Continuing the Conversation:

Our Kids and Problematic Substance Use

by The Bridge Youth and Family Services

In a perfect world kids wouldn’t use drugs.  There would be no trauma to suppress, no pain to treat, no boredom to alleviate; all kids would grow up happy and healthy, free of mental health concerns and capable of reaching their full potential.

But: the world isn’t perfect, and even if youth are provided with everything they need to flourish, we know from the research that substance use issues can still arise. Let’s face it, drugs are everywhere: from alcohol to tobacco, from caffeine to cannabis, and from prescription medications to fentanyl; and, given our children’s natural curiosity and creativity, many of them can and do access drugs that were not intended for them.   Although substance use amongst our young people is declining in British Columbia – as it is across Canada – it is still not unusual for many children and youth to experiment and explore a variety of substances. And while most people who use psychoactive substances don’t necessarily develop an addiction, with the current opiate crisis, even recreational drug use can now have deadly consequences.

How do we know if there is a problem? Unfortunately, many normal developmental stages of being a teenager can mimic some of the early warning signs of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Mood swings, altered sleeping patterns, dysregulated eating, change in peer group and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities are more likely to be a part of regular development than an indication of a SUD. But they are symptoms that parents and caregivers can stay attuned to, to see if further exploration is warranted.

How do we protect our kids? Fostering a safe nonjudgmental space for youth to engage in meaningful conversation about substance use is the best way to ensure that if a problem does develop they will seek help. It is not about encouraging, or condoning, it’s about safety and wellbeing. And it’s important for all parents and caregivers to remember that problematic drug use is not a moral failing (on the part of the child, or their parent).  Rather, problematic substance use is a significant health concern that warrants the same attention as any other.

How do we get help? If a youth does reach out for help, it can be a complicated labyrinth for people to navigate. The services are ever changing, and rarely are there enough publicly funded services available for youth to get help at the moment they need it.

But there is help.  Your physician is a good place to start, as is your child’s school (which in this district provides alcohol and drug counselling through ARC Family Services). Accessing the drop in services at a local Child and Youth Mental Health office can also be a good place to start to get an initial assessment and some help accessing resources. Foundry Kelowna, which will be up and running at full steam in September of 2017, will be a one stop shop for people ages 12 to 24 who are struggling with mental health or substance use concerns. If the youth in your life needs residential treatment services, Ashnola Treatment Center in Keremeos just recently opened and serves the whole province, with four beds specifically for the Interior Health Region. And finally, if the youth needs medically supervised withdrawal management from any substance they are addicted to they can access YD33, the youth withdrawal management program operated by The Bridge Youth and Family Services and funded by Interior Health.

These services are not an exhaustive list, and many of them have only come online in the last year or two. There is excellent work being done in the community to develop a strong and supportive safety net to catch and uplift youth who are struggling with mental health and substance issues in the Central Okanagan, but it is not enough.  With an estimated 68 thousand people between the ages of 15 and 24 in this province who meet the criteria for a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), services are in short supply and demand is high.  And we know that wait lists for all of these programs can result in missed opportunities for treatment, often causing people to seek help outside of the community, far away from their supports, if they seek help at all.  Youth homelessness and timely access to counsellors, support staff and residential treatment beds continue to be pressing issues that need to be addressed if the community is to truly effect meaningful and long lasting change for individuals, for families, and for our communities.

Concerned about problematic substance use amongst our youth?  Join the conversation at: #drugchatkelowna on Twitter @TheBridgeServ or

The Bridge Youth and Family Services inspires healthy communities and resilient people through innovation, leadership and collaboration. The Bridge strengthens communities, families and people by offering a constellation of services and programs that reflect our commitment to the incredible potential of all we are honoured to serve. We provide Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs. To learn more visit


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