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Keeping kids off drugs, alcohol

Andrea Wanat, 41, has made preventing substance abuse her vocation. As executive director of the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Wanat and her staff work daily with parents and children to encourage responsible behavior.

As a wife and mother, Wanat talks openly and often about the dangers of substance abuse with her three young sons. There is good reason why she believes so strongly in the power of prevention.

>People Talk: Why did you enter this field?

Andrea Wanat: Because I ?have a family history of addiction. ?On one side of my family, almost ?all the males had some kind of substance addiction issue. My ?father was addicted to alcohol but ?was able to successfully quit when ?I was a teenager. So as a teenager ?I saw him struggling, but then ?I saw hope and healing when he ?got better.

>PT:Is addiction hereditary?

AW: Yes. If you're growing up ?in a family where one of the parents ?or caregivers has an addiction, ?you may either model their ?behavior and/or you may have ?some propensity genetically to be predisposed to that addiction. ?There is much research that shows genetic predisposition.

>PT: As a mother of three, how do you educate your sons?

AW: It's critical to talk to ?your kids as early as possible. The conversation changes as they get ?older because you need to make ?it age appropriate. Research has shown that if you delay the age of first onset of alcohol or other drug use, someone is less likely to become addicted. So if someone started ?experimenting at age 10 or 12, ?they are four or five times more ?likely to become an alcoholic or ?drug addict.

>PT:What is your greatest ?challenge in the field of prevention?

AW: We can only scratch the surface compared with the big bucks of the tobacco or alcohol industry, so what we're trying to do locally is to work together. In Erie County, there is a group of 10 substance abuse and mental health providers. Right now we have focused on underage drinking. The next topic is prescription drug abuse. In Western New York, there seem to be epidemic levels of prescription drug use.

>PT:Describe one of your more innovative programs.

AW: We're doing Parent Awareness Forums. So when a child enters high school, before he or she is allowed to attend a school function, one parent is required to attend a parent forum. It usually runs about 90 minutes, and members of my staff will talk about signs and symptoms of drug use, background stats, school resources, legal ramifications. Twenty schools in Erie County participate.

>PT:Are you making progress with parents?

AW: We're opening the eyes ?of parents to signs and symptoms, what they should be looking for, ?and how to get help. Sometimes ?as you get older, you fall out of tune as to what's going on. There are aerosol cans labeled bee or wasp killer for home use that were designed to conceal money. They can also hold drugs. Also look for changes in your child's schedule or friends. Certain odors. There are flip-flops that have hidden compartments for a flask. ?Or a flask that looks like a phone and clips to your belt.

>PT:Should parents keep their alcohol locked up?

AW: That actually is a parenting technique that is recommended. Plus you should take an inventory, and not only alcohol but prescription medications, too. It's for everyone's safety. For your information, the Erie County Sheriff's Office underage drinking tip line is 1-800-851-1932.

>PT:Drunken driving has such a high profile recently. Is it decreasing or increasing?

AW: The statistics from the Erie County Sheriff's Office show an increase in arrests for DWI in 2012. In 2011, for the entire year there were 370 arrests. By the end of May 2012, they have already recorded 200 arrests. This is most likely due to the fact that the sheriff's office has been diligent on the issue.

>PT:Do you serve alcohol at your house parties?

AW: Yes, to responsible adults. My personal philosophy is I like to model the behavior to my kids that I think is safe and appropriate.

>PT:How do you unwind?

AW: I actually like to exercise, pretty much every day.

>PT:Who drinks more – men or women?

AW: Now, it seems more socially acceptable for women to drink ?to excess. On "Jersey Shore" you ?have young women drinking their faces off.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

On the Web: Andrea Wanat talks about defense mechanisms used by children raised in ?abusive environments at www.buffalonews.com/life