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Drugs & the Developing Brain

Parenting is hard. There is no manual for this gig and it can be overwhelming to navigate difficult stretches with your child. Let me revise can be overwhelming to navigate any stretch with your child - even the good ones! If you are like most parents, you are doing the best you can and are building the plane as you fly it, so to speak. Because every kid (and family) is different, there's no singular formula to raise a healthy adult. Instead, research (and a lot of other peoples' experiences) has given us different methods and procedures that have been proven to be effective when used collectively with other strategies. Love, unconditional positive regard, open communication and attention are just a few of those 'other' strategies that happen to be some of the most powerful ones. But as you raise your child and approach the preteen years, it's time to introduce more formal strategies of prevention as well. I think one of the most helpful things for parents is to have a bit of background knowledge about the developing brain, which may inform your rules and expectations around substance use.

In terms of brain science, the developing brain is a HUGE factor when we talk about alcohol and drug use and all things related to teenage exploration. As you may remember from 10th grade Biology, the brain develops from the back to the front, leaving the prefrontal cortex as the last to fully wire. The prefrontal cortex is where the brain houses reasoning, inhibition, decision-making, delayed gratification, and control.  For girls, it's not fully developed until around 22 years of age and for boys around 25. This is a big deal. For one, it means that science is working against teenagers when it comes to risky decision-making because they physically don’t have the same "resources" adults do. But also, when we add substances to the developing brain, it can have long-lasting impacts on their development.

For example, drinking and drug use changes the reward circuits that underlie lifelong problems with addition. When you drink or use drugs, the reward circuitry of the brain becomes active. This area is responsible for the pleasurable feelings associated with substance use, but it also underlies cravings and drug-seeking behaviors. Taking drugs as an adolescent makes long-lasting changes to this reward system, making it much more likely that you will struggle with addiction later in life. Research has also proven a link between drug and alcohol use with damage to memory and logical reasoning. Teenage users tend to have poorer memory, lower attention, and slower processing abilities. Marijuana use in particular has been shown to reduce working memory and cognitive flexibility.

These drug related changes can be permanent. And they’ve also been linked to serious mental health issues in early adulthood – from major depression and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia and some of the more serious diagnoses.

So, as a parent, we need to BE the prefrontal cortex for our teenagers. If you have young kids, you’re probably already doing this. Whether it’s teaching them how to look both ways in the parking lot or guiding them on their bike as they learn how to do it, you are guiding them through some of those activities to keep them safe because they wouldn’t know the appropriate boundaries on their own. As it is with teenagers, we need to be their reasoning and judgment until they’re ready to do that on their own.

TIMEOUT! I'm not suggesting we all act as helicopter parents and make every decision for our teens. They need to explore their autonomy and independence, too. It's a delicate balance. But we can be their prefrontal cortex by giving them the information they need to know and by making your expectations of zero-use known. They need to understand all of the risks associated with use during their prime development. By the way, here is a great article on why not to be a helicopter parents. Researchers are seeing links to anxiety and other issues later in early adulthood. Land those helicopters, folks. Back to brain development...

HOW do we do this? Make your ideas and expectations around drug use known. Research shows that kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors if they think their parents would disapprove. Also, this is where access comes into the picture. Over half of people who have abused prescription pain medications, for example, got them from friends or family. Think about where you store your medications (even over-the-counter medications can be abused, by the way). Many people store meds by the coffee maker or in plain sight in the bathroom. Easy access to medications, alcohol, drugs, privacy, alone time, etc. is a proven risk factor for engaging in risky behaviors so by eliminating access, you are protecting your child. Examples include:

  • Locking up medications and alcohol
  • Disposing of extras properly (here is a list of drop-off boxes in Hennepin County)
  • Take a look around their bedroom for signs of any problems
  • Communicate your strong stance against substance use of any kind
  • Control prescription medications after an injury or procedure *this is an absolute MUST

It’s going to look different for each family but understanding the culture of your teen is a huge piece to this puzzle. It’s often a reality that if your child has their wisdom teeth out, chances are someone is going to ask them for any extra pain meds when they return to school. Just knowing that can prevent abuse from happening if you control those meds. Because again, their brains aren’t wired to protect them from risky decisions. WE need to be their prefrontal cortex until they can protect themselves. We can do that by removing easy access to those meds, in this example.

(Alison Wobschall, M.A.)


Diamond, A. (2002). Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. In Principles of Frontal Lobe Function, Stuss, D.T. & Knight, R.T. (Eds.), 466-503. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Squeglia, L.M., Jacobus, J., & Tapert, S.F. (2009). The influence of substance use on adolescent brain development. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(1): 31-38.

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

As the holiday season approaches, we wanted to first and foremost give thanks - for all of the parents and adults out there making a positive impact on the lives of our youth. They are our future and therefore we are thankful for all of the positive influences and role models out there, making our world a better place by shaping our kids.

The holiday season often brings many fun, family traditions but sometimes they also provide a dose of stress and chaos. We wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday!

Here are a few things we're thinking about this Thanksgiving...

Signs & Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), specifically during the Fall and/or Winter seasons:

  • Feeling sad, down or blue most of the time
  • Low energy
  • Loss of sexual drive and/or interest in things that once brought you joy
  • Oversleeping
  • Feeling sluggish, agitated or uncharacteristically irritable
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless and/or unworthy or worthless
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

SAD is just like any medical condition - diabetes and cancer for example - it is out of your control and can require intervention to overcome. Please seek help from a medical professional if you are experiences SAD symptoms. A couple common treatments for SAD include therapy, light therapy and medication. If you are feeling suicidal, please seek immediate help.

Call the National Suicide Prevention 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Medicine Disposal Sites by County

  • Click here for medicine disposal sites in Hennepin County.
  • Click here for medicine disposal sites in Anoka County.
  • Click here for medicine disposal sites in Carver County.
  • Click here for medicine disposal sites in Dakota County.
  • Click here for medicine disposal sites in Wright County.


He’s Coming Out of Hibernation

After a year-long hibernation, students at Wayzata High School will be happy to hear that the bear is making a comeback in the Fall of 2017 for the Uncover the Truth campaign. We never could have anticipated how much students enjoyed the bear series and we are excited he is coming out of hibernation.

Partners in Prevention forged a new partnership last year in Wayzata High School with the Compass Program, an experiential professional career studies program for highly motivated juniors and seniors. Three students served as marketing and communications ambassadors for the campaign, developing survey tools, uncovering what communications preferences their fellow students share, and assisting in the integration of the campaign. We are excited to continue our partnership in the Fall of 2017 as reintegrate the bear into the Wayzata High School Community!

We are looking for sponsorship for the 2017 Bear Series. For more information, please contact Director Alison Wobschall at or 612.412.8202.


In 2016, there were 144 opioid-related deaths in Hennepin County, a 31 percent increase from the year before, according to county officials. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has launched a year-long campaign to raise awareness about the Opioid Crisis and to get people involved in the solution. It is a NO BLAME, NO SHAME campaign, designed to bring people together.

On March 20th, 2017, in collaboration with the Sheriff's Office, PARTNERS for Healthy Kids, Parenting with Vision, and Partners in Prevention, Wayzata Public Schools hosted the #NOverdose kick-off town hall meeting. A panel of experts gathered to share information with community members and to engage people in all aspects of the epidemic, from prevention and education to intervention, treatment and recovery.

6 Things You Can Do to be a Part of the Solution

  1. Lock up and monitor prescription medications: most abusers get their prescription drugs from friends and family. Don't leave prescription medications in an accessible place for your loved ones and guests.
  2. Properly dispose of unused prescriptions: most of the time, you will not need the entire prescription as you've been prescribed. Find a drop-off location to safely dispose of unused meds. Click here to find the closest drop-off location to you.
  3. Look for symptoms of abuse: trust your instinct. If it seems like your loved one's behavior has changed, it probably has. A few initial signs of a problem include: lying/being secretive, changes in personality/mood, sleeping more than normal, needing money/missing money/stealing, and physical changes in appearance and/or weight.
  4. Intervene EARLY: Try not to wait until the problem hits rock bottom to get help. Part of the #NOverdose campaign encourages NO SHAME. Addition is a disease and needs to be treated as one. Click here and follow instructions to receive a wonderful, electronic Intervention Handbook for parents.
  5. Take a strong stand against alcohol, marijuana and drug use: Parents remain one of the strongest influences in teenagers' decisions NOT to use alcohol or drugs. Kids are more likely to refrain from use if their parents make their expectations clear.
  6. Join a coalition: We are all affected by drugs and alcohol in one way, shape or form. We encourage you to get involved with a local coalition, attend a meeting and see how you can promote prevention and be a part of the solution.

The Top Secret Project: Decoding the Mysteries of the Teen Domain

On Monday night, nearly 250 community members filed into Wayzata Central Middle School to see the launch of a state-wide collaborative project called The Top Secret Project: Decoding the Mysteries of the Teen Domain. It was a joint effort among a variety of community agencies but was hosted by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in collaboration with Partners in Prevention.

The Top Secret Project was designed to be an eye-opening exhibit for parents and guardians to walk through a simulated teenager's bedroom with over one hundred hidden hazards relating to warning signs of alcohol and chemical use, mental health concerns, bullying, criminal activity, etc. followed by an educational presentation about each of those topics. The mission of the project is to help adults uncover the mysteries in the lives of teens, provide tools and resources to foster safe environments, and encourage ongoing dialogue.

Among the presenters were Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Cendee Palmer and Jessica Wong as well as Partner in Prevention's Alison Wobschall. The presentation was followed by Q & A from the attendees. A heavy focus of questions centered around ways to prevent kids from using in the first place. Here are a few ideas that were shared:

  • Investigate! If your gut tells you something has changed with your son or daughter, chances are it probably has. Parental instincts are one of the best tools we have to identify when something seems off. Don't be afraid to investigate - ask questions, gather your intel by looking through their belongings to see if something doesn't seem right.
  • Model healthy behavior: We all have an equal opportunity here to model healthy behaviors. This starts a lot earlier than you’d probably expect. Kids notice our habits. They soak up what they see. For example, if you think about your own family events and holidays growing up, most people can think back and describe how adults used alcohol. Some of us might remember pretty early on noticing an uncle or grandparent have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We develop our understanding of what’s the norm around substance use and relationships very early on. Use your familial experiences as examples your child can relate to.
  • Set clear expectations: Parents remain one of the heaviest influences in a teenager's decision to engage in risky behavior. Many students prove that students are less likely to use alcohol and/or drugs if they know their parents disapprove.
  • Eat together as a family! According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, kids and teens who share family dinners 3 or more times per week are less likely to be overweight, are more likely to eat healthy food, perform better academically, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sexual activity), and have better relationships with their parents.
  • Educate yourself: Take time to learn about the latest research. Many parents fear having conversations with their kids about tough subjects because they don't have the baseline knowledge to have a meaningful conversation about it. Prepare to be peppered with questions. Do your research and understand what might mean something to your child. Make it personal.
  • Eliminate access: Easy access to alcohol, drugs, privacy or too much alone time, etc. is a risk factor to engaging in negative or destructive behaviors so to lessen the risk, you can eliminate the access. One quick example of this is where you store prescription drugs. It is so common to keep them in places where you’d see them daily – by the plates or coffee, in the bathroom, etc. – but keeping them away from public access is so important. Most kids who access prescription drugs that aren’t their own, get them from family or family of friends.
  • Ask for help! Parenting is hard. Especially when you face a difficult situation. Don't be afraid to ask for help or information from others. You are not alone.

For more information about the Top Secret Project, visit

PIP Names New Director


Partners in Prevention is pleased to introduce Alison Wobschall as our new Director. Alison has been with the coalition for three years, coordinating and implementing our various prevention efforts throughout our community and we are excited she will lead the coalition going forward.

Alison will oversee the development and management of the coalition, including the implementation and management of the Federal Drug Free Communities Grant. Partners in Prevention is preparing to begin year 4 of the 5-year grant and will be working hard to secure ongoing funding to continue our tremendously important prevention efforts. Alison also coordinates the statewide prevention group, Minnesota Prevention Alliance, which is a group of incredible people across the state working together to prevent alcohol and substance use in their communities.

Alison received her Masters in Psychology from University of St. Thomas after completing her Bachelors degrees in Communication Studies & Religion from Gustavus Adolphus College. She spent seven years in higher education at Gustavus, Bethel & St. Olaf in a variety of roles working in areas of health and wellness, drug and alcohol prevention, mental health counseling, and student life. She is passionate about living healthily and maintains a private practice in counseling as well.

What’s On Your Counter?

October marks National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month and we'd like to share a few of our favorite resources we've found about this relevant and trendy topic that has swept the nation. Links to our top five favorites are below.


  1. Medicine Abuse Fact Sheet
  2. Conversation Starters with your Teen about Medicine Abuse
  3. What is DXM? Chances are, it is in your medicine cabinet.
  4. What does medicine abuse look like?
  5. Slang Terms Every Parent Should Know



5 Tips for Encouraging a Healthy Homecoming


As Homecoming approaches, here are 5 tips to consider when encouraging a safe and healthy celebration!

  1. Clearly communicate your rules, expectations and hopes for having a fun and healthy Homecoming.
  2. Trust your instincts! If something doesn't feel right or sound right, it probably isn't.
  3. Talk to your teen about his/her plans for after the game, dance, etc. Consider personally connecting with the parents hosting the gathering.
  4. Did you know you are legally responsible and liable for the actions of teens in your residence? For more information about the Social Host Ordinance, go to
  5. Be present. Get to know your child's friends. Knowledge is power.

HomecomingINSTINCTS Homecoming5 Homecoming4 Homecoming3 Homecoming2

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