National Safety Month: Keeping Your Family Safe

The National Safety Council is taking a stand against prescription drug abuse for this year’s National Safety Month.

Among people 35 to 54 years old, unintentional drug overdoses cause more deaths than motor vehicle crashes. People who take opioid painkillers can quickly develop a tolerance and dependence to this class of drugs. When a person becomes dependent, he or she experiences unpleasant symptoms when he or she stops taking the drug.

“More Americans overdose on prescription painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC. “Yet, these medications are marketed as the Cadillac option for treating pain. If doctors and their patients understand the risks and side effects, they can discuss safer, more effective options. Without an honest dialogue, we’ll continue to see a cycle of addiction and overdose that has made opioid painkiller use a public health crisis.”

Prescription opioid painkillers account for more drug overdose deaths than heroine and cocaine combined. If your doctor suggests taking opioid painkillers, be sure to tell him or her about any pre-existing conditions that will increase your risk. Some of these conditions include, but aren’t limited to: any personal or family history of addiction, anxiety, depression or sleep apnea.

In order to keep you and your family safe, it is important to keep all prescription medications locked up and out of sight. Never keep leftover medications. Dispose of unused drugs properly by checking with your local police department to find drug take-back programs in your community.

If you’re in Knoxville, unwanted or unused prescription drugs can be dropped off any time at the Knoxville Police Department’s Safety Building located at 800 Howard Bake Jr. Avenue.

To get more help on overdose deaths and any substance addiction, please visit

Men’s Health Month

June is Men’s Health Month! The purpose of Men’s Health Month is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. This month gives health care providers, public policy makers, the media, and individuals an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury. The response has been overwhelming with thousands of awareness activities in the USA and around the globe.


  • Men are at greater risk for death in every age group. More males than females are born (105 vs 100), but by age 35, women outnumber men.
  • Currently, men are dying an average of 5 years younger than women and lead 9 out of 10 of the top causes of death. Among those being, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and more.
  • Men have a higher suicide death rate than women. Men account for 92% of fatal workplace injuries.
  • 1 in 2 men are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime compared to 1 in 3 women

Data from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that men ages 18 or older have almost twice the rate of substance dependence as adult women. These substances include prescription drugs, alcohol, sedatives, cannabis, tranquilizers, hallucinogens and cocaine. If your loved one is suffering from addiction, get help.

Men, June is your time to man up and be healthy! Schedule your annual check up and view the Blueprint for Men’s Health to see how you can start living a healthier lifestyle.


You can make the difference – be aware of drug and alcohol abuse at summer music festivals

Once a year, over 85,000 music lovers from around the world congregate on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, TN. Why? One word – Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo is an annual music festival held in June and this year is hosting 150+ bands over a four-day time period. We want to think that this would be a fun time for people to simply enjoy their favorite artists, but music festivals have come to be known for drug and alcohol abuse.

Bonnaroo appears to be making strides to combat this problem. According to, every vehicle is searched upon arrival and there are strict guidelines on what is and is not allowed into the venue, placing a limit on the amount of alcohol allowed per vehicle and stating that no illegal substances will be tolerated.

On their website, Bonnaroo highlights the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol, “There’s one easy way to wreck your weekend (and your friends’): drugs and alcohol. Drugs raise your body temperature (sometimes fatally) and drain H20 from your cells, while alcohol dehydrates you. Under the brutal June sun, your body and mind can fry way too easily, and the dangers of combining substances are only multiplied in this environment.”

This is accompanied by a reminder that their number one concern is the well-being of festival-goers. They have a “no questions asked” policy and encourage everyone to seek help at a medical tent if they or a friend are in danger –warning signs.

There are several support communities that attend a number of music festivals throughout the year to act as a safe haven for “sober ravers”, one of them being Soberoo. Soberoo conducts daily meetings and has its own tent set up at Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo is making an effort to educate people, but we still see continued abuse of illegal substances. If you or any of your friends are making the trip to Manchester this weekend, make the smart decision and report any illegal drug activity or alcohol abuse you see.

Do You Know Warning Signs?

It’s the start of summer which means school is out so bring on the sunshine and vacations! Summer should be fun for the whole family, but during this time of relaxation and freedom, teens are more susceptible to alcohol and other drug use. This is due to teens having a less-structured schedule and less adult supervision. According to a report released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, during June and July, more than 11,000 teens on average use alcohol for the first time, 5,000 start smoking cigarettes and 4,500 try marijuana. As a parent, you can be a vital part of changing these statistics.

Many parents make the mistake of thinking their child isn’t old enough and that this won’t be a problem for them at such a young age. These days, children are being offered drugs and alcohol at younger and younger ages. In 2013, 20.5% of Knox County Schools middle school students reported they had ever tried drinking alcohol and 10% reported they had ever used marijuana. Parents need to talk to their kids about the risks of using drugs and alcohol as early as possible. The best way to combat your child trying out drugs and alcohol is to keep them busy during these laid-back summer months. Things like summer jobs, camps and sports are all activities that can keep your child active.

You know your child better than anyone else. Look for these warning signs if you suspect your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol:

  • Irregular school attendance or poor grades
  • Carelessness about personal appearance
  • Disinterest in hobbies, sports or other activities
  • A new group of friends
  • Irregular eating and sleeping patterns
  • Negative change in personal values
  • Significant mood changes (withdrawn, depressed, hostile, uncooperative/defiant, defensive)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Stealing money, prescription medications or alcohol
  • Change in family relationships
  • Red/watery/glassy eyes or runny nose
  • Lies about where they are going or who they are with
  • Stays out late or past curfew

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

dMay is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and because your child is graduating from high school, now is the perfect time to talk to them about the temptations of college life. It is important for your teen to understand that abusing alcohol and other drugs clouds your judgment and greatly increases their probability of having unprotected sex. Simply telling your child not to have sex or not to participate in using drugs or alcohol does not work. Teens need to be provided with the skills and tools to make responsible decisions.

Use these tips when having “The Talk”:

  • Utilize open communication and build trust for future conversations.
  • Don’t lecture.
  • Remember to listen.
  • Remind them of the law: Let them know the importance of not drinking before age 21, using illegal drugs or taking medications that are not their own.
  • Help them prepare: Explain how Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) works and the signs of alcohol poisoning.
  • Stay involved.

For more tips on talking to your kids about this or substance abuse, please visit

Mental Health Awareness Month

tumblr_nnt850yPgi1u9yt0oo1_500Good parenting is more than providing for your child’s physical needs like food, water and shelter. Your involvement in your child’s mental health will help him or her live a healthier, more productive life. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness and most people develop a mental health problem before they reach the age of 14. Out of all high-school drop outs, 52.3% of students with disabilities tend to have emotional/behavioral disabilities.

How does substance abuse affect your child’s mental health?

Substance abuse can increase the chances of your child developing a mental illness and vice versa. People with mental illnesses are 2.3 times more likely to develop nicotine dependence, 3 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and 30 times more likely to develop drug dependence.

What are the consequences of untreated mental illnesses in children?

Consequences of a mental illness going untreated include, but are not limited to, suicide, school failure, involvement in criminal activity, higher healthcare costs due to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses and many more.

How can you get help for your child?

Early detection is crucial in successfully treating a mental illness. Follow this link for treatment resources in the Knoxville community.

Grand Families: Healthy Self-Confidence

Grand Families LogoCookie Oakley, LCSW

            An extremely important message to all Grand Families who are raising “Grand Children.”  As you have realized parenting today’s children is much different than when you were parents previously.  Please review my previous blog about healthy boundaries with the biological parents of your “Grand Children.”  The most important strategy for Grand Family parents is to realize you have the responsibility to shape and improve the life of the child you are parenting—especially to help them learn healthy self-confidence in order to make good life choices and decisions to avoid the destructive life-style of their biological parents.  The remainder of this blog is about encouraging and teaching healthy self-confidence in your “Grand Children.”

Healthy self-confidence is extremely important because this encourages children/adolescents to be themselves, be able to interact socially and academically, and learn to tell parents how they feel and listen to their teachings.  Children and adolescents who have healthy self-confidence are less fearful of new challenges and willing to learn new academics, new life skills, new social skills, and new physical activities.  Learning new skills and achieving accomplishments continues the building process of their self-confidence.

It is parents’ responsibility to nurture and encourage, not push their children.  In other words, help the child to learn about a new challenge or activity before they actually get involved.  For instance, a four-year-old that has not played soccer but feels afraid to try to play with a team.  A parent’s responsibility is to interact with child by playing backyard soccer — just kicking the ball around to help them learn the basic concept and feel comfortable with new sport, and encouraging the child to learn from coach as they have learned from preschool teacher.  Yelling to a child is unsuccessful because they will become fearful, anxious, feel unloved or valued; and most obvious is their listening and cognitive abilities are impaired.

A school teacher who is patient and teaches in a calm but stern manner will help a child learn easier and more effective becoming more self-confident with every accomplishment.  Praise and acknowledgement is crucial when a child accomplishes a new task, whatever it is.  Parents and teachers should always tell them they did a good job and praise the new accomplishment.  It is important to remember children are not alike – each child will learn at different pace and in a different style.  All humans are unique –think and learn differently.  This approach and thought process should be consistent all through child, adolescent, and young adult stages.

An adolescent who starts to become aware of their personal appearance and the importance of social acceptance can have a set-back with self-confidence.  This stage in life is more challenging and fearful for many adolescents.  They can develop social anxiety when they realize that peers are looking at them and making opinions.  Parents must help and coach an adolescent through this stage–especially the same gender parent– encouraging and teaching self-awareness is crucial such as teaching adolescent that being themselves is more important than trying to dress or act like other kids.  This phase will play out the family values and self-confidence already learned.  Another words, if the adolescent has learned realistic and good personal values such as respect for others, their behavior will show these characteristics.  This is the stage when personal character will begin to be more obvious and adolescents will feel good about their choices.

Character building is taking place all through a child’s life.  Parents are teaching them right from wrong, societal norms, social appropriateness, and “treat others how you want to be treated.”  Character building skills are learning that there are others in our world, respectful and mindful of their feelings, understanding that all people are different, and will act and perform differently.  These dynamics are especially important in family environment.

Parents must teach their children that criticism of others is inappropriate; just that other people learn and act differently.  No one person is perfect, therefore criticism is hurtful to others and not appropriate.  If a child is hurt emotionally or physically by another child, the child should express how they feel and walk away.  Healthy self-confidence will help a child to cope with criticism and bullying. A parent should teach the child or adolescent the intelligent way to handle a difficult situation.  A child/adolescent must feel they can express or explain their feelings to parents without punishment. This relationship develops early in a child’s life so they must be encouraged and helped to learn how to express themselves to parents without fear or judgment. Their life is a constant learning process, therefore many mistakes will occur.  Parents must teach that mistakes are a learning process, not failure.

Eye Contact and Hugs – This behavior must be initiated by the parents.  If this behavior is used by parents in infancy/toddler years, the child will learn this behavior and be comfortable.  Eye contact and hugs from the parent sends a message to the child that they are loved and valued, and it will establish trust and bonding.  The eyes are the window to the soul of each human being.  Communicating through sincere and loving eye contact will send the unspoken message to a child and help establish healthy self-confidence.  They will be learning to trust themselves and make decisions more confidently.  Teaching and helping children to learn healthy self-confidence is as important as providing basic needs.  Without healthy self-confidence, a child/adolescent or teenager are constantly confused about simple decisions, can fail in academics, social interaction, and basic life skills that are crucial for healthy adult life.


UTK Center for Health Education & Wellness Hire!

chew_logo_mdThe University of Tennessee is excited to announce that Rebecca Juarez, LCSW, joined the Center for Health, Education and Wellness’ team at the beginning of April.  Rebecca will serve as university’s Alcohol and Other Drug Wellness Coordinator. She will work with the Center’s staff to design, implement and evaluate alcohol and other drug outreach programs to educate students about health risks and wellness opportunities directly affecting their academic, physical and emotional well-being. Rebecca brings experience from the therapeutic and clinical community mental health settings at Peninsula Lighthouse, The Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, and Cherokee Health Systems. Rebecca has worked with a variety of client populations in both individual and group settings. Rebecca enjoys working with individuals as change agents as well as in community practice to help elicit broad change in culture and policy. She is enthusiastic about working to develop immediate and long-term evidence-based educational programs with risk reduction strategies. Some of the initiatives on which Rebecca will focus include: environmental management, social norming campaigns, alcohol and drug prevention programming and interventions, the development of a Collegiate Recovery Program, the VOLS 2 VOLS Peer Health Education Program, and collaborating with the university and surrounding community to support and further these endeavors. Current initiatives in which Rebecca is involved include: sexual assault awareness month, planning a designated driver program for UT students, and advising the future recovery student group on campus. We look forward to working with Rebecca! For more information on what the Center for Health Education & Wellness offers, please visit

Prom Season: Make it a Night to Remember

You don’t always have to be the life of the party

Prom seaProm poster 2015son is finally here. Parents may think that supervised drinking at prom parties will keep their kids safe and out of trouble. Your intentions may be good, but underage drinking is illegal.

While it may seem harmless, providing alcohol to a minor is a class A misdemeanor with serious legal consequences. In all 50 states, the minimum drinking age is 21. In Tennessee, parents can spend up to 11 months and 29 days in jail for providing alcohol to a minor.

Tennessee’s social host liability law states it is illegal for a parent or guardian to knowingly allow an underage person to buy or possess alcohol. Social host liability is a legal term meaning the adult can be held legally responsible if they provide alcohol to a minor. Other possible consequences include community service, loss of license and fines up to $2,500.

Parents often believe that allowing teens to drink at home is safer because they can control the amount of alcohol being consumed. Parents may also think that if they model responsible, moderate drinking to their teen, their child will mimic that behavior when parents are not present. However, teens that drink with their parents are more likely to drink when they are outside the home and vice-versa. They also tend to consume more alcoholic beverages on average than peers who do not drink with their parents.

Safe party tips

You can protect your children by following these guidelines when hosting teen parties:

  • Host safe, alcohol-free activities and events for youth
  • Refuse to supply alcohol to children or allow drinking in your home or on your property
  • Be at home when your teenager has a party
  • Make sure your teenager’s friends do not bring alcohol into your home
  • Talk to other parents about not providing alcohol at youth events
  • Report underage drinking

If your teen is heading to a post-graduation or prom party, find out where they are going and who they will be with. Call the hosting parents and share your rules and expectations. Make sure adult supervision will be available to ensure the party remains alcohol-free.

Message to Teens

In the age of social networking and text messaging, photos are uploaded in seconds and videos are streamed live for the entire world to see. It is important to ask yourself, “If pictures of this party pop up on Facebook, will I be humiliated?” If the answer is yes, chances are this is a decision you will soon regret. Just one drink can lower your inhibitions, and in our world of digital connectedness, dangerous and embarrassing activities may be photographed, uploaded, texted about and shared with friends. These images now serve as a permanent reminder of a night you would probably rather forget.

Parents, protect yourself and your kids. You don’t always have to be the life of the party- Be a Parent. Not a peer.

Grandparents as Parents – Primary Struggles

Grand Families LogoThis article was written by Cookie Oakley, LCSW. She is a family counselor and one of the co-founders of Grand Families. 

As we all know the number of grandparents raising grandchildren is at all-time high.  The primary reason is the epidemic of substance abuse of parents of these children.  All over the country State Child Protective Services and Juvenile Courts are overwhelmed with the large number of these cases.  In this blog I will address the primary struggles that grandparents face with this new and very challenging family dynamic.

As a family counselor, grandparents state the primary struggle is dealing with the adult parents of their grandchildren.  The struggle with establishing and keeping healthy boundaries with the biological parents is almost impossible. Grandparents love their adult child very much, and do not want to alienate them so they fall prey to their manipulation.  The addiction or substance abuse has taken control of their life therefore the reason for losing custody of their children.  When addiction or substance has taken control of anyone, they make poor decisions, and can certainly not make responsible decisions related to being a parent.  Grandparents as parents often are still influenced by their adult child and struggle with telling them no as related to their involvement with seeing their children and/or wanting to participate in the parenting process.  In the February Blog I wrote about healthy boundaries with the parents who are substance abusers.  Please review this article if you are struggling with this issue.

The other primary struggle is getting the grandchildren to respect the grandparents as parents.  Previously they have known their grandparents in the ‘grandparent role’.  The normal grandparent role is spending playful or quality time with grandchildren.  Grandchildren have not viewed grandparents as the disciplinarian.  Therein is a huge problem.  They often do not listen to rules required for parental disciplining.  The grandchildren will often challenge their authority as parents.  This is a tremendous problem because the children are not learning normal childhood discipline and parental guidance.  Family counseling is recommended for grandparents and grandchildren together.  A family counselor can give you a plan of action and coach grandchildren how to change behavior and cooperate with grandparents.

There are many other significant struggles and challenges for grandparents as Pparents.  The everyday emotional struggles caused by the adult child/biological parent’s dysfunctional and often dangerous situation, and the grandchildren’s emotional struggle to understand and cope with their absent parents.  I suggest learning all you can as grandparents/parents how to best manage your situation and family dynamics in order to give your grandchildren an appropriate childhood.  These skills may be best learned in family counseling.  Your community has many resources for this counseling.  Any challenging situation can be best managed with the best possible tools, and learning the correct emotional, parenting, and family management approach reduces significant stress and allows families to enjoy life and reduce the emotional stress.  ­­­­­­