Among the most welcome for mental health professionals, policy makers and parents to hear as they battle the escalating social and personal tragedies of drug and alcohol abuse is this:
There is now a new national policy commitment to preventing abuse of alcohol and addictive substances, and with it, emerging new approaches to preventing youthful experimentation and dabbling in mind-altering substances from progressing into mental health crises.
Public Health Approach: Prevention
The new muscle behind the prevention/intervention message comes from the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Alcohol, Drug and Health, Facing Addiction in America. It not only declares preventing use from escalating to abuse to be the mission—it emphasizes prevention works. “Evidence based programs have a 40% – 60%” success rate in terms of reducing the onset of addiction and associated behaviors,” says A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., the renowned addiction scientist who helped co-author the report, speaking at the landmark Facing Addiction in America conference in fall 2016. Dr. McLellan is chair of the board and co-founder of the Treatment Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Reason 1 Prevention Works: Tested Scientific Model
In the U.S., the public health prevention model has more than 100 years of study, data and positive outcomes of widespread improvements to the health of Americans. Diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella are among the public health victories of the 20th Century.
“The public health-based approach called for in this Report aims to address the broad individual, environmental, and societal factors that influence substance misuse and its consequences, to improve the health, safety, and well-being of the entire population,” Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. Vice Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service Surgeon General explains in his November address and elaborates on The Surgeon General’s web site.
Reason 2 Prevention Works: Brain Science
In the past ten years, the medical and technological advances that yield insights into the brain on drugs – the emerging discipline of neurocognition and the biology of addiction—are yielding a level of proof never before available. And it’s persuasive.
Now, with the advent of technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other lower-radiation imaging studies safer to use on youth, researchers can observe brain tissue responding to drugs, map the molecular pathways that are activated or shut down by drugs and alcohol – and at last understand cause and effect.
The brain can be hacked by drugs; neurotransmission systems that normally regulate healthy behaviors such as judgment, motivation, decision-making and well-being can be negatively impacted by the disruptive input of chemical modulators that drugs and alcohol bring. This is especially true for teens where their brains are not fully developed. Brain science now shows that that use of addictive substances hacks and hijacks the brain’s functioning, while excessive and continual use can rewire the developing brains of teenagers in a damaging way.
Helping the Developing Brain
Making prevention a national mental health priority is exactly the right public health move. We believe that not every teenager who experiments with drugs or alcohol needs treatment—they need tools and a guide to navigate the new world of possibilities.
By promoting a conservative prevention/intervention mindset, which includes addressing substance use that has already started the goal is to help correct missteps that developmentally can be a natural part of adolescence—risk taking, including experimenting with mind-altering substances.
This is why we developed Gobi, a set of online tools, surveys, exercises, scripts, prescribed excises—such as parent or care-giver and youth going for a focused walk discussing prescribed questions—Gobi encourages reflection and connection to self and family. Available via a smartphone or other device, Gobi can help support, clarify, reconnect, redirect.
We are encouraged by the response to the early testing of the Gobi tool set. Our research shows there is ample evidence that young brains really are at risk—and no one sets out to make that happen when they crack their first beer. So yes, we’re out to save brains—and kids and families with them. That’s what Gobi’s about.
Contact Gobi: http://www.gobi.support/
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