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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 22, 2004

Holiday Advice About Teen Substance Use, Mental Health

The holidays can be stressful -- even more so for teenagers dealing with substance use problems or mental health issues. But tips and support from the University of Iowa Adolescent Health and Resource Center can help teens and their families through end-of-year festivities and beyond.

The center's social workers, counselors and physician offer help in person and through a web site year-around, in addition to helping teens deal with the particular pressures of the holidays, said Mary Larew, M.D., the center's medical director and associate professor (clinical) of pediatrics in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

"The holidays are above all a family time, and sometimes adolescents find that to be stressful because of disagreements, poor communication or not wanting to participate in family activities, although the family wants to include them," Larew said. "There also are many parties during this time period, and that frequently means more substance use or exposure to it."

The center, located at 509 Kirkwood Ave. in Iowa City, helps teens who may have substance abuse or mental health problems or concerns. Staff provide comprehensive assessments and feedback sessions at no charge. The center is accepting appointments for teens and parents who live in Iowa or Johnson counties. Individuals in surrounding areas also may be eligible. Interested individuals may call the center at 319-384-0847 to make an appointment or check on eligibility.

Larew said parents and other family members also can help teens at home:

-- Talk about concerns or disagreements up front, but begin with positive statements and avoid bringing up all "negatives" at once.

-- Negotiate how much time you require of your teens to participate in family events. Likewise, negotiate time for them to spend with their own friends.

-- Lower expectations of "universal happiness" and recognize that people struggling with poor mood, depression or anxiety may not feel happy during the holidays.

-- Verbalize your values at this time of increased partying, as well as throughout the year, and let teens know your expectations for behavior.

-- Know where your teens are, who their friends are and if events are appropriate for their age.

-- Praise positive behaviors.

Similarly, teens need to communicate their own needs to their parents, both to establish their independence and cooperate as a family, Larew said.

"Teens need to keep in mind that they should not expect themselves to be happy all the time during the holidays, particularly if there is a sad event associated with this time of year," Larew said.

Teens and parents with concerns can visit the "Ask a Professional" feature at the center's Web site to ask a qualified expert about non-emergency concerns related to adolescent health, drug use or mental health. Visit online by clicking on the center's name at

The "Ask a Professional" site posts questions and answers for all to see while preserving the anonymity of the original inquirers. "Most concerns expressed are ones that many teens and their parents have," Larew said.

Teens also can call the center (319-384-0847) from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays with any question. However, the telephone number should not be considered a crisis or emergency line. Individuals who have a crisis should call 911 or the Crisis Center in Iowa City at 319-351-0140.

Larew said some people think that substance use treatment is not very useful, especially for teenagers. Yet preliminary research results show that counseling and other professional support can be beneficial.

Preliminary data show that the average teen requiring treatment at the center initially used substances 20 out of the previous 90 days. However, at the three-month follow-up, use dropped to five of the previous 90 days.

"We would prefer that the use drop to zero, of course, but the change represents a significant 75 percent decrease," Larew said.

The center receives funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment as part of their Strengthening Communities for Youth (SCY) program.

The grant's principal investigator is James Hall, Ph.D., UI professor of pediatrics, social work, public health and nursing. With Larew, Hall also co-directs the Adolescent Medicine Program in the UI Department of Pediatrics. Doug Smith is project director for Project Iowa SCY and manages the Adolescent Health and Resource Center.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

CONTACTS: Media Only: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660; University of Iowa Adolescent Health and Resource Center, 319-384-0847



BACKGROUND: A news release on the center's opening in September 2003 is at