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Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

Girls Under the Influence - Apr 23, 2006

Girls Under the Influence

April 23, 2006

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

Alcohol abuse cases are reaching epidemic levels among girls according to new findings from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. These findings also report that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in America. Here to tell us more is psychologist Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: Why has this problem assumed epidemic proportions among adolescent girls?

Dr. Sylvia: First of all, girls seem to have a tougher time growing up than previous generations. With the expectations of physical perfection and academic challenges mounting, adolescent girls are under unprecedented levels of stress. They are supposed to look like Brittany Spears and get into Harvard at the same time. The pressure is just too high. Secondly, alcohol is too available. Ninety four percent of high school seniors report that alcohol is easily attainable and that they acquire it in other people's homes.

Q: Why has the pressure on this generation become excessive?

Dr. Sylvia: The baby boomer generation is rife with parents who are well meaning but are micro- managing their children's lives. Being "well rounded" has lost its allure for too many of today's parents who insist on producing the "super child." Applicants to colleges resemble sophisticated job applicants who are well versed on selling themselves. The over-parenting generated by the baby boomers is contributing heavily to a very disturbed population of girls who are struggling considerably.

Q: Why do they turn to drugs and alcohol?

Dr. Sylvia: I believe that this generation of adolescent girls is more anxious and they choose to self-medicate rather than to identify themselves as having a problem. Prescription drugs are particularly alluring to these girls since they are readably available, transferable and sedating. Many of them tell me it's the only relief they can find.

Q: When do these patterns begin?

Dr. Sylvia: Girls are now starting to drink at younger ages than ever before. Today, nearly twenty five percent of all girls drink before the age of 13. The older girls get, the more alcohol they drink.

Q: Why does it begin in early adolescence?

Dr. Sylvia: Early adolescence is an unstable and fragile time for girl in our society. Self-esteem declines precipitously among girls as they enter middle school. Then they must simultaneously deal with the transition from middle school to high school, the rigors of puberty and the increased emphasis by peers and family on physical appearance and popularity. Research reveals that girls begin to compare themselves physically and academically to their peers and they shift their need for validation from parents and other adults to their peers and popular culture.

Q: What part does the peer group play in these problems?

Dr. Sylvia: During adolescence, girls become more sensitive to others' feelings and impressions, gauging their personalities and developing a dependency on the good will of others. A very dysfunctional pattern develops in which adolescent girls suppress their own thoughts and desires in favor of those of others. As a result, they are vulnerable to the peer influences to engage in substance abuse. They do it to win approval.

Q: What should parents be looking for in their daughters?

Dr. Sylvia: There are several things parents can look for:

1. Body Image Complaints: There is a high correlation between eating disorders and substance abuse. The greatest change in dieting occurs during middle school when many girls gain weight during puberty. Unfortunately, they often try to control their weight through unhealthy means and use alcohol or drugs to stay thin.

2. Change in Peers and Clothing: Many young girls begin to dress inappropriately to win approval from others who are using. They befriend peers who are experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a way of remaining popular and accepted.

3. Increased Stress: Girls are more likely than boys to respond to stress with substance abuse. For girls, the combination of low self-esteem and stressful life events breeds depression and increases their risk for substance abuse. One of the most common reasons given by girls for engaging in substance abuse is stress relief.

4. Depression Leads to Using: The research supports the fact that girls who become clinically depressed and anxious are at a much higher risk for developing substance abuse problems. Remember that teenage girls with low self-esteem are twice as likely to use.

Q: What can parents do?

Dr. Sylvia: Parents who do not monitor their children's activities put their kids at risk for these problems. There is abundant research that proves that parents are one of the most important factors in their children's decision to drink or use drugs. Research reveals that girls are more responsive than boys to parental influences in this area. The worse a girl's relationship to her parents, the earlier her initiation of alcohol use and the greater her likelihood of drug use. Affluent girls at highest risk for substance abuse tend to lack adult after-school supervision and to feel low levels of closeness with their mothers.

Q: What happens when kids go ahead and use even when their parents have done all the right things?

Dr. Sylvia: You always have to remember how genetically based addiction disorders are. Genetic factors play a much larger role than environmental factors and account for up to 66 percent of the risk for alcohol abuse in girls. The best defense parents can have is to be observant, available, and not be afraid of setting firm limits with their kids. Do your best as a parent and don't blame yourself.