The Addiction Inoculation
Author of the New York Times bestselling book, "The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed and "The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence"
How can parents help their children navigate the minefield of growing up without making poor choices around substance use? Jessica Lahey is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed and The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence. Jessica discusses substance use disorder research and the dialogue needed between parents, teachers, and children to help young people make good choices. Until children’s brains fully develop, they are at greater risk for greater harm from substances. Jessica’s work and contact information can be accessed at https://www.jessicalahey.com
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everybody to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Use Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: You know, if you're a parent, one of the ever present concerns is whether you can navigate your children into adulthood without the damage substance use can cause.
Mike: Our guest today has written just an incredible book that helps with those concerns. Jessica Lahey is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, "The Gift of Failure, how the Best Parents Learn To Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed". And the book we're gonna be talking about today, the "Addiction Inoculation Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence".
Mike: Jess was awarded the "Research Society on Alcohol's Media Award for outstanding journalistic efforts of writers who cover empirical research on alcohol". More to my heart. Over 20 years, Jess has taught every grade from sixth to 12th in both public and private schools, and spent five years teaching in an alcohol and drug rehab for adolescents.
Mike: She has written about education, parenting, and child welfare for the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and her biweekly column "The Parent Teacher Conference" ran for three years at the New York Times. Welcome, Jess.
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so grateful to be here.
Mike: Well, and I feel very privileged to be talking to you.
Mike: I, I loved your book. It's terrific.
Jessica: Thank you!
Mike: And for those of you listening. There's no spoilers here. We're gonna talk about some of this stuff, but you just gotta get the book if you want the details. So there you go.
Jessica: (laugh) Thank you.
Mike: Your first line in the book you begin your book. Hi, my name is Jessica and I'm an alcoholic.
Mike: Yeah. So obviously you have a journey. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jessica: So, first off, that first line is a little bit it's a little bit risky for a couple of reasons, mainly.
Jessica: Because, you know, the current, the current language around substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder. The word alcoholic is not something we're supposed to use when we talk about other people.
Jessica: So person first language. I am a woman with alcohol use disorder. That's the correct language. And yet I chose to use the word alcoholic for myself, just for myself because it was something we were not allowed to talk about when I was a kid. So I have a parent who has alcohol use disorder. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, like it goes way up in my family tree and so does my husband.
Jessica: So, but I was raised never being allowed to talk about it. And one of the things I know about myself is, I think one of the reasons that I am so eager to talk about the thing itself, rather than talk around it or use euphemisms, not that the correct language around a substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder is a euphemism.
Jessica: That's a really important step in the right direction to remove shame and guilt and all that sort of blaming the, the person kind of thing. But for myself, the word alcoholic felt authentic, mainly because I just, it's, it's it's startling enough. It's. It, it's just really a harsh word. And for me, getting to that place took a lot of work.
Jessica: Getting to the place where I could understand that that's what was going on with me and admit that's what was going on with me was took a long time. And, and yeah, so I always refer to other people, you know in terms of the person first language that we're supposed to be using. But for myself, it just felt like the right word.
Jessica: But you, you know, It's, it's so hard because I also, you know, wanna protect the people in my life and let them do their journey themselves. And so I've been careful to try to protect other people in my family because that's their story to tell and not mine. So.
Mike: Well, you know, when referencing your book, I, I think that line to me, Said, okay. All right. I can, she's got instant credibility 'cause she lived it too. Not that you can't, if you don't, but it does help.
Jessica: There's also a weird thing that happened. So I was really, really careful to avoid 12 step language as much as possible, even though that's where I got sober.
Jessica: Simply because, there are lots of ways to get and stay sober. I've worked at a rehab for the past two years. I've worked with lots of kids that are in rehab and I think that. So what was interesting about it is I used that line first. I was really afraid that people would say, oh man, this is gonna be a 12 step book.
Jessica: And then I think one other place in the book, I used one sentence in a kind of, in an ironic way. And then I got slammed for using 12 step language in my book because I used two sentences in the entire 300 page book. So there really is a, this is such an entrenched and encamped field that it's really hard to make everyone happy with the language that you use.
Jessica: And so at a certain point, it's really important to use the language that feels true and honest to you. And that's what I did.
Mike: Well, one of the lines that you did use that I think will resonate with a lot of people, it certainly did with me. Is you say, "I would never grow up to be like them. Except I did!"
Mike: You know, and isn't that what, you know, you said it, your, your genogram bleeds, alcoholism, right?
Mike: So does mine. So does a lot of people's. And we tell ourselves, that's not gonna be me. And then many people fall into that same pattern.
Jessica: Well, the thing that's been so amazing about this. I hate using the word journey. It's so overused. But the thing that's been so amazing about this journey to me is that I have two kids, 24 and 19. And they don't remember me drunk. It's been 10 years now. And the thing that I'm proudest of is that they're not gonna have to, I mean, they may have plenty of re other reasons not to wanna be like me and that's cool.
Jessica: But in terms of like alcohol use disorder, I don't have to live with the guilt and shame of them ever having to say that simply because, you know, I was fortunate and supported and got help and have a, been able to sort of do whatever I can to make this legacy end at this generation, which is really where the genesis of this book was. You know?
Jessica: I was born to this long line of people who use substances and alcohol and have a problematic relationship with them. And now I have these two kids who I know at least when I first started this book, the one thing I knew is that genes somehow had something to do with this. And so I didn't know what that was.
Jessica: But how do I make this end with me? How do I, is this just gonna be another, you know, is one or both of my kids are they destined to carry this on? And I just wanted to know best practices, sort of, you know, what are the best practices of education and parenting so that we can at least up the chances that we can make this end with us.
Jessica: And you know, that was, that's been my whole goal. And you know, I think, I know my kids are proud of me for getting well. That's been, you know, something that we have the opportunity to talk about now.
Mike: Well, and you talk in the book about your first drinking episode was in middle school and then later in the book.
Mike: You spend a lot of time talking about the tremendous risks of early drinking for children.
Jessica: Yeah, middle school is just this really tricky spot. It's where a lot of kids start. It's where I started and the person I drank with in middle school, like drank to get drunk, or at least that was her idea.
Jessica: The person I drank with, she's dead of liver failure. She died from alcohol use disorder and other mental health conditions. But middle school really is a very tricky place. It's a place of transition. Transitions are a risky space for kids, specifically transitions between like for example, middle school and and high school.
Jessica: And the younger a kid is when they first start drinking, the higher their lifelong risk for developing substance use disorder. So if a kid starts in eighth grade, for example,
Jessica: Middle school is a really tricky time of transition for kids. The, the transition between middle school and high school, you know, it's the time, it's the average age of initiation for many kids in this country, and. The younger kid is when they first start drinking, the higher their lifelong risk of developing substance use disorder.
Jessica: And so if a kid starts drinking in eighth grade, they have somewhere around a 50% chance of developing substance use disorder during their lifetime. If they start in 10th grade, that goes down by half, it's somewhere around 25%. And then if we can get them to 18 years old to 12th grade that goes down almost to sort of what it is in the general population, somewhere around 10%.
Jessica: So, you know, it's not just about lowering their lifelong risk of substance use disorder. We also have to deal with the fact that the adolescent brain and the adult brain are not the same. The adolescent brain is in this incredible period of plasticity and cognitive development. And when I say plasticity, what I mean is, is the adolescent brain is uniquely acutely sensitive to environmental factors.
Jessica: Whether that's, you know, trauma, whether that's, you know, chemicals coming in from the outside, whether that's messing with the dopamine cycle. And by the way, if you get a chance, read Anna Lembke's book, "Dopamine Nation". It's amazing.
Mike: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Jessica: But the adolescent brain, you know, it's not fully cooked yet and it won't be done developing until the early to mid twenties.
Jessica: So delaying the first use of alcohol is important, not just from a statistical perspective, but also from a cognitive development perspective. So, you know, protected delay, delay, delay is sort of the overall message of this book. And how we delay is really at the crux of what I'm trying to convey here.
Jessica: And because these conversations are so fraught, there are lots of scripts and you know, this prevention stuff starts in preschool and kindergarten. And so over overarching, you know, what I heard over and over and over again was we want scripts. We want scripts, we want scripts. So I try to provide those scripts for those conversations from kindergarten all the way through to college.
Mike: Why do you think people want the scripts?
Jessica: For the same reason that I asked, you know, that I read Peggy Orenstein's books "Boys and Sex" and "Girls and Sex", because they're scary conversations. Because number one, I have the coolest job in the world, which is to get curious about something to spend years researching it, become an expert in it, and then translate it for someone else. But I can't do that for every topic I have to talk to my kids about. (laugh) And you know, Peggy Orenstein's books about sex are so vital. Because they gave me two things. They gave me the self-confidence, the self-efficacy, in order to have those conversations with my kids, to increase the chances that I would initiate those conversations, gave me the information they need in order to make good decisions.
Jessica: So that's what I wanted. You know, Peggy's books and, and my books. Really are about giving the adults in the room the information they need in order to share that information with the kids to increase the chances they'll have those conversations. Cause we don't have the luxury of just not having those conversations.
Jessica: I mean, that's how we get into trouble and that's how we perpetuate this sort of you know, avoiding the elephant in the room, avoiding these critical conversations and how we just perpetuate the shame and the silence and the guilt and all that sort of stuff. So, and over and over again. You know, when I, I, most of what I do is traveling to talk about the gift of failure.
Jessica: I do, you know, school talks, I do talks to kids, I do talks for professional development. And what I do in those talks is, you know, talk about having hard conversations about, you know, letting kids fail. And so when I was writing the addiction inoculation and I asked people what they wanted from that book, they're like, just tell me what to say. (laugh)
Jessica: It's a hard conversation. I don't know what to say. What do I say to a kindergartner to start initiating that conversation? Which is very different from what I say to a middle schooler, which is very different from what I say to a kid I'm about to send off to college. What do I say to all of these people?
Jessica: So that's what this book is about.
Mike: Well, and you just said, you know, their brains are different. They hear you different, so they're not hearing you as an adult. So, you know, it's, it's one thing for you and I to talk about delaying the onset of experimentation. But to say to a kid, well, don't drink, don't drink.
Mike: But if you're gonna drink be careful. (laugh) The kid, the kid didn't hear you the way you intended it.
Jessica: Yeah. Well, there's also, the other thing that's really fraught about talking with adolescents is, you know, there's a lot of myths out there about adolescents and some people are like, okay, well they're just wired for risks, so there's nothing I can do about that.
Jessica: And that's just not true. There are also under, I've said this over and over again, the more you understand about the adolescent brain, the easier it is to enjoy adolescents. I mean, I love them so much. I love teaching middle school. I love teaching high school. I did it for 20 years, and the reason I love them so much is because they're just.
Jessica: Their brains are changing so fast and their brains are changing so much that when we understand what frustrates us most about adolescents and understand that they're not fully wired yet to do all of the things that we expect them to do and to make the kind of risk benefits ratio calculations that we might make as adults, the better we're going to be.
Jessica: At sort of helping giving them the information they need to make the calculations we would like them to make. You know, they tend to value possible positive benefits more than they value possible negative benefits. So if we can shore up those possible positive benefits of not doing this thing or give them the information they need and give them the why instead of the, because I said so.
Jessica: The, we're gonna just increase the chances that they'll walk out into the world with the, with good information and make better choices based on that information.
Mike: You know, when you worked with the kids in the rehab, I think it's the rehab you had them read Jarrett Krosoczka's book. "Hey, Kiddo".
Mike: And we've had Jarrett on here.
Mike: It's a great book. Can you believe it's banned? First of all, it's on the band list.
Jessica: I will say that, you know, when I taught at the rehab, I used that book and inevitably there were at least one or two kids in every class. It was a high turnover situation, obviously, because they were in there in rehab.
Jessica: One or two kids that who had been raised by their grandparents because of their parents' substance use disorder. And those kids would say, I've never seen my story told before.
Jessica: And those are the stories that we have to tell because we talk about this all the time. Kids need to see themselves in books.
Jessica: Whether that's having to do with their race, ethnicity, their, you know, their trauma, all of this stuff helps kids feel like they're not alone and someone else shares their experience. And Jared talks about the fact that he was so afraid of putting this book out there because it was so personal, and yet it's been the one that's just, I think, changed the most, changed people's lives for the the most, for the better.
Jessica: I'm so happy it's out there.
Mike: And I love that. So in the discussions you have with kids or showing them. Or having them read books like that, what do you find they see of themselves in the book? How does it help? How does it help to have these discussions with kids?
Jessica: You know, there are some really important moments in that book.
Jessica: One is the first time the main character Jarret talks to a friend and reveals to his mother.
Mike: Oh, that's so good.
Jessica: You know, having an incarcerated parent we know is an adverse childhood experience. When you talk about the C.D.C. and Kaiser Permanente's list of adverse childhood experiences, or you're, even if you're talking about Nadine Burke Harris' List of Adverse Childhood Experiences based on her book, the "Deepest Well". Having an incarcerated parent right off the bat, that's an adverse childhood experience. And then having a parent who has a substance use disorder is an adverse childhood experience. And so if you're not allowed to talk about that, it's an incredibly shame-filled, very lonely existence.
Jessica: You know, the thing that allows us to connect with other people is by, you know, being able to share our experiences and finding common ground. And if you feel as a child that you're not allowed to talk to anyone about that, it's extremely isolating, extremely shame filled, and it's going to put you in a position where you're more likely to recapitulate whatever it is that's happened in your family because you're not able to find a way to talk to other people, not just about what you've been through, but what you need from people.
Mike: Well, and you talk about it in your own experiences too, if, if that's the case and you're experiencing that shame, right? The first time you use, you go, oh! This helps. Right.
Jessica: Well, what was so interesting for me is that that has been the experience of so many people I've met in recovery. I write about a woman named Georgia in The Addiction Inoculation.
Jessica: And by the way, so when I write, just so people who haven't read the book know, I can't stand, I don't enjoy reading books about this stuff that have no narrative in them. I need that narrative arc in order to hang the evidence on a story. So the book I'm about to start writing.
Jessica: "The Gift of Failure, the Addiction Inoculation" all have a narrative arc in each chapter. So I need a person's story to hang the evidence and to hang the research on. And so Brian and Georgia by the way, their real names, they were really generous about this. They're young adults now, well, not they're adult adults now.
Jessica: And they it was really important to them that I used their real name because they felt like their experience of having substance use disorder, of going through some of the stuff that they went through was so important. They didn't wanna they wanted to own it and to make that experience valuable for other people.
Jessica: So Georgia talks about the fact that the first drink she had, in middle school, she very quickly realized was the exact thing she needed to calm the anxiety. She had a really acute anxiety disorder that no one was helping her with. I mean, lots of people were looking at, you know, the mechanical things like her stomach.
Jessica: What's wrong with her stomach? Oh, nothing's wrong with her stomach. Okay. She's fine. Don't need to talk about the mental health stuff. And so she heard that alcohol could help you not feel things, and she's like, bingo!, that's what I need. And so by the time I started teaching her in sophomore year of high school, she was a daily drinker.
Jessica: And you know, I feel an incredible amount of guilt about that too, because she had a water bottle next to her on the floor in the classroom, and I didn't know it didn't have water in it. But that was her coping mechanism for getting through high school. Well, getting through most of high school. She left high school.
Jessica: No, despite our best efforts to keep her in high school, she, she quit. But that was her experience. It was not my experience. I was not one of those people who was like, "Oh, alcohol's the answer to everything." The first time I had a drink, because I was so scared of it, that. For the most part, I stayed away.
Jessica: And it wasn't until after I had children that I started down that slippery slope. And since getting into recovery, I found out that my story's not unusual. It's a frequent story I hear that, you know, it just didn't have problems until I had kids at home and realized that my drinking was just inching up and inching up.
Jessica: And there was no exact moment I could point to and say that's where I went over the edge. But it was somewhere in there (laugh) when I had little kids. Little little kids.
Mike: Yeah. We had a lady on here a while back who talked about, is it wine o'clock yet?
Jessica: Yes. Yeah.
Jessica: My wine o'clock was very, very specific 'cause I was my husband worked really long hours. He was in medical training in a fellowship. He's now a physician. So I had a window in the afternoon to sort of pregame and once I became a teacher and I was not drinking during the day, that was like, I was just about to though, like I had the alcohol in the car, I just hadn't started going to my car during the day to go get it or to go sneak drinks in the car. But it was there. But, so I knew that was a line I was about to cross. So, you know, I would get out of teaching in the afternoon and then I knew I had x number of hours until my husband got home to pregame and that was my drinking.
Jessica: And you know, it was. It was exhausting. (laugh) I mean and when I look back on it, it was emotionally, physically, mentally, all of it. It was just exhausting. By the time I got into recovery, I was so ready because I was just so tired.
Mike: Well, listen to what we do. Wine o'clock pre-game.
Mike: We deflect, right?
Mike: We do all that stuff. Yeah. You know, parent, you, you talk about this and parents needing a script. They don't really know what to do, and, and so I'll, I'll fire a couple out at you. All right.
Mike: And you, I'll let me bundle them and then you can address 'em up where you want.
Mike: This is what I hear when parents, when I do a talk.
Mike: Should I drink around my kids? What do we say about Uncle Fester's drinking problem? What should the rules be? Well, my kids think I'm not cool. You know, and, and essentially what, what boundaries should healthy parents set up?
Jessica: Yeah, so that's one of the most, so your first question. I've been fortunate enough to get to talk to parents who actually work in the alcohol industry about drinking and kids, you know, and they're in a really tricky place because their mortgage, the roof over their head is being paid for by alcohols, and they tend to socialize with a lot of alcohol because they're representing the brand, all that sort of stuff.
Jessica: So I would never tell anyone except, you know, If I knew someone well and I knew they had an alcohol use disorder, then I might very carefully talk to them about the message they're sending by drinking in front of the kids and their own, their own issues with alcohol. But I would never tell someone that they can't drink in front of their kids.
Jessica: What I would say though, is, the messages we're sending about why we're drinking in front of our kids are what really come through. I mean, we, anyone who works with adolescents or kids say this all the time, we can say all we want, but the things they really listen to are what we do. And if we're coming home from work and we're saying things like, you know, "Oh man, I had the worst day and I just need a drink."
Jessica: Or, you know, "I really screwed up at work today and I really just I need to be here to sort of process this. I need some quiet, blah, blah, blah." You know, those messages around. I've had something challenging happen to me emotionally, or I've been, I'm stressed out. I'm going to drink at it. That's, really problematic because then we're teaching our kids that that is a valid coping mechanism for emotional pain.
Jessica: And, you know, that's, that's where the real messaging lies. So, you know, and, and then I, I say also I. I have alcohol use disorder. My husband does not. My husband likes to have a beer now and then. And so the way we've managed it in our house is that we just never have open alcohol in our house. My husband keeps a couple of beers or, you know, a single a split of wine or something like that out in the refrigerator in the garage.
Jessica: If he wants something to drink, then he can open it and then pour out whatever he doesn't finish. Or if we have people over for dinner and they bring wine, which is totally fine with me, they're taking it with them at the end of the night or it's getting poured out or it's being given to someone else.
Jessica: The thing that's nice about that is we're also modeling really healthy relationships for our kids because it's not that I feel like I'm gonna run to the refrigerator in the middle of the night and not be able to control myself, which I guess is also a possibility, it's that my husband doesn't want that to be an issue for me.
Jessica: He cares about my mental state and wants to support my recovery, and so therefore the sacrifice. And if I asked him not to drink, by the way, there would not be alcohol in the house at all. That would be an easy decision for him. But this, you know, for our kids, what we're showing them is, you know, mom can't drink it. Dad can. He models healthy drinking as much as that's possible, having a beer here and there with food. But you know, we also care for the people in our lives and we try to make their emotional state better rather than trying to pull them down. And so this is one way we do that.
Mike: You know, I love the fact that your book didn't end in high school. That it continued into college to be end.
Jessica: It almost did. It almost did. I almost wasn't gonna write that chapter. It just seemed like, you know, I, I'm, I'm 53, I was born in 1970. So from my perspective, Animal House, that's college. So like, why? You know, so, or why would I write about an inevitability? But it turns out the more research I did about college and college age kids, a, it's not an inevitability, you know?
Jessica: 67% of all the alcohol that's consumed on college campuses is consumed by binge drinkers. And 78% of the alcohol that's consumed on college campuses is consumed by the heaviest binge drinkers. So, and you can really specifically target. If you were to hand me a college senior and tell me a little bit about them.
Jessica: I can predict, you know, how likely they are to be drinkers in college and it's a pretty easy formula actually. We know who the biggest drinkers in college are and who the, the people are who don't drink in college. And you can control for some of those factors.
Mike: Well, and everybody wants to tell me when I speak.
Mike: "I know a dude who", right. Well, we all know a dude who of course can abuse themselves, but succeed. But the success indicators are, are also there. The more you use, there's the harder you make it.
Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. There's, there's some interesting data that I do love to share. I also wanna just, let's step back for a second.
Jessica: Every kid who uses drugs or drinks alcohol is not gonna develop substance use disorder. There are plenty of people who can use and who can walk away, and it's doesn't become, you know, it's not. I have alcohol use disorder, I can't moderate alcohol, that's me. But there are lots of people who can use and be able to, you know, come back from it.
Jessica: And in fact, there's a, there was a really cool study that looked at, you know soldiers who were at in Vietnam. Where opiates were ubiquitous, opium was everywhere, and heroin and lots and lots of those people were able to come back from the Vietnam War and the vast majority of them walked away from opiates and never used them again.
Jessica: And so there's also research to show that there are lots of people who can drink heavily during college and have it be a situational thing and move on from that phase of life. There's, you know, we talk about substance use disorder as being a brain disease, but there are also camps. Let's say it's a response to trauma, which is also true.
Jessica: That's the Gabor Matee sort of response to trauma camp. But there's also a significant faction out there that talks about substance use disorder as being a developmental situation because adolescents, lots of adolescents pick up drugs and alcohol, and yet when you look at the, sort of the bell curve of who developed substance use disorder, I was an outlier.
Jessica: There aren't a lot of people who tend to initiate and become heavy users outside of that, you know, after 25. It really is a developmental phase. So, you know, just because your kid is drinking heavily in college doesn't necessarily mean that they are doomed to have alcohol use disorder and to go down the tubes.
Jessica: It does mean though that there are some things you should talk about and some things you should look for. There are different types of drinkers. Drinkers who isolate, who use it to manage their mental health, use it to manage an anxiety disorder, for example, or depression. Those drinkers tend to be more likely to develop substance use disorder than, for example, a drinker who only drinks when they're celebrating and use it to heighten that happy experience and the being around other people and socializing experience. So while I'm not saying that's not a problem, I am saying that there are different kinds of drinking and that there's different levels of risk having to do with those types of drinking.
Mike: Well, and as a parent, our love and fear are intertwined. Right?
Mike: And so, you know, our own families are also woven into our work. So I'll, I'll let you have a, a step off here to the podcast. How do you manage then? Mom, wife, writer? Teacher. How does that play out for you day to day now?
Jessica: So I, I miss the classroom so much, but I'm not teaching full-time. If I were teaching full-time, I would make sure I know what substance use prevention program my school is using. First of all, this substance use prevention stuff starts really, really young. But the numbers we have in terms of who has substance use prevention programs tends to be high school because.
Jessica: Oddly enough, people tend to restrict it to high school, which is dumb. We're behind the eight ball if we do that.
Jessica: Only 57% of high schools in this country have any substance use prevention program.
Jessica: And of that 57%, only 10% are based on evidence. So there are a lot of crap programs out there. For example, the early iteration of DARE that I went through made me more likely to use substances than less.
Jessica: That's changed. They've changed their programming, but. We know what substance use prevention programs work. And spoiler alert, they're really good social emotional learning programs with a health and safety aspect. And those exist. They're out there. You can look up your school's program, find out if it is, and I give all the resources for that.
Jessica: So that would be first and foremost because we know that education programs do work as well. As a parent, a consistent and clear message of no, not until your brain is done developing, which happens to coincide with legality. I'm not going with the legality thing, mainly because that's a, because I said so sort of, you know, that's sort of a, just, just say no sort of thing.
Jessica: Legality isn't a great winning strategy mainly because it's fairly arbitrary. But no, not until your brain is done developing has been the discussion that I've had with my kids and the statistical one, you know? So, you know, my kids have been raised differently based on you know, when I wrote this book, my oldest is 24.
Jessica: He was mostly raised up before I wrote this book, before I knew the evidence. And for him, I let him have drinks when he was younger. I let him have a drink when he was really little. I, I gave him a taste of wine on his tongue when he was an infant. What we know about parents who have a permissive stance on drinking is that their kids have much higher substance use disorder rates, and by extension. Since we know that peers are a really important part of this equation. If you are the kind of parent who's like, "Well, you know, they're gonna drink anyway, I might as well have my kids have their friends over and let them drink in my home, and I'll take the keys, blah, blah, blah."
Jessica: You're also raising your kid's friend's rate of developing substance use disorder as well. So as a parent, if I find out that my kids are at someone's house where the parents are allowing drinking, I don't think that parent understands. I hope that parent doesn't understand. Otherwise, they're just, You know, saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what the statistics say, but it's easier for me." Or "I wanna be the cool parent" or whatever. Parents who have a consistent clear message of "No, not until your brain is done developing." have kids with much lower levels of substance use disorder over their lifetime. There are some confounders in those statistics.
Jessica: But that's the data we have right there. And so my kids, you know, my younger kid, when things changed, I didn't just pull the rug out from under her and say, "You know we're changing this up for you." What I said was, "When we were raising your brother, I was doing the best I could do based on the information that I had", and I believed that I could somehow teach moderation like those European families by somehow letting him have his own sips, blah, blah, blah.
Jessica: I now know that that's folly, that the European myth is just that. It is a myth, which I'm happy to go into if you want. And I know that substance use disorder, your risk of substance use disorder is higher than for your friends whose parents don't have substance use disorder. And so the best practices say that, I say "No, not until it is your brain is done developing."
Jessica: And so when I explain it to my daughter like that, and she knows the research that I know because we talk about it all the time. She can then make informed decisions based on, you know, real actual information rather than sort of these magical thinking, crossed fingers wishes, hopes and dreams that I might have as a parent.
Jessica: I would love to be the cool parent who has everyone over here and they're in my basement and I know they're safe and you know, and then I could be like, "Oh, Mrs. Lahey is the cool one. She lets us drink at her house." I would love that. I remember the parents of the kids when I was little, who let that happen, and they were the cool parents.
Jessica: We still think of them as the cool parents. The reality is, though, If I think about those parents, most of their children are in recovery now, and I have actually reconnected with lots of those kids through recovery, which well now adults through recovery, which has been interesting. So if you're one of those parents who's either invested in that European myth or you're invested in that whole, "Well, they might as well do it here so that they can be safe."
Jessica: You are actively raising your kids' risk of developing substance use disorder during their lifetime.
Mike: My kids will be the first to tell you that I'm, I'm not the cool dad and I, I can live with that.
Jessica: I'm totally good with that. Here's the thing, spoiler alert, I was never gonna be the cool mom anyway. I am sitting in a room with about 2,000 books. I'm a research nerd. There's no way I was gonna be cool to begin with. So why I would, hold onto that one thing as sort of the key to coolness. I don't know, but I was never gonna be cool in the first place.
Mike: Well, Jess, I'm gonna be respectful of your time and let you get on with your day and maybe your podcast as well.
Mike: You know, folks get the book. Even if you're a parent of older kids who have been through it, you'll eventually be a grandparent. It's full of research and I love the stories part. I connect with those as well, Jess. There are links to Jessica's works here at the end of the podcast, and we would encourage you to partake of those and also of this podcast the next time.
Mike: So we invite you to listen in the next time, and until then, we always invite you to stay safe and talk to your kids.
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