Send substance-free message for Red Ribbon Week

One in eight teenagers in the U.S. used an illicit substance in the last year.

Sixty-two percent of high school seniors have abused alcohol and 50 percent of teens have misused a drug at least once, according to the National Center For Drug Abuse Statistics. Overdose deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds more than tripled from 1999 to 2017, climbing from 1,240 to 4,777.

Statistics specific to Illinois are no more comforting.

Almost 7 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds report using drugs in the last month and almost 9 percent drank alcohol in the last month.

In a society saturated with ads for alcohol and marijuana and countless adults imbibing in these substances, it’s more important than ever to send a clear message to teens about the dangers of both. Red Ribbon Week, which runs from Oct. 23-31, is a great opportunity to do just that.

“Be kind to your mind. Live drug free” is this year’s theme.

Living substance-free is particularly important for teens. Because their brains are still developing, teens can have difficulty making rational decisions and regulating their emotions. If those two factors lead them to use drugs or alcohol, they can become addicted faster than an adult would.

The same ability to form synapses in the brain that allows younger people to learn faster also makes them more prone to addiction.

The Red Ribbon Week website at offers several suggestions for parents, including watching Natural High’s free celebrity drug prevention videos with their kids and using the discussion questions to start a conversation about drugs and alcohol.

Parents are also encouraged to secure and take inventory of their medicine cabinets to prevent prescription drug abuse. Adults also can encourage the Hinsdale Village Board to declare Oct. 23-31 Red Ribbon Week in Hinsdale.

Parents can sign the National Red Ribbon Campaign Pledge online at to help create a drug-free America.

It reads:

1. As parents and citizens, we will talk to our children and the children in our lives about the dangers of drug abuse.

2. We will set clear rules for our children about not using drugs.

3. We will set a good example for our children by not using illegal drugs or medicine without a prescription.

4. We will monitor our children’s behavior and enforce appropriate consequences so that our rules are respected.

5. We will encourage family and friends to follow the same guidelines to keep children safe from substance abuse.

Youth are invited to sign a pledge as well:

I pledge to grow up safe, healthy and drug free by

1. Understanding the danger of drug use and abuse.

2. Respecting myself and being drug free.

3. Spreading the word to family and friends about the importance of being healthy and drug free.

Research shows parents can help reduce the risk of alcohol or drug use by maintaining and healthy and open relationship with their children. Red Ribbon Week is great fodder for that conversation.