Helping immigrant youth say no to drugs

February 1, 2018

Canadian Immigrant Magazine |

My children were small when we landed in Canada, but I remember we were made scared of drug abuse and were told that it is a “big danger” in Canada. This made me anxious and I worked hard to educate my children about drugs and addiction as they became older. Studies, in fact, show that new immigrant youth are more at risk of drug abuse than Canadian-born kids. Here’s what I have learned about the risk factors and protective factors related to drugs and youth in Canada.

Drug risk factors

There isn’t one simple factor that leads someone to use and abuse drugs. It can be a combination of factors, especially for youth.

  • It is not always a matter of discipline or weak willpower that leads to drug abuse. If one has family members who are abusing or have abused drugs, there may be a genetic factor that could increase someone’s chances, too.
  • Lack of parental supervision. When families are newly arrived in a new country, parents become so overwhelmed with their own concerns like finding a job and getting housing that they sometimes don’t see that their children are also struggling to adjust in new environment and culture. This lack of parental supervision or awareness heightens a youth’s risk for drug abuse.
  • Peer pressure. Children need attention and time from their loved ones. If they are neglected at home, they seek the company of peers. In order to fit in the peer group, they may also start experimenting with drugs.
  • Dual diagnosis. Drug addiction is common in those who have other mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Drug abusers often think that taking drugs will relieve them of their worrisome thoughts and increase the dose of drugs. In reality, drug abuse increases the severity of mental health conditions.
  • Studies show that the younger you are, the more likely you are to develop an addiction. In adolescence, most people lack assertive skills and not knowing how to say “no” sees them conform to the behaviour of peers. Drug use at this age can make drug abuse more likely in later years.
  • Parental modelling. If a parent abuses drugs, their children will also be more likely to abuse drugs. Drug abusers not only present a bad role model to their children, they often neglect them or engage in physical or verbal abuse, thus making them more prone to drug addiction.

Protective factors against drug use

While there are varied risk factors for drug abuse, there are also many things that can be done to prevent it, especially when it comes to parents guiding their children.

  • Positive parenting. If there is a strong and healthy relationship between parents and children, children are less likely to abuse drugs. If positive parenting techniques like consistent discipline, praise for appropriate behaviour, and clear expectations for behaviour and values are conveyed to children, they feel more secure and connected to their family, making them less vulnerable to drug abuse.
  • Value system. If positive values are instilled by parents, schools and community leaders, it can reduce the level of risk factors. For example, parents talking to children about drug abuse and its consequences can help prevent problems before they start. Similarly, teachers and community leaders can address the issues that can lead to drug abuse such as aggression, lack of tolerance and poor concentration.
  • Academic competence. Academic competence also reduces the level of risk factors and reinforces children’s learning about harmful effects of drugs. Academic competence includes study habits, academic support, communication between parents, teachers and student, peer relationships, self-efficacy and assertiveness.
  • Assertive skills. In order to get away from the influence of peers, a child needs to practise assertive skills. Children must be taught how to say “no” to peers and yet continue with connections to peers and the community.
  • Individual factors. If the child has high self-esteem, is able to regulate his emotions, and has good coping and problem-solving skills, he or she is unlikely to abuse drugs in stressful situations.

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