ASACS: A vital resource for students, parents
October 14, 2011
By Wendy Brown
Parents and students looking for guidance on drug and alcohol issues have a place to turn to at Wiesbaden Middle and High Schools.
The Adolescent Substance Abuse Counseling Service, better known as ASACS, is an important resource for children, parents and teachers, said Mary Beth Thomas, a substance abuse counselor at Wiesbaden Middle School who works for the program.
The program's whole point is to provide counseling to students so they do not develop problems with alcohol and drugs, said Thomas.
Military children, who have to contend with deployed parents and frequent moves, are often subject to more stress than most children, Thomas said. In turn, increased stress can lead to drug and alcohol problems.
In Germany, where the drinking age for beer and wine is 16, it can be even more difficult to keep children away from alcohol, Thomas said.
For these reasons, it is important for parents, teachers and friends to keep an eye out for changes in students, Thomas said.
Possible warning signs can include poor grades, increased moodiness and new friends a parent does not know, Thomas said.
One of the reasons ASACS is in the schools is because military parents often have challenging schedules, which can sometimes make it difficult for them to bring students to counseling appointments, Thomas said.
At the middle school level, most of the work is preventative, Thomas said.
At the high school level, more of the work involves issues with experimentation with drugs and alcohol, said Brian Buckley, ASACS counselor at Wiesbaden High School.
In recent years, one student passed out on a lawn and might have died of hypothermia if a passerby had not found him, Buckley said.
In another incident, a student landed in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, Buckley said.
The German drinking age definitely complicates efforts to prevent teens from drinking, Buckley said.
American civilians in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement are still supposed to abide by American laws, including the 21-year-old drinking age, Buckley said.
Generally speaking, however, most Germans will still sell beer and wine to 16-year-old Americans, Buckley said.
Buckley said he emphasizes to students the importance of taking responsibility for their actions. "You make your choices and your choices make you," Buckley said he tells students regularly.
ASACS has been in Department of Defense Dependents Schools for more than 20 years, Thomas said.
The counseling is done at the school, Thomas said, and parents and teachers may refer students.
Students may also refer themselves, Thomas said.
It is not unusual for students to knock on her door and ask to talk, Thomas said, and students are more than welcome to do that.
It is important, however, for students under the age of 15 to know that parental consent is necessary for counseling, she said.
One way parents can keep children drug-and-alcohol free is to set clear rules and consequences, and make sure children frequently hear the message that drugs and alcohol are trouble, Thomas said.
Research has shown that the more students hear that message, the better, Thomas said. "It's not corny," she said. "It has a real effect."
Parents should also know that if they suspect a child is developing a substance abuse problem, it is better to refer the child to the program than wait, Thomas said.
"I tell parents: 'Trust your gut,'" Thomas said, referring to signs that a child might be using drugs or alcohol.
"Even if a parent has to initially drag a child in, the child still gets the message that parent is concerned and loves the child," Thomas said.
All ASACS counselors are trained professionals, Thomas said. Both Thomas and Buckley are certified drug and alcohol counselors and hold Master's degrees in social work.
This month, ASACS is supporting Red Ribbon Week, which is Oct. 24-30 and increases awareness about substance abuse problems, Thomas said.