I absolutely loved Jessica Lahey’s first book The Gift of Failure (I consider it a must-read for parents, and even had her on the podcast to talk about it) so I was really excited to dive into her latest, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence. Thankfully, it did not disappoint!
What’s so great about Jess’s writing is that you feel like you’re talking with a smart friend. Lots of nonfiction books are written by smart people, but they can sound dry, boring and completely unengaging. On the other hand, many authors write in a friendly voice, but they don’t always have a whole lot of information to impart. (I find a lot of motivational books for women fit that category.) Jessica’s work is the best of both worlds: thoroughly researched and informative, but written in an accessible tone and with personal information woven through (she even leads Chapter 1 with, “Hi, my name is Jess, and I’m an alcoholic.”) Her experiences as both parent and teacher bring valuable perspectives to the data and research she shares.
In terms of audience, if you’ve just had a baby you probably don’t need to put a rush on this one (I’d start with a sleep training book), but Jess has tips for parents of kids as early as preschool to help set the stage for healthy habits in age-appropriate ways (e.g., handwashing, teeth brushing) which will then hopefully evolve to healthy choices regarding addictive substances. If your kids are in their teen years as mine are (15 and just shy of 13) I will go so far as to say this is another must-read from Jessica Lahey.
Here are 10 quotes that struck me from The Addiction Inoculation:
1. “The younger kids are when they start using drugs and alcohol, the more damage they do to those brains… and the more likely they are to develop substance use disorder as adults.”
2. “The takeaway from all of this: if we can keep kids away from cigarettes, vaping, beer and marijuana, we are more likely to keep them off the harder stuff.”
3. “The vast majority of addicted kids are caught in a powerful, self-perpetuating cycle of self-medicating their pain, anxiety and trauma.” Which is related to the next point…
4. “Untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in particular, has been identified as a major risk factor for addiction.”
5. “Kids who believe their future will be better than their present do better across the board. Hope increases academic performance, graduation rates, career success, and happiness and provides a psychological buffer from the effects of negative life events.”
6. “Many parents believe if they let children have sips of alcoholic beverages at home when they are little, it will prevent them from engaging in irresponsible drinking later. In fact…sipping at home offers no protection against drinking in adolescence, and it seems to have the opposite effect.”
7. “Girls and women generally get drunk faster, stay drunk longer, and feel worse on the morning after than their male counterparts who drink the same amount.”
8. “The more dinners per week the kids have with family, the less likely they are to drink.” (Jess acknowledges the interplay of many factors here – and the fact that the TV is often on in the background while her family eats together at the kitchen counter – but the point seems to be regular time spent together where you can take your kid’s temperature, so to speak, and be on the lookout for any concerns.)
9. “Throwaway comments are hardly ever meant to be thrown away when it comes to teens.” (If they say even the tiniest thing to open the door to a conversation about something, you want to take advantage of that.)
Finally, while Lahey is American, I think Canadians can see our own similar history reflected in this next one as well:
10. “Today, the rate of substance abuse among Native American adolescents is nearly three times higher that of non-Native teens, the highest of any population group in the United States.” She continues by making reference to historical information previously noted about 1609 Manhattan: “Hudson’s gift of booze on that island of general inebriation has led to the enslavement, subordination, and premature death of twenty generations (and counting) of Native people.” Wow.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg: the book also offers tips for helping kids resist peer pressure, stats to bust any myths they may have about drinking (for example you can’t sober up with coffee, cold showers, eating or exercising, as the body can only process one drink an hour no matter what tricks you try) and so much more.
As a personal note from me, I’ve never been much of a drinker (maybe a drink or two socially a few times a year) but I’ve actually had a completely dry 2021 so far. As Jessica notes in the book, “as little as one drink a day can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer” (I’ve read that many other places as well) and since it’s one of the only dietary causes of cancer that seems completely supported by current science (there are all sorts of conflicting studies and opinions about a huge range of other foods/ingredients but no others that scientists all agree upon) and since it doesn’t matter all that much to me, avoiding it is one easy way to feel like I’m taking a positive step to prevent recurrence, or a new cancer entirely.
This book has already helped me launch some important conversations with my daughters (who always roll their eyes lovingly when I bring up a new book/article/TV segment I want to talk to them about), and I know I’ll be keeping it around to reference throughout the years ahead. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence by Jessica Lahey.
Disclosure: This is the part where I would usually tell you that I got the book for free. While I’m sure a request for a review copy would have been granted, Jess shared great information a few months ago about how preorders really help authors out – so I decided to go that route and order a copy instead!