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Prevention Week: Stopping a Problem Before It Starts


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has designated May 13-19 as Prevention Week, with the theme of “Action Today. Healthier Tomorrow.” This national observance is dedicated to helping people understand more about substance use prevention and positive mental health. At Westmont Family Counseling Ministries, we help people of all ages who are struggling with substance abuse problems every day. But preventing young people from starting to use alcohol and drugs is one of the best strategies for combating this problem.

Why Prevention Week is held in May

According to the SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teens and young adults are most likely to use substances for the first time in June or July. This is because the beginning of summer often represents a life transition for young people – from high school to college, for example, or even just to a new grade or school. Life transitions are a risk factor for youth substance abuse.

Preventing young people from abusing alcohol and drugs is important for many reasons – but did you know people who use early are much more likely to develop lifelong substance abuse problems? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has found that people who begin using alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop abuse or dependence than people who first begin to drink at 21. The risk climbs even higher for those who have family histories of alcoholism or drug addiction.

More than 23 million people over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol or drugs, according to the NCADD. That’s a staggering figure. So clearly, prevention is an important strategy to reduce the devastating effects of addiction.

More about the problem

The Pennsylvania Youth Survey is conducted by several state agencies to gain a better understanding of drug and alcohol use in young people across the state. In 2015, the survey found that among Cambria County youth, alcohol is the most common early initiation or higher prevalence substance used, at 44.7% vs. 43.9% across the state.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens and young people – and alcohol and drug abuse is a risk factor for suicide in all ages. In fact, the strongest predictor of suicide is alcoholism, and people with substance use problems are about six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. About one in three people who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What’s being done locally

A variety of prevention programs are being presented in Johnstown-area school districts, including Botvin LifeSkills Training. This evidence-based program (that is, research has shown that it is effective) teaches teens to avoid risky behaviors like using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. It educates them about the dangers of substance abuse, but more importantly, it helps increase their self-esteem and self-confidence, resist peer pressure, and make healthy choices.

There are several agencies in Johnstown working to combat the problem, focusing on not only prevention but also treatment. These include Cambria County Drug and Alcohol, which can help people find inpatient treatment regardless of health insurance status. The Cambria County Drug Coalition is working to unify efforts to reduce illicit drug use and overdose deaths through prevention, treatment, and law enforcement.

How you can help keep young people in your life from using alcohol and drugs

The most important thing parents and role models can do is to talk about it. It’s never too early to start the conversation about drugs and alcohol with kids. According to NCADD, one in three kids have had a drink by age 13, a percentage that jumps to 50% by age 15. Research shows that kids who learn about the risks from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use. Experts recommend talking with kids early and often, and being honest when they ask questions.

Role-playing drinking situations with older kids can help prepare them to respond appropriately if they are offered a drink or drugs. It can also be helpful to tell stories about drinking from when you were a teen – this helps open the line of communication, and demonstrates that you understand the pressures they’re facing.

Kids also need to understand their own risk factors for addiction, based on their family history. Children of addicted parents are very high risk for becoming addicted themselves due to genetic and environmental reasons. It’s important to be open with your kids about family history of addiction.

Modeling appropriate behavior about alcohol and drugs is important, too. You should be open about your own drinking habits, and honest about the purpose of any prescription medication you take. So if you suspect you have a substance abuse problem, seek help – you’ll be helping your children, too.

Encouraging your child to engage in positive, wholesome activities at school, church, and in the community promotes self-esteem and helps reduce the risk they’ll become involved with drugs and alcohol. Pay attention to what your kids are doing and who their friends are, and connect with their friends’ parents.

As a final note, depression , anxiety and other mood disorders are a major risk factor for alcohol and drug abuse at any age. People with depression may try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better, while people with anxiety may think using will help them cope with their anxiety. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to seek help for your child if you believe a serious mood disorder is present.

What to do if you or someone you love may have a problem

If you suspect you, or your teen or child, has a problem, don’t wait! The earlier you take steps to address the problem, the better. Westmont Family Counseling Ministries has counselors trained specifically in addiction disorders, and can help people of any age on an outpatient basis. We can also help connect you to inpatient treatment programs if that’s indicated. In addition, there are many resources available locally that can be researched and accessed through the Cambria County Drug & Alcohol Program or Cambria County Drug Coalition.

Family members of people with substance abuse problems often feel isolated and alone as they struggle to find ways to support their loved ones without enabling their destructive behavior. That’s why Westmont Family Counseling Ministries offers Sanity Group, a support group for family members of addicted people. This free, open format group is facilitated by a counselor with specialized training in this area, and provides education, resources and encouragement for people coping with this family disease.

Support WFCM at this year’s Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community

Westmont Family Counseling Ministries is once again getting ready to participate in the Highmark Walk For A Healthy Community, which is set for May 19, 2018! Since its inception in 2003, the Highmark Walk has raised over $12.1 million for non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Johnstown walk has been going strong for eight years, and 2018 will mark WFCM’s fourth year of participation.

The idea is simple: Highmark organizes the walk in multiple communities, providing organizational and marketing support, and qualifying area non-profits like WFCM recruit walkers to participate. Every walker who participates is doing so on behalf of their chosen non-profit – in fact, because of Highmark’s support, 100% of the money they donate goes to support their selected charity.

Why we walk

As a non-profit organization,Westmont Family Counseling Ministries makes our services available to any individual, couple, or family who is seeking emotional and relational wholeness – regardless of health insurance status or ability to pay. We participate in the Highmark Walk in order to help underwrite the cost of services for people who need our help but are unable to afford it.

That’s why we are now recruiting WFCM friends and supporters for this year’s walk! There are several ways you can get involved. You can register securely online here – simply go to the link, click “register,” and choose WFCM as your designated charity. You can register a “team,” if you want to bring friends and family, and fundraise that way – or as an individual walker. If you’re unable to attend the event, you can instead register as a “virtual participant,” or simply make a donation to WFCM.

Details about the event

The walk is five kilometers long, but a one-mile fun walk is also offered for those who would prefer a shorter distance. Both walks begin and conclude at Johnstown’s Central Park and are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. If you raise or donate $30, Highmark will provide you a T-shirt (while supplies last), and you’ll receive one raffle ticket for every $50 you raise or donate.

In Central Park, each participating non-profit has a booth or display to help educate the community about what we do, and there will be refreshments and live music.

The event takes place rain or shine! Timeline is as follows:

7:45 am: Registration
9:00 am: 5k walk begins
9:15 am: One-mile fun walk begins

Please join us!

Last year, we had about 40 people walking on behalf of WFCM, and we hope to have as many or even more this year! To register online, please visit the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community website, or give us a call at (814) 536-0798.

Anthony Griggs to be keynote speaker for 29th Annual Fundraising Dinner, “Offering Hope,” 10/4/17

Westmont Family Counseling Ministries would like to invite you to our 29th Annual Fundraising Dinner, “Offering Hope”! The dinner will be held at Sunnehanna Country Club on Wed., Oct. 4 at 5:30 pm. Your support will afford us the opportunity to continue providing counseling to those seeking emotional and relational wholeness.

Our keynote speaker for the evening is Anthony Griggs, a former NFL player who has served as Player Development Director for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tim Rigby will serve as our master of ceremonies.

There will also be a gift basket raffle, and prizes include a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey autographed by Sidney Crosby!

Visit our fundraising page for many more details about the event, including an RSVP form. RSVPs are due by Mon., Sept. 25.

Highmark 2017 Walk

Stay tuned for upcoming information on the 2017 Highmark Walk. Westmont Family Counseling Ministries will have several teams walking to raise money for our counseling center. If you would like to join our team or create your own team to walk with us, please contact us.

LaDonna Gatlin Guest Speaker at Westmont Family Counseling Ministries Annual Dinner

LaDonna Gatlin, the author of The Song in You: Finding your Voice, Redefining Your Life, and motivational speaker gave a wonderful and inspiring talk last Wednesday evening at Sunnehanna Country Club, site of the annual Westmont Family Counseling Ministries fundraising dinner. Over 125 people were treated to an inspiring message from Mrs Gatlin who spoke of the need to support counseling services at a time when there are so many people who need help but may not have the financial ability to seek help. Gatlin spoke of her own battles with addiction over thirty years ago and offered herself as an example of what counseling can accomplish and how it can help turn a life of depression into one of fulfillment.