How to Talk to Your Kids About Drinking with Jessica Lahey

Episode 127 August 23, 2023 00:56:52
 How to Talk to Your Kids About Drinking with Jessica Lahey
Alcohol Tipping Point
How to Talk to Your Kids About Drinking with Jessica Lahey

Aug 23 2023 | 00:56:52

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Hosted By

Deb Masner

Show Notes

Today’s episode is all about our kids and how to best talk to them about drinking and other substances. I’m honored to have Jessica Lahey on the show to guide the conversation.  

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. Jess has taught every grade from sixth to twelfth in both public and private schools and spent five years teaching in a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents in Vermont and serves as a prevention and recovery coach at Sana, a medical detox and recovery center in Stowe, Vermont. She has written about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the New York Times. She co-hosts the #AmWriting podcast from her empty nest in Vermont. She is also celebrating 10 years of sobriety.  

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Episode Transcript

Pod Jessica Lahey Hello and welcome back to the Alcohol Tipping Point Podcast. Today is a special episode. I know that sometimes we talk about your own struggles with drinking, and then sometimes we talk about bigger societal problems, issues related to drinking. And so today on the show, I have Jessica Lehe and she is here to talk about. How do we talk to our kids about drinking? She 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. Jess has taught every grade from six to 12th in both public and private schools, and spent five years teaching in a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents in Vermont, and she also serves as a prevention and recovery coach at Santa, a medical detox and recovery center in sto, Vermont. She's written about education, parenting, and child. Welfare for the Washington Post, the Atlantic, New York Times, and she is also the co-host of the hashtag M Writing podcast . She is celebrating 10 years alcohol free sober af. So I am delighted to have Jessica on the show just to talk about how can we talk to our kids about drinking. How do we show up best for our kids? How do we help raise our kids in, in this culture where it everyone is drinking or using other drugs? So I was delighted to be able to sit down with Jessica. I read her book, the Addiction Inoculation. I highly recommend it. And we just got into it about what's going on with kids these days, how we can talk to kids at different stages. Of their lives going from preschool to junior high, high school, college, and I think you're gonna find it really helpful whether you have kids or not. It's just an interesting cultural conversation as well. So let's get started. Deb: First I just wanna thank you again for coming on the show, for talking about this important topic for writing the books that you've written. So near and dear to my heart, I have a 13 year old daughter and then a 16 year old daughter. And just this past weekend we celebrated my niece graduating college. So kids and drinking like, woo. That stuff is coming up and it's coming up fast. So thank you Jessica, for being on the show. Jessica: Oh, of course. I have a 19 and a 24 year old, and so I 100%. Yeah, we're in it. Deb: Well let's start with how you ended up where you are now, where you have written these two books. The latest, the one that we're talking about is the addiction inoculation and, and how that came to be. Jessica: So I had written my first book back when I was a middle school teacher, the Gift of Failure and, you know, that I was so fortunate. And then that book did really well. Then the, you know, the question you get like the second a book comes out is, what are you doing next? And I'm like, can I have like five minutes just, you know, post publication to brief? So I didn't know what was gonna be next. And I also got sober right at the beginning, right when I first sold the Gift of Failure on June 7th, 2013. So I. When I got sober, I also, you know, started thinking about, you know, okay, well I come from a long line of people with substance use disorder and so does my husband. And so, you know, after I sort of got my own sobriety under a bit of control, so to speak, I you know, my first thought was, okay, well how do I, if I'm the child of an alcoholic and my husband is the child of someone with substance use disorder, like, what, how, how am I gonna make this stop with me? And at the same time, I had started teaching at a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents. So I was also thinking a lot about like, oh my gosh, how did these kids end up here? So I had a lot of sort of ideas about this, that and the other thing. And my agent was very patient. She read, like, she read all these proposals for all these things that she was like, that's not quite there. That's not quite right. And it really did take me a couple of years to figure out that what I wanted to write about was what is effective substance use prevention? Like let's get rid of the myths and the magical thinking and the credit programs that we know don't work. And what does work. And I had been a journalist and education journalist for a bunch of years, and so I'd, you know, I, it took about a year to research even just to write the proposal for this book. And then it took me another couple years to write the book after that. So it writing is this magical. Process of reading a ton and thinking about a lot of things until, at least for me, one day while I'm in the shower or out gardening, or in this case driving on driving down Route 93 on my way down to Boston for a speaking engagement and having to pull off the side of the road because you have that moment where like it all sort of comes together in this vision of what you should be writing about. So it really is, it's very personal for me. It's also a very big professional concern for me as an educator. So it all kind of came together that way. Deb: Yeah, I was just thinking like, who else could write. The book, like, it just, it was perfect for you to write the book in a way, like you said, being an educator, getting sober yourself, having teenage boys at the time, and ha just having all this background. So thank you for writing this book. Jessica: It's, it's really weird how once the idea comes together sometimes it's like, oh my gosh, that's so obvious. How did you not think of that like four years ago? But it really is a matter of, at least, and I also happen to host a podcast about the process of writing and the publishing industry. And so a lot of writers tell me this, that it's this long process of just kind of thinking and poking around the topic until it coalesces really nicely into a, a form that makes sense. And when you write non-fiction and do a lot of speaking as I do, You are gonna live with this topic for a really long time. It's not just about writing that one book. I'm still doing speaking events for the gift of failure. And that came out in 2015 and I still love that topic. So yeah, there's a lot that goes into deciding whether or not you wanna write a book about something Deb: amazing. So I love it. Okay. Well let's start with like, what, what are parents getting wrong when they're talking to their kids about drinking or substance Jessica: use? Well, a lot of parents, the first thing they're getting wrong is not talking about it. I mean, effective substance use prevention starts in pre-K and kindergarten. Really in terms of bodily autonomy and safety. And, you know, in the, in the addiction inoculation, I give really specific scripts for, you know, pre-K all the way up through high school because I. There's a progression and what we know about the most effective substance use prevention programs is that they start really, really young. What's the most maddening thing to me is when I send my book to elementary school principals, because also by the way, we know that the more engaged and invested the administration is at the school level and or at the district level, the, the more effective the programs are. So I tend to send the book to a lot of school administrators, and the most maddening thing is when the elementary school principals or even the middle school principals will say, oh, thank you so much. I sent that over to the high school principal, but. If, but we know that the average age of initiation for drugs and alcohol, especially if you know if a kid is going to start the average age of initiation is somewhere around 13.5. So if we're waiting until high school, we are so far behind. And the most effective substance use prevention programs aren't just about substances. They're about helping kids integrate their lower and upper brain and social emotional learning and naming emotions and having the tools to manage their emotions. Because as I quote Chris Herron in the book, we tend to talk so much about that last day, but we don't tend to talk a lot about the first day. Like what is it that makes a kid feel like they have to reach for a substance in order to numb out or escape or just some flail to not feel bad every moment of the day. So that emotional management stuff, that anger management stuff, whatever it is. Starts really, really young, which is why, you know, it's really important that we're looking at programs that have been looked at objectively to have efficacy as opposed to like crossing our fingers and jumping and just sort of hoping this program will work. So there's a lot of work that went into figuring out, there is a lot of work that goes into figuring out which programs work and which ones don't. And we don't have an excuse these days for, for sticking with a program that we know does not work. Deb: Yeah, I remember reading that. Da Dare. Yeah, I think it was Dare that's what I had. Mm-hmm. Growing up in me, the too eighties and nineties. Mm-hmm. But that, that actually did more harm than good, is that correct? Jessica: They have done some fixes. So keeping in mind of course, that DARE did not come out of a mental health perspective or a social-emotional learning perspective that didn't really exist widely then came out of a law enforcement perspective that was created by law enforcement in Los Angeles actually. And that program was very much about the scared straight sort of approach, the early iterations of dare. And yeah, it increased kids' risk of using drugs and alcohol. So kids who went through the early iterations of DARE were more likely to use drugs and alcohol than kids who hadn't gone through the program at all. And why was that? You know, there's a bunch of different reasons. I think a lot of it comes down to. The whole scared straight thing doesn't work, mainly because it doesn't take into account kit the way adolescents tend to weigh benefit and consequences of their actions. There's a whole bunch of reasons. We just know that scared straight and just say no, do not work. What we know works is really good, solid information. So the kids have the benefit of that really good information, not just about what, you know, how the adolescent brain is developing and real information about what drugs and alcohol do to the adolescent brain and body. The difference between a kid taking drugs and alcohol and an adult taking drugs and alcohol, it's comp two completely different things given the differences in brain development and how precarious and delicate the adolescent brain is. All of those things have to be a part of the program in order or a part of your communication in order for a kid to be able to make the best possible decisions based on solid information and not. Drugs are bad because kids know that's a lie. Like why would so many people take drugs if they're just bad? There must so they know right off the bat that we're lying. Like there is a reason that people are dying of drug and alcohol abuse or substance use disorder. And that's because there is something so primly and I don't wanna say good, but appealing about those substances. You know, I drank in order to manage, attempt to manage my anxiety, and in the short term it did work. So what is it in that calculus that would've helped me possibly make a better decision? And that's understanding that over the long term it will increase my anxiety. That might've made me pause and say, oh, well that's dumb, and that would be a bad approach to managing my anxiety. Deb: Yeah, I, I think this is, I think, I think with drinking it's so tricky compared to talking about other substances that are illegal. It, so talking about drinking, when most parents drink around their kids, the kids grow up seeing it, they see it in Hollywood, they see it everywhere, and it's so normalized, and then you become kind of the hypocrite where mm-hmm. You're drinking, but you're telling kids like, Hey, don't do what I do. Jessica: Or like, but you're not, but you're not a hypocrite. Yeah. Because your brain is fully developed and theirs is not an adolescent. Substance use, as I said before, is different from adult substance use. Yes, drugs and alcohol can do terrible things to the adult brain and body, but it does far worse things to the adolescent brain and body. And we don't have to stop using completely in front of our kids. Like I get this question all the time. In fact you know, a lot of people will say, does this mean I have to stop drinking ever in front of my children? And not necessarily, but you have to ver be very mindful of the messaging around why you're drinking in front of your children. If your messaging is. You know, we're going to grandma and Grandpa's house and man, there better be enough wine there because this is gonna be quite a day. Or you know, you come home from work and you say, you know, I had the worst day at work. I really pissed some people off. It was a really upsetting day. I really need a drink. Those, that messaging is, hi, I'm having some bad emotions. I'm having some stuff I don't wanna feel and therefore I'm going to drink at it in order to manage it. That kind of messaging is what's really damaging to kids, not necessarily that they have a parent in front of them who may have a glass of wine or a beer every once in a while. That's, I'm less worried about that than I am about the messaging that kids get about why the parent is drinking. Deb: That's a good point. So what are some of the differences in brain development for when an adolescent is drinking versus an adult? Jessica: So there are two really delicate periods of brain development in the human, you know, well there's gestation, but there's zero to two, and then puberty until the early to mid twenties. Really. 25 is the safe cutoff that we talk about is like brain development being kind of done. And during adolescence in particular, we talk about plasticity. And plasticity really just means that your brain is acutely sensitive to external forces to whether that's, you know, the introduction of chemicals into the brain, that kind of thing. And during that period when the brain is still developing, when we introduce chemicals into the brain and we mess with the neurotransmitters and we mess with like, you know, the stuff that needs to be in equilibrium in the human brain, in order to develop appropriately, we start doing some damage. You know, for example, we know that kids who use. Cannabis on a regular basis have smaller hippocampus. And hippocampus is the, the hippocampus is the seat of memory consolidation, formation, storage. That part of the brain is smaller in kids who use cannabis regularly. We have seen thinning in the frontal lobe in kids who have, who use cannabis regularly, and that's. Can be devastating when it comes to to executive function, to like all the adulting stuff that we have to do. Time management, goal management, you know, stopping and starting things, initiating tasks, seeing tasks through, that's all frontal lobe stuff. And that's the last part of the brain to connect to the lower part of the brain. And until that connection is all in place, until all of the nerves are nerve cells pathways are myelinated until all of our synapses are created. Until everything is sort of done, there's just a lot more potential for damage. Mm-hmm. Deb: And, and so what do you think, like what are some tangible things we can do to talk to our kids? Because before you're kind of talking about what the schools are doing and what are effective programs that they're doing now in schools, which I think is great. I feel like with the, the whole peril Dweck and growth mindset and just mm-hmm. I do, I notice anyway from my girls' schools, like they are starting to catch on like, okay, we need to promote positive coping skills, growth mindset alternatives. You know, they, they're talking more about emotions. I, I think mm-hmm. That has gotten better. Would you agree in the school Jessica: systems? Absolutely. I mean, at the root of the most effective. Substance use prevention programs are really high quality social emotional learning programs with information about brain development, information about refusal skills, all that kind of stuff that kids need in order to learn how to manage emotions from a learn how to understand and name emotions from a very young age so that we can increase their potential to manage those emotions as well. The problem is right now in the US certain factions of the United States populace has decided that some education programs are scary to them. Whether that's the, like the c r T stuff, stuff about race that stuff really scares kids. Scarce, not, sorry, not kids scares some parents. And social-emotional learning unfortunately has fallen into one of those scary acronyms that has come under fire as. And being misunderstood for something that it's not. When I post about the importance of social-emotional learning, when I talk about, I do daily videos on substance use prevention on my Instagram when I post about how important social-emotional learning is, the, some of the blowback I get is, oh, well, that's where they teach kids about, you know, Gender and stuff like that, and it sort of freaks them out. The problem is, is that if we attack social emotional learning, we're gonna go backwards. When kids don't understand, their emotions aren't, when kids aren't able to name their emotions. When kids aren't ammo able to manage their aggression, we are increasing their risk for substance use disorder over their lifetime. We know for a fact that social ostracism, that anxiety, that undiagnosed learning issues, that aggression between children increases their lifelong risk of substance use disorder, and so good social emotional program social emotional learning programs address all of that. Well, Deb: that is really sad that it's become like Yeah. Politicized and under attack and misunderstood. It really has. Jessica: Yeah. It really, really has. And it's de it's really devastating because when I talk to other, Educators who do the same similar work that I do as we travel around the country now, some of us are being told not to use that acronym because it will alienate people. And so we're having to talk about how important social emotional learning is without using the acronyms. It's really devastating and it's really sad to me because at the very heart of helping kids understand how their brains work and integrate their lower and upper brain functions we have to be talking about really high quality social emotional learning and we ignore it or demonize it at our peril. And it's, I'm really scared for kids. Deb: Yeah. And I cannot tell you how many people, you know, I work with adults who are giving up, drinking, changing their drinking, and again and again we hear about the health effects of alcohol. And people again and again are like, why was I never told this? I never knew this. And even I as a nurse, all of the things that I have learned since changing my drinking have been mind blowing. And I'm like, how did I never learn this before? Was I ignoring it? And also the whole emotion thing and managing your emotions and your thoughts and your feelings and just all of that emotional intelligence again and again, we hear like we were never taught this. And so it's so interesting. We're trying to teach it and it's under attack. Yep. Jessica: Even, you know, I work at a rehab for adults. I used to work in rehab for adolescents. Now I work in a rehab for adults. And my job is to talk about, especially to the people who have kids, to talk about prevention and talking to their own kids about their substance use disorder. And when I talk about the risk factors for substance use disorder, and I talk about the fact that genetics is about 50 to 60% of the picture, and then Trauma and trauma adjacent ideas are like adverse childhood experiences are the other 50 to 60%. There are people that are looking at me blinking like I never knew this. Like whether it's physical or sexual abuse as a kid, or even just divorce and separation that increases risk for, for substance use disorder. There's a lot of stuff that kids go through and unless you understand adverse childhood experiences and the impact they can have, whether you're reading for example, Gabor Mate and his work on trauma and substance use disorder, or whether you're reading Nadine Burke, Harris's the deepest well about adverse childhood experiences and the effect lifelong on mental and physical health. Some people just look at me blinking like I just never knew. I had no idea. And that's why early intervention for this stuff is so important. Deb: Well let's talk about then some of the ways that parents can talk to their kids and, and maybe, I don't know if it would be easier to like, take each age group or what would be a way we could talk about it? Jessica: So, in the addiction inoculation, I give scripts for each age group from pre-k, k, mid elementary school, middle grades, middle school, high school, and each, I mean, obviously you know your child best and there's, you know, variation of cognitive and emotional development. You know, in all of those, all of those sort of categories. But essentially, you know, with really, really little kids, it comes down to things like, Let's say preschool, kindergarten, and they're first learning their letters. And I talk in the book also about what tools work best with kids. Like, for example, really little kids, they love pattern recognition when they're first learning their letters and numbers. They love to, you know, play games, identifying those things and making, learning a game or songs They love songs. They live learning through stories. So the more you can do things like, you know, talk to them when you're brushing your teeth and say like You know, why do you think that we spit the toothpaste out? Why don't we just swallow it? Wouldn't that be even better for us? You know, I have my substance use disordered mind where I'm like, if a little is good, a lot would be even better. Why don't we swallow the toothpaste or, you know, yeah, those Tide pods are really pretty, but why do we not put them in our mouth? Or these pills may look like Skittles, but they're not the same thing. And here's what we need to understand about that. Or can you look for the letters of mommy's name on this? On the. This pill, prescription pill bottle. Why do you think my name is even on this bottle? Like, isn't, why is there no name on the Tylenol bottle and why is there a name on this prescription bottle and why is that important? And if you had the same sickness as mommy, could you just take mommy's medicine? Well, no, of course not. We're different. We have different bodies. We're different sizes. This is specifically for mommy and you never take a medication that has someone else's name on it. All of those things are sort of getting at kids, getting at those early, sort of, they're basic idea around, oh, there's some things that I keep outside my body and some things I can put inside my body. And there are, you know, medications that I can take and other medications I can't take That kind of basic bodily autonomy and bodily, you know, preserving your, your safety kind of stuff. And then starting to teach them about standing up for themselves and you know, a self advocating that kind of stuff. Did you wanna? I just Deb: wanted, well, it just kind of made me think about something that we got wrong as mom's. What's that? Was mommy juice? Oh yeah. That's what it made me think of, because it was like, well, this is mommy's juice for wine or whatnot like, Jessica: Yeah, and I've, I have never once in my life called it that, mainly because that is such a problematic way of talking about it. And you know, the other thing I've, I really loathe, and this is skipping subjects, but the thing I loathe about mommy drinking culture or that sort of, you know, this is mommy time, mommy deserves this, blah, blah, blah. You know that, that idea that mommy drinks, because being a mom is hard. What you're saying to your kid is, I drink because you make me have to drink. You are difficult enough. You being a mommy, being a mommy to you is difficult, so difficult that I need to drink in order to manage that emotion. And do we ever say it that plainly? Absolutely not. But in the same way that, in the gift of failure, I say that, you know, every time I go to like time, like kids' shoes for them what I'm essentially saying is, you know, I don't. Trust. I don't think you're competent enough to do this yourself. I don't trust you to be able to do this yourself. And that's the message that kids get from us, even if we're not meaning to send that message. And the whole mommy drinking culture is very much about being a parent is hard. Therefore, I drink, there was a, there was a glass in a, in a bookstore. I was in a bookstore and there was a glass for sale, a wine glass that said, I teach, therefore I drink. Which is essentially saying, you students, you're so challenging. This, this. And also I, I felt defensive just for teachers. Like, yeah, being a teacher is really, really hard, but that doesn't mean that, like my answer to that is drinking. I mean, it's just offensive on so many levels. Deb: Oh yeah. And I'm from the nursing world. Same thing. Yeah. You know? Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that kind of messaging is just, it starts young, so. So I love those ideas, those tangible tips that you gave for talking to young kids about just terminology and standing up for themselves and becoming more aware. And then if we kind of progress in the age group, what are Jessica: some things we can, but later on, later on in elementary school, you know, you could be at, you know, a family gathering. And as, as an example from my Earl own early life, I used to walk past this house in my neighborhood where there was almost always, even if it was pouring rain, a man standing outside on the front porch, smoking. And I remember thinking, why is that man standing outside in the rain smoking a cigarette? And you know, that's an interesting jumping off point for the question of, well, why does grandma make, you know, uncle Ted stand out on the front porch to smoke? Oh. Because there's this thing called secondhand smoke, which is really bad for us, and it's stinky and all that other stuff, but, okay, well if secondhand smoke is bad for us, what do you think it's doing to Uncle Ted's lungs? And why does Uncle Ted feel the need to smoke? Like, why does Uncle Ted smoke and. All of those questions, sort of as your kid gets older, you can start having developmentally appropriate conversations about things like that. Advertising, you know, especially as a kid gets older into junior high and into middle school and high school, you know, you can talk about the fact that advertisers, frankly, are trying to manipulate you into brand loyalty and adolescents hate being manipulated. So a big thing that we used to do in our home is say things like, what do you think they're really selling here? Is it the beer that they're selling? Which clearly is the point, but is it, are they trying to sell you on. If you drink this kind of beer, this brand of beer, that you'll have beautiful friends and fun on the beach and romance and bonfires and you know, all that sort of stuff. Are they selling you an image of a life, an aspirational image of a life you want? Or are they just selling you a beer? And do you think that if you drink that beer, that then you will have those things? It's that sort of lifting the veil of, you know, and talking to them about things I talk about in the, in the book, which is, you know, like how much brand loyalty benefits you know, for example, a brewery, you know, if you or a cigarette maker, if you can establish brand loyalty really young in life, it's millions and millions of dollars for that brand just in that one person. So, you know, there's all kinds of, all kinds of conversations you can have. And as the more you understand about the adolescent brain, the more you understand about brain development in kids and adolescents, the more you can capitalize on that to talk about, talk about things in ways that will. Be engaging and appealing and not embarrassing and humiliating. And, you know, and the more, and the really at the base of this is the more often you have these conversations, the less I. Ugi, they feel, you know, it's like the sex conversations, you know, there is no one, you don't get to like have the sex talk and then you're done in the same way. You don't get to have like the drug and alcohol talk and then you're done. It's a lot of conversations over a lifetime, and the more often you have them, the less uncomfortable they are for both parties involved. And then of course, in the book, I give like some tips and tricks for various ages and stages, but that's the basic idea is, you know, going through from beginning to end under understanding, of course when kids are most susceptible to initiating drug and alcohol use, whether that's transitions between middle school and high school or during the summer or whatever that is, that you're sort of queuing into those life phases so that you understand, you know, how to be as accurate as possible with your prevention talk. Well, and you kind Deb: of, you, you mentioned that your work in the rehab, you talk to parents who are sharing with their kids what they're going through. Mm-hmm. So, because I think a lot of listeners are struggling with their drinking and they have kids, and so let's just take adolescence. Mm-hmm. What, what are some ways that we can talk to our kids about our own struggles with drinking and, and also keeping them safe in their Yeah. Experimental years of drinking. Jessica: Yeah. First and foremost, I'm, and I'm a little biased around this because I was. As a little kid, we were never allowed to talk about substance use disorder, addiction, alcoholism, whatever you wanna call it in my house, because that was too destabilizing, right? So I had a parent who had a problem with alcohol use disorder, and we were not allowed to acknowledge, to talk about it, to confront it. We had to pretend like it wasn't happening and pretend like this parent just needed a nap or had a headache or needed time to themselves. That was the gaslighting that was happening in my family when I was really young. So I have a really immediate aversion to lying to kids about stuff. So from my perspective, honesty has been a very important part of this. So even before I was willing to deal with my own substance use disorder, we talked a lot about their grandparents' substance use disorder because I, they had an actively using grandparent and there were times when it was unsafe for them times that I couldn't drop them off at their house. There was a time when there was a relapse at Christmas that completely blew Christmas up. It was awful. And we were very honest about why Christmas was awful that year, you know, your grandparent has relapsed and decided to start drinking again. And that is not safe emotionally or physically for any of us. And so we're leaving and that meant that, for example, my sister had to go to a hotel with her kids. And we were very honest about that because that is an object lesson. In where that stuff can lead. Then when I got sober, my kids were nine and 14 and I, I told them the day after I went to my first meeting mommy won't be drinking anymore. I can't control myself once I have my first drink. That's, and then gave them the proper names for things and just said that and engaged them in the process of being a supportive family. Like daddy's gonna be really supportive of my not drinking. In fact, for the first year that I wasn't drinking, daddy didn't drink at all. You know, all of that sort of stuff leads to a conversation about we're all in, in this together and I'm gonna keep you safe and you're gonna help keep me safe and, and this is how we're gonna do it. And by the way, the fact that mommy has alcohol use disorder does mean that you are genetically a little more likely to have this if, when you grow up. So we're gonna have a lot of conversations about alcohol and and keeping you safe. And that became a part of my children's calculus. I mean, my older, my son when he was in high school, admitted to me that while it's something he doesn't say out loud, knowing that he's at increased risk for substance use disorder was a big part of his calculus over whether or not he was gonna have a beer or a second beer, or how often he was gonna drink. That kind of thing became a part of his own. The information he used to inform his own behavior. So I think it's really, really important to be honest and to have that be a part of the conversation moving forward. I think it's, you know, obviously if a kid is really, really little, you're not gonna scare them with, you know, all that, you know, brutal information about liver failure, but you know, in a developmentally appropriate way, I think it's really important to engage kids in the conversation. And as we mentioned, the more you engage adolescents in that conversation, especially if they have a genetic predisposition for substance use disorder, that is so important to inform their own decision making. Yeah. I don't, Deb: I wonder if I can share my perspective growing up. Oh, I would love that. Well, I grew up with knowing that we had a history of, and my mom always said, alcoholism, like, alcoholism runs in the family. You better watch your drinking. You, you know, and to me it was very scary and mm-hmm. I felt for a long time, it kept me stuck because I was constantly proving, well, I'm not an alcoholic, you know? Mm-hmm. Quote unquote. That makes sense too. Yeah. Yeah. And so I remember in high school, even in high school, I, I took a psychology class and I had wrote a paper on addiction and alcoholism and whether it was a disease or not, and, mm-hmm. I was still like taking those tests and just, I was constantly proving, trying to prove to myself, You're not an alcoholic. Mm-hmm. Like, and it was so black and white too also for me. Mm-hmm. Like, I just felt like either you're quote unquote normal drinker or you got a problem. Yeah. And so I think part of my passion about this and young kids is like, I really want people to know, like, yes, there is a genetics risk, there is trauma risk, there's all kinds of risks, but anyone can become addicted to alcohol. Mm-hmm. And it, it's a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. And so I do try to like put that across to the kids also, so they're not like feeling so different and, mm-hmm. I'm just kinda curious what your thoughts were about that. Jessica: Yeah. So knowing that my kids are at increased risk, a lot of the topic, a lot of the things we talk about are like, what does it feel like? Or look like, because we're also talking about one way to sort of diffuse the conversation and make it less threatening is to talk about, you know, other people like their friends or people out there in the world that they are also seeing what does it look like or feel like when you go from, you know, having one drink and that being a norm. I hate using the word normal, but an a, a part of like socializing or whatever, versus the way it became for me, which was, it was, I was thinking about it all the time and I was negotiating and doing all of these sort of ways to sort of force my moderation, which clearly wasn't working and sort of what the trajectory or what the what the spectrum can look like from someone who never, ever drinks and never thinks about it to someone who drinks every once in a while and enjoys it versus someone who is starting to spend a lot of mental energy. Managing it. So, you know, we talk a lot about like, what does it feel like when it goes from like, oh, I might have a beer on Friday and or whatever, to like, oh, I'm really looking forward to drinking this weekend. Like what is the difference between those things? We spend a lot of time in the gray area, which is why I'm so grateful for the sober curious movement and the whole, I don't need to label myself. Like for me, for me, labeling myself as an alcoholic was helpful for me because, It, it made it so that I couldn't avoid it anymore, I think was part of the issue. But I did the same thing you did. I became a drug and alcohol counselor in high school. I was always the designated driver. I was a peer counselor. I, you know, I did all the things to show the world how not an alcoholic I was. And at the same time, it percolated up in me later and I didn't, the way my story is was a little more unusual in the sense that like, I didn't start to have a problem with drugs and alcohol, well with alcohol until I was after I had my kids. So I think it's important to talk about it in all of its forms, but I'm so grateful for the fact that now we can have people who say, you know what? This just doesn't make me feel good. Like, this isn't about whether I'm an alcoholic or not an alcoholic, like my husband does not have substance use disorder, but there are times where he's like, yeah, no, this just isn't making me feel good and I think I'm gonna stop for a while, just cuz I don't, it doesn't feel right to me. That I'm very, very grateful for that because it makes it a lot more acceptable for kids and adults to say, you know, maybe this isn't for me. I love that we don't have to rise to like a quiz score in a magazine in order to say that's it for me in alcohol. Or at least for now, that's it for me and alcohol. Deb: Yeah, I'd, I've, I've been treating it more well with, with my kids. I'm like very much about the health consequences of alcohol. Mm-hmm. You know, that it is a drug, it's a carcinogen and, mm-hmm. And the whole safety aspect of it. And I agree, like the sober curious movement ha, has been a gift for people to explore their relationship with drinking and for young people. I, I, I hope that we're seeing a trend of younger people questioning like, do I really wanna be part of this drinking culture in high school? Mm-hmm. In college? Whew. College and, yep. The fraternity, sorority system, all of that, which we can get into, but Jessica: thank you for sharing that. Actually, that chapter in particular, the college chapter in my book, I almost didn't put it in there because I thought I. Well, everybody drinks in college. Right? That's that was my sort of having grown up with Animal House as like a, you know, that sort of image. But one, the more research I did on trends and habits and understanding of alcohol in college, the more I understood that no, no, not everyone drinks in college. And in fact, you know, binge drinkers account for 68% of the alcohol drunk on, on college campuses. And the heaviest drinkers account for 72% of all the alcohol consumed on college campuses. And if you wanna predict how likely your kid is to drink in college, you know, we can do that fairly accurately based on. A lot of different factors, including, as you mentioned, where they're gonna live. I mean, the heaviest drinkers in college live off campus in the Greek system are sports fans of the, of a couple of sports that happen to be the highest that are associated with the highest levels of substance use. And understanding that can help feed conversations with our kids. Like not necessarily No, no, no. You could never in a million years live in a frat, but, oh, you wanna live in a frat? Why? What is it you hope to get out of living in a frat? And that conversation is way more beneficial to kids than absolutely not because I said, so you can't do this, that, or the other thing. All of those conversations about the why, especially when it comes to adolescents are really, really important. Yeah, Deb: I, I think that, and when I was doing some research just about myths of, of alcohol in general for adults too. Mm-hmm. The same thing kind of holds true there. There's still like a third of adults don't even drink at all, and then mm-hmm. The third, a third drink, rarely kind of take it or leave. It sounds like your husband. Mm-hmm. My husband's the same way. A third are the heavier drinkers, and then within that, There is this small percentage of drinkers that are consuming the most alcohol, right? And so it does seem like, oh, everybody's drinking, but it's, it's not true. There are still a lot of people not drinking or not drinking a Jessica: lot. I think that's why that also, in the chapter on college, I talk about this concept called pluralistic ignorance, which is the understanding, which is something that we tend to do, which is to give more weight to other people's investment in, for example, alcohol. There was some really interesting research done at Princeton University looking at how invested students were in having alcohol or having kegs on campus. And you know, it turns out that we. Tend to overestimate how invested other people are in having alcohol around, and we tend to overestimate how much they drink. So that's really valuable. If I explain to my kid what pluralistic ignorance is and why they tend to overestimate people's need to have alcohol around and, and how much they drink, then that's another tool to help them make better decisions about what they do. And. That's the other thing is that perception drives reality. So if we're at college, for example, or in high school and we overestimate how much everybody else is drinking, if we're males, we, we will be more likely to increase our own drinking to adhere to what we perceive the norm to be, even if it's not correct. And if we're female, they have we have a tendency to, if we don't wanna engage in that perceived norm to isolate from that to socially isolate. So, you know, we know based on that data, that those data and the research around that, that if we really wanna affect, if we really wanna cause a change in how much kids drink, we need to be looking to people like team captains and frat leaders and you know, frat presidents, people like that who tend to set. The norms and when we can put together that sort of tendency of ours to overestimate the norms and the power that those people have to set the norms, that's really where a lot of our prevention can be can actually really be useful and effective. Deb: Mm-hmm. Well, and so going back to adolescence, near and dear to my heart mm-hmm. For my kids right now, what, what are some other things I can do as a mom to help my girls? And either it's, it's the message of not drinking or, you know. Mm-hmm. I just already, my older daughter, Has had some experiences with alcohol and just we've been navigating that. So what are some other things we can do as parents? Jessica: So this is a little bit less sexy of an answer because it's not specifically about the drugs and alcohol, but it's about, from a very early age, helping talking to kids about their emotions taught. If you read, for example, the education chapter in the addiction inoculation was about a woman, a girl named Georgia, who had severe anxiety disorder and no one was helping her with her anxiety. She was being taken to the doctor looking for physical ailments, but no one was getting at the horrible crippling anxiety that she was suffering from. So when she found out in eighth grade that alcohol can numb, The alcohol by the way. You know, she found out through like a, a sort of scared straight sort of situation that alcohol can numb emotions. She's like, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. There's the answer for me. And she was a daily drinker by the time she was halfway through high school. So helping kids name their emotions there's a great saying. You have to be able to name it to tame it. So helping kids name their emotions in order to be able to manage their emotions, helping kids integrate their lower and upper brains. So that's all stuff I talk about throughout the book. But when they get older, Refusal skills are massive. My very favorite part of the book is a part of the book that was not my ideas. I asked kids, adolescents to give me examples of excuses that they could give for not using, that wouldn't make, make them feel like total dorks or social outcasts. And they gave me two and a half pages of really valid excuses that they could put out there in the world for when they didn't wanna use and still feel like they're, you know, not being a huge dork. And that's, that's really valuable stuff. Also, building trust with our kids. Like you mentioned that your kid has already had some ex experience with alcohol. What we tend to do is have this binary understanding of it. Like, oh, it's all ruined now. You made a mistake, you messed up. Maybe the kid has a d u i, maybe the kid got, you know, whatever. Treating that kid like they're now ruined is an awful thing to do to a kid. It creates a very much a well, why bother trying to do anything different? It, it lowers their feelings of self-efficacy. It takes away their hope. Helping kids understand that the learning is a process becoming as a process. What did we learn from this experience? What are we gonna do differently next time? This is all very much gift of failure, te territory. How are we gonna do differently next time? And how are we gonna be, use the information that we have learned through this experience to inform our behavior next time. It's that process, process, process over end product. Lots of learning all the time and modeling for our kids. I mean, we talked about the danger of messaging around, you know, numbing ourselves through using substances, but modeling healthy behaviors for our kids. Modeling you know, The fact that, you know, in our family, for example, I don't drink at all, but my husband drinks every once in a while. But when he does drink, we have, we have no open alcohol in our home. So if my husband has a drink, it's from a single or a split. Or if we we're having company tonight, for example, And so they, one of them is going to bring wine because they would like to have some wine with dinner, and maybe my husband will have some too. But they will either take it home with them or we will dump the rest out. And the nice thing about my kids seeing my husband's concern for me is that I don't know that it would be a problem if we had open alcohol in the refrigerator, but I don't wanna have to find out. And so he, you know, the way we talk about it with our kids is we don't keep open alcohol in the house because I, I, as the partner of someone with alcohol use disorder, doesn't want that to be something that my partner has to deal with. And that's such a healthy way to be in a relationship. And that's very supportive for me. And, you know, I, I really love that about him, that he's the, his, his substance use has conformed to something that is productive and supportive for both of us. Well, Deb: I, and going back to like the concept of the gifts of failure, I, I just think that mm-hmm. I'm like, well that could be the name of a, of a book about changing your drinking. And I think, yeah. You know, cuz if you're listening to this podcast, it's a lot of people that are struggling with their drinking and I think that mm-hmm. It's so. Important for your kids to see that you are not perfect. Right. And they're not perfect. No one is. And that we are all capable of change it. Yeah. You know, we're capable of making mistakes, but we're cap. That's how we learn and that's how we move on. Yeah. And, and it is a gift. So yeah. Jessica: I talk about that extensively in the gift of failure that, you know, we're. Our kids first and biggest, sometimes biggest teacher. And if we are never having conversations about the dinner table, about the mistakes that we make you know, oh man, I screwed up at work today and I, there are some people really pissed off at me. What do you, how do you think I should handle that? What should I learn from this? How can I go forward being better? You know, the secrets, the jigs up by the way, our kids know that we're not perfect. So, pretending to be perfect is not benefiting anyone. Making a kid, our kids a part of the problem solving process is really, really important. And sh that's why in our home, we actually don't talk about grades very much. We do talk a lot about our goals and we discu, we set goals on a seasonal basis. And at the end of that season, we come back together and say, you know, how'd those three personal goals go that you, you know, and if you screw it up, who cares? It's your personal goal. And then if it doesn't go well, You know, we talk about what we're gonna do differently so that next time we can meet our goal. It's, it's really important to talk about process over product as much as humanly possible. Deb: Yeah. I love that. I really do. Well, I wanna thank you again for coming on the show today. How can people find you and read your books and listen to you? Yeah, I know you're in a lot of places. Jessica: So I have daily substance use prevention videos that I've been putting up on Instagram for the past, ooh, since like October, September, October. And I took a brief hiatus from those because we sort of hit the end of the addiction inoculation. But I'm just about to dive back in and just sort of do updated information. And Jessica leahy.com is where you can find just about everything from getting on my email list to where you can find my books, where you can get signed copies of my books and my blog and all that kind of stuff. In fact, there's a. The blog post that's up right now is a linked table of contents to every single episode, 160 of them, I think of the daily videos that I put up on Instagram and TikTok. Yeah, Deb: thank you. And I would encourage parents to get that book, the Addiction Inoculation, and check out Jessica's work especially Gift of Failure as well. That's on my next to read. So, oh, can I plug Jessica: one other thing? If you happen to be a writer or at all interested in what it, what it means to be a writer or what it means to get an agent, find an editor, dah, dah, all of that process, I, for the past five years have hosted a podcast call called hashtag am writing with two other writers, two novelists, Serena Bowen and KJ Delton. And that podcast is super fun. It comes out every Friday, and it's just about the life and business of being a writer. Deb: Fabulous. Love it. I know we have a lot of readers on here, so we will check those out. Well, thank you. We do, we Jessica: so much book recommendations on that podcast too. So we always have a, a section at the end called hashtag am reading about our, the books that we've been reading lately. So that's my favorite. It's really fun to talk about what we've been reading, cuz we're all voracious readers. Deb: I love, well, and you know, a lot of the, you know, we, I have a, a book club in, within one of my drag groups and mm-hmm. We pick a book of the month and mm-hmm. I think a lot of people, when they quit drinking, they're, they start reading again. Yeah. And just rediscovering fiction and non-fiction and just growing and learning like that, that has become like a big theme throughout. Life. That's a Jessica: good point. I did a lot of reading too and when I was drinking and sometimes remembered what I'd read and sometimes did. There's a lot of that. Wait, did I read this chapter? I think I gotta go back and read cuz I don't know what anything's going on in this book. Yeah, it was fun to rediscover the joy of reading after giving up booze. Deb: Oh, totally. And, and yeah. Love it. Love it. Well, thank you so much. I will be in touch when this comes out and just have a wonderful day. Enjoy your dinner party Jessica: and thank you so much for doing this. There's so many new podcasts just for people who wanna just talk about this stuff and the more we talk about it, the more normalized the conversation becomes and I'm so grateful to you for, for doing this in the first Deb: place. Oh, same. Yeah, I'd, I'm really passionate about. Just get changing people's views and their relationship around drinking. And I just love that there's so many different ways we can do it now. Jessica: Yeah. This is also a huge, you know, a lot of people want really, you know, binary answers about what they should do and what they shouldn't do. Yeah. And and there's so much gray area, like even just in the conversation between, you know, I call myself an alcoholic and there are other people, like, there's no way I'd ever call myself an alcoholic because I feel it limits my thinking. And for me, calling myself an alcoholic expanded my thinking. So it's, it, I love that there's so many different ways to talk about this Deb: stuff. Me too. That, that's my whole goal. Just to show like there's more than one way to change and yeah. Love it. Yeah. Yay. Okay. Well, I'm, I'm delighted we got to connect and I'm looking forward you, I'm this book and seeing what you have coming next. Jessica: Thank you again so much. I've really enjoyed this. It's been fun.

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