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  • Writer's picturelauriepdubin

How to navigate increases in youth substance use during summer months

Updated: May 22, 2023

Summer is a fun time for our young people and allowing them more freedom is healthy and

needed after a heavily scheduled school year. Along with more free time, it’s a good idea to set expectations and boundaries to keep them safe. Now, more than ever, the stakes are higher. With fentanyl out there, and greater access to illicit drugs on social media, it’s important for parents to stay engaged with their children.

Substance use typically increases during transition times such as the beginning of summer. A more relaxed schedule presents families invaluable opportunities and time for parents to connect with their children and have meaningful, unrushed conversations. It's a great window to have conversations on substance use with your child. Read How to Talk With your Child for tips to get those conversations started and keep them going.


Marin County teens experience higher rates of substance use than most areas throughout the state and country with 49% of 11th graders reporting using alcohol or drugs in the past 30 days compared to 23% of California. Easy access and cultural norms in Marin are two factors contributing to these high rates.

Each year, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health asks preteen and teenage students (ages 12-18) to report the year and month they first used a substance. The results of this survey reveal that summer is most definitely a time for experimentation. Key findings include:

  • First use of alcohol peaks in June and July (and also in December).

  • First use of marijuana, tobacco (including vapes) peak in June and July.

Additionally, adolescents who begin substance use over the summer are more likely to continue throughout the year.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that during May, June, July, and August, nearly twice as many teens die in highway crashes compared to the rest of the year from drunk and drugged driving. Youth drinking also contributes to injuries and death from summertime activities, such as boating and swimming. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol use is a factor in up to 70 percent of adult and adolescent deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency department visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.

The rates of young people dying from overdoses is increasing due to the prevalence of fentanyl in illicit drugs. Too many have died in our Marin community and in communities like ours across the country. As fentanyl continues to plague our young people - getting trained to administer Narcan and discussing the high risk of substance use in this current environment is very important. Visit Fentanyl – OD Free Marin or check out Song for Charlie for more information.


Talking, listening and setting expectations and boundaries all help reduce substance use. Despite the prevalence of youth substance use in Marin County, parents have more influence than they think. Communication can be expressed with empathy and compassion, but also clearly state what your family’s values are around substance use. Make sure they know how your family rules are borne out of your love and care about their safety and well being.

Model responsible substance use. Summertime can be party time for adults too! Just remember your kids are watching you and mirror your behavior. With barbecues, parties and July 4th get-togethers, be thoughtful about alcohol and/or cannabis use and the message it sends. If it's a kid-focused event, consider skipping the adult beverages. Visit Raising the Bar to learn more about our efforts to change social norms around adult substance use at youth centered events.

If your child is sleeping over or vacationing with another family:

  • Communications are key - make sure the hosting family and your child understand your rules and expectations.

  • Stay in touch via text or phone calls.

If you are leaving town but your child is not:

  • Make sure your child understands that you do not allow parties at your house in your absence. Be clear about the consequences if one occurs.

  • Think about whether you want other friends to come over to your house while you’re away. It can be too much temptation for a child left alone – and a house with parents who are away can be a magnet for other kids. An innocent gathering of a few friends can escalate into a larger party in a matter of minutes with social media, in spite of your child's best intentions.

  • Instead, have your child stay with a friend or relative, or have an adult stay in your home. Alternatively, have an adult randomly check up on your children if they are home alone.

  • Alert your neighbors to your absence. Ask them to keep an eye out for any parties or substance use by kids or to randomly check up on your children.

  • Notify your local police department of your vacation plans. Doing so may result in patrols by your house. Make sure your child knows that law enforcement will be driving by.

  • Lock up or otherwise make inaccessible any alcohol, cannabis and prescription medications. This is always a good idea during the adolescent and teen years but take extra care when you are away.

Provide Summertime Structure. While summertime should be a welcome break from the packed schedules and rigors of the school year, daily activities that provide structure are recommended to prevent substance use out of boredom and too much free time. Stores and restaurants are hiring and summer camps and programs are happening. Volunteer opportunities and online classes also abound. Is your child skilled at a particular sport? Neighborhood parents love older children who can give lessons to their kids.


  • Social Host Ordinances - Local laws implemented by towns/cities hold individuals responsible for hosting gatherings where underage drinking or illegal drug use occurs to prevent adverse consequences. Note that some ordinances define “gatherings” as involving two or more youth so it doesn’t have to be a large party..

  • Curfews - Curfew ordinances state that minors out past a certain hour of the night are subject to misdemeanor penalties and can be escorted home by police authorities or parents are called to pick up their child. Curfews in Marin differ from town to town, both in the hours they are enforced as well as to what ages they apply. To find out whether or not your city has a curfew, contact your local police department.

  • Good Samaritan Laws - Alcohol and drug-related Good Samaritan laws are designed to reduce fear of arrest and encourage people to call 911 by providing immunity from the arrest, charge or prosecution of simple alcohol/drug possession.

You can share this BTI blog with your child: When to Call 911 and "Good Samaritan" Laws. The California’s Health and Safety Code sets forth the specifics on liability.

  • Provisional Drivers License - It’s a good idea to know who is driving when your teen is out with friends. Under California law, during the first 12 months a minor cannot drive between 11pm and 5am or transport passengers under 20 years old.

Summertime offers so many wonderful opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, being together, and relaxing. Having conversations with your teens can be a bonding experience if done the right way (avoid lecturing!). Setting expectations and boundaries ahead of time can reduce unease and reinforce family value. It also demonstrates that you care about your child’s safety and your community - something that your child will understand and that we can all get behind.

Happy Summer!

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