NORMAN — Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, encouraged parents to keep being uncool in the eyes of their children, despite how hard such a task could be. Parents are the No. 1 influence when it comes to a child’s decision about alcohol, White said.
Parents Helping Parents welcomed White as their guest speaker and continued their mission to offer hope to other parents through resources, education and shared experience during a meeting Thursday night. White discussed the state of addiction and mental illness in Oklahoma and the challenges the department of mental health, parents and those afflicted with mental abuse or addiction face.
To begin her lecture, White admitted a secret — not everything is known about addiction or mental illness; not everything is known about the brain.
White said that this can make tackling addiction and mental illness frustrating to those suffering from addiction or mental abuse or those like parents who struggle with a child suffering from addiction or mental abuse.
Parents Helping Parents’ attendees nodded in agreement and said before coming to the organization, they felt isolated, ashamed or alone.
Addiction and mental illness are real medical conditions. White said most people don’t know this or don’t understand that even in the case of addiction, although it may be someone’s initial choice to use, drug abuse can change to dependency void of choice.
White said that such dependency is more likely to develop in people at a younger age.
“Youth at age 15 who drink are six times more likely to develop an addiction compared to those who wait to 21 to drink,” White said.
Alcohol can temporarily or permanently impede brain development. And unfortunately, most people take their first drink at the age of 12 in Oklahoma, White said. Additionally, binge drinking is more common now than it was 20 years ago.