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Alcohol Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Alcohol Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Although Stand Together isn’t an ‘anti-drug campaign’ per se, we do discuss substance use disorders and their impact on the individuals that develop them. Alcohol is everywhere-on TV and social media and, for many youth, in their homes. It’s widely accepted because it’s legal and readily available and it’s heavily romanticized as a ‘right of passage,’ the ‘college way,’ or (and yes, I’m lame and use this word) ‘the cool thing to do.’ But the reality of the situation is that alcohol can be just as dangerous and deadly as any other substance and just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe or can’t become a problem.

I’m not going to bore you with a slew of statistics, but I wanted to note a few things I think are important to know about young adults and alcohol use.
-11% of all alcohol consumed is by under-aged youth
-18.6% of youth start drinking before the age of 13
-34.9% of teenagers have had a least 1 drink in the last 30 days
-25% of teen car crashes involve an impaired, underage driver
-Young adults that start drinking before age 15 are 4x more likely to develop substance use disorders than those who start at age 21
Clearly alcohol use by youth and young adults is a problem-and that’s why it’s important that we #talkaboutit!

A good place to start is to identify the reasons why people abuse (mis-use) or develop an addiction (dependence) on alcohol. Sometimes individuals may use substances to escape or deal with negative feelings, they might have an underlying mental health condition, use them to decrease social anxiety, or just to ‘fit in.’ Social and other media can pressure individuals into trying or using alcohol. The importance of getting good grades/into a good school, achieving in sports, or just the stress of everyday life can take its toll on an individual, especially if they already are at risk of developing or have an underlying mental health condition. If alcohol or other substances are readily available or someone sees them being used in the home, a young person could think that this is ‘normal’ and/or engage in the behavior, even at an earlier age. Right now, the coronavirus has people stuck at home experiencing loneliness and life changes far greater and more rapidly than ever before. The more stressors and risk factors an individual has in one’s life, the more likely they are to use alcohol and/or develop a substance use disorder. On an everyday basis we all encounter things that affect our mental health-how we deal with them is important.

Regardless of the reason an individual drinks, an alcohol use disorder can cause impairment in living, including health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. This includes lack of control, changes in behavior, and risky use, such as binge-drinking. Just as a mental illness affects many parts of an individual’s life, so does a substance use disorder, but it occurs with the use of a substance. And, like mental health conditions, a substance use disorder of any kind (including alcohol) can stem from biological, psychological, and environmental factors. No wonder its use is so prevalent!

Mental health and substance use disorders are clearly closely related and can not only have the same causes and effects, but also some of the same signs (remember W.H.A.P.P.*). Sometimes, individuals with a mental health condition use substances to mask the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing due to the disorder. This is called self-medicating. Often, it’s easier to use substances because someone might be afraid to or unable to get help and these substances-especially alcohol-are readily available. Many individuals that ‘self-medicate’ develop substance use disorders as a result of long-term use; this is called co-morbidity, or co-occuring disorders.

A lot of youth use alcohol and many young adults start drinking in high school or college. Although ‘experimentation’ is considered a part of the human experience (and by no means are we advocating this is okay), it’s important to be able to recognize that someone could be developing a substance use disorder. There are two kinds of disorders: abuse and addiction. An individual that abuses (or misuses) alcohol may engage in binge-drinking or excessive use (‘getting drunk’), but they’re still able to stop using; they are still in control and their use can fluctuate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences: DUIs, hang-overs/black-outs, reckless behavior, promiscuity, and violence can all occur ‘under the influence.’ When an individual experiences withdrawal and tolerance without use, they are said to have developed an addiction (or dependence). An individual at this stage will drink every day, multiple times a day, and ‘crave’ or need the substance to perform daily tasks. Addiction is considered a disease because it physically changes and individual’s body and they depend on the alcohol to function. Without alcohol, the individual could experience physical symptoms, such as over/under-sleeping, shaking, cravings, and gaining/losing wait, as well as psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, panic, etc.).

It’s important that when you notice any or all of these signs in yourself or someone you know that you reach out to an adult you trust to get help. I know it can seem embarrassing or that you’re going ‘behind someone’s back,’ but we want people to live a successful, meaningful life-without the use of alcohol-and you could save someone’s life. The person could deny that they have an issue or are struggling; this occurs frequently. If this happens, you can still talk to an adult and be there for your friend, letting them know that you care about them, you’re there for them, and you’re there to listen whenever they’re ready to talk. (For more suggestions, check out our handout. << link)

The good news is that alcohol and other substance use disorders are treatable, there is hope, and recovery is possible. Treatment and recovery are unique to each individual and may include:
-individual or group therapy/counseling
-peer support/groups
-mental health services
-self-care (coping skills, exercise/healthy eating, spirituality, etc.)
No matter the modality, treatment addresses the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. With treatment from mental health professionals and the support from family and friends, individuals can have happy, healthy lives, YOU can connect an individual to an adult you trust to get that help and support them along their recovery journey (S.H.E.*).

Underage drinking and substance use affect everyone, just like mental health disorders. The more we educate ourselves and others, decrease the stigma associated with having these conditions and seeking help, and engage trusted adults when we’re concerned, we can prevent alcohol abuse and addiction and get individuals that are struggling the assistance they need to live a successful, meaningful life. Remember-we’re all in this together. You play an important role in connecting with your peers-take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and reach out. You could change that person’s life!

*W.H.A.P.P. (the five signs: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, poor self care)
S.H.E. (how to help: provide support, hope, and encouragement) (link to handout)

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

The sun shined though the huge glass windows in the Lounge at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in early November, welcoming students to their first training workshop. It’s NAI’s first year in the program (jumping on the bandwagon from NASH’s participation last year) and as the Fall leaves swirled around, signifying the change of the seasons, the students were eager to start changing the culture around mental health in their school.

Students shared a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun while learning and growing together. Students learned about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, and how to help their peers. They also got to know each other in fun games, such as Common Ground, that encourage them to build relationships with each other. Our teams act as ‘micro-cosms’ to their schools and the connections they make during the trainings will overflow onto their classmates as well, promoting social inclusion (one of our goals). The group left the first day with the education and experience to come back the following week to start planning projects to end stigma in their school.

Students were eager to share their ideas with the team and ‘dive right in’ the second training workshop. Students thought it was very important for their peers to know that many people (1:4!) are living with mental and/or substance use disorders and that they are not alone in their struggles. Another important focus was to share resources and encourage students to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re worried about themselves or someone else (another one of our goals).

We stress that students are not counselors and that weight is not theirs to bear, but there are things they can do to support a friend or family member, summed up in the acronym S.H.E.: provide support, hope, and encouragement. Youth can also continue to include students in daily activities, encourage their peers in their treatment and coping skills, and just be there for them. We don’t have to ‘fix’ things others are struggling with and it can be scary to sit in the silence, but sometimes, all someone needs is someone to sit with them in their struggle to remind them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.

The NAI team plans to implement a food and candy stand, host a 1:4 photo booth, and create a video to connect students to resources and adults to get help. Their slogan, ‘Tigers Talk about It!’ reminds their peers that #itsokaytonotbeokay and that #itsokaytogethelp. They want to normalize conversations about mental health in their school and help others on their journeys by uniting the student body in solidarity to end stigma.

We can’t wait to see your projects in action, stop by for some sweet treats, and learn about the changes you’ve made in your school with your passion and projects. Keep up the great work!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

North Allegheny Senior High School began its second year in the program-and brought their Intermediate High School with them, too! We’re excited to expand our program in the NA school district and NASH has really taken Stand Together and ran with it. We look forward to another year with this group of youth! And it all starts with the training…

Many of the students in the team returned from last year and a handful of passionate new students came together in October to learn about mental and substance use disorders, the definition and examples of stigma, and how to help their peers. Students from various groups across the school spent two days getting to know each other and work together to plan projects to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders in their school.

Some activities got intense-it was a pretty competitive group!-but the students learned a lot and had lots of fun. The team had insightful responses to the role playing prompts in the What Would You Do? exercise and were eager to share what they learned with their peers. The group had learned so much and could share the ‘Big 5’ by heart:
1) You matter.
2) You’re not alone.
3) SHE (support, hope, encouragement aka How to Help)
4) 1:4 people have a behavioral health condition
5) WHAPP!: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care (the signs of a mental or substance use disorder)
By the end of the day, the group was really starting to come together and already had some great ideas for projects!

The group was overflowing with ideas for this year. It was incredibly difficult to pick only a few to focus on, but the students combined some ideas, elaborated on others, and were able to form concrete planning for three big projects, including peer education in PE classes *2 days!*, a ‘truth tree,’ and permanent mural. They also want to continue using visual media and videos to share the information with their peers; this year, they’re going to focus on what to do and how to help. By incorporating physical/social activities, informational presentations, and moving visuals, NASH hopes to continue their work to decrease stigma in their school.

Students finished up the day by sharing a behavior that they were personally going to start and/or stop doing to address stigma as a result of the education and experience they received during the Stand Together training. Team members shared commitments to care more about their own mental health, speak up when someone uses stigmatizing language, and let others know that they’re there for them when they’re struggling.

Thank you, NASH, for pledging to speak up and speak out against stigma, to not use stigmatizing language, to share information, resources, and experiences, and to provide support, hope, and encouragement to others. You’re changing your school, community, and the world! Keep up the good work!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Avonworth Antelopes are Attacking Stigma-One Activity at a Time

Avonworth Antelopes are Attacking Stigma-One Activity at a Time

Avonworth Senior High School leaped into its first year with Stand Together with a lot of energy, fun ideas, and passionate youth. This year’s plans included two Food 4 Thought activities and a photo booth. The Stand Together team was really excited to share their knowledge with their school to stop stigma.

 

Screenshot_20190313-135256The group kicked off the year with classroom presentations to acclimate their peers to the Stand Together group and give them an idea of what will be going on this year. Around the same time, the students implemented their first give-away activity. Students selected a random slip of paper from a large bowl and they had to determine whether the statement was a fact or myth about mental and/or substance use disorders. The ST team hoped that they would be able to eliminate the stigma created by myths and replace them with facts. Afterwards, the students received a ‘Jolly Rancher’ candy and one to put in a jar. Once the jar was full after the activity, students were encouraged to guess the number of Jolly Ranchers in the jar to win the jar. That’s a lot of candy!

 

Screenshot_20190313-135332

 

The group also had a S.H.E. Cookies event. Students wereScreenshot_20190314-150744 incentivized to come up to the stand with a promise of free cookies, but first they had to talk about S.H.E. with the ST team members. It’s not only important to know how to recognize the signs/symptoms of a mental and/or substance use disorder, but also how to respond when someone you know is struggling. That’s where S.H.E. comes in: Support, Hope, and Encouragement. We’re not counselors or mental health professionals,Screenshot_20190314-150757 but we can be there for our friends and family and support them with a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear, hold hope for them when they struggle to do so themselves, and encourage them to get help from a trusted adult when it’s interfering with their daily life. S.H.E. doesn’t ‘sell sea shells by the sea shore;’ S.H.E. helps others when they’re struggling.

 

photo booth crop

 

The group’s final event, which I had the pleasure of attending,props crop was their photo booth. There were three green streamers for every purple streamer, signifying the 1 in 4 individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder in a given year. Also on the background were thought bubbles with their social media info. Students could also choose from various props to have fun while learning about mental health and taking a photo to remember their experience. The photos will be printed out for the students to keep and another copy will also be used to create a collage to display in the school. Mara did a great job explaining the reason for the fun:

 

 

You had a great first year, ‘lopes, and we can’t wait for next year! Keep up the good work and see you in a couple weeks at the Recognition Event! (Shameless plug: for more information on the event, click here.

 

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Allderdice: Mental Health & Stigma Ed. in the Classroom

Allderdice: Mental Health & Stigma Ed. in the Classroom

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YThis was Allderdice’s first year and they decided to bring mental health to the forefront of education: the classroom. Instead of having students casually get involved, this group had a captive audience. They worked with teachers to secure ‘training’ periods for all of the freshman classes to expose them to the concepts of mental health and stigma.

 

Students from the group took turns visiting various classes andMaker:L,Date:2017-9-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y giving the presentation. Students share information about mental health conditions and stigma and discussed with their peers the concepts and their relevance to the student body. The group gave examples of stigma and encouraged their peers to talk about mental health and to reach out to each other, whether it be just being there as a friend or talking to an adult when they are worried about themselves or someone else.

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

The team has also worked with the art department to create a dragon mural (their mascot) that will be used for a school-wide project next year.

 

The first year’s always the most difficult, but Allderdice’s Stand Together team definitely made an impact and are ready for next year! It’ll be here before you know it!

 

 

Written by Danyelle, project coordinator

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