and confusing," Kari recounts. "We've come a long way in understanding what young people need in order to keep making healthy choices."

By equipping students with information and skills they can use, FCD offers lessons to last a lifetime.

Recovering Hope

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"FCD prevention specialists capture the hearts and minds of young people. Yes, they're fully versed in all of the facts and science of prevention, but they also model the courage, respect, and honesty that bring about healthy decision making beyond the classroom. It's a winning combination with proven results."
David S., a loyal donor

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By the Numbers icon

> In 2015, 1,504 children and family members participated in the Children's Program offered at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation locations in California, Texas, and Colorado. Children's Program staff members also presented information and led trainings on the family disease of addiction at numerous community and school events.

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