DARIEN — Residents heard about the role stress plays in substance abuse and chronic illness in the third and final part on a series on public health in Darien.

John Hamilton, the CEO of Recovery Network of Programs, was the keynote speaker at Darien: How Healthy Are We? and spoke on addiction and preventing it through strong relationships with children.

Hamilton presented data about the rampant abuse of prescription drugs, particularly in Connecticut where 2.6 million people have prescriptions for some sort of painkillers.

“The next epidemic you’re going to hear about are Benzodiazepines,” said Hamilton, referring to the prescription tranquilizer at his presentation Jan. 26.

Hamilton then dove into why kids binge drink or abuse these sorts of drugs and how it can be prevented. According to Hamilton, addiction can be genetic, but that’s only a partial factor for whether or not a kid will develop one at some point in their life.

“People take drugs to feel good or to feel better,” Hamilton said.

So how can parents teach kids to cope in other ways? By stressing them out less. According to Hamilton’s research, children are most stressed out by their parents and wish their parents would accept them for who they are as a person. Since stress is the biggest contributor when it comes to substance abuse, focusing on valuing kids for who they are can go a long way when it comes to reducing the chance of addiction.

“The nature vs. nurture argument is long done away with,” said Hamilton. “It’s a combination of both.”

Being there for your kids, even when they’re driving you crazy, is one step toward making them know they’re valued, Hamilton said. Teaching kids problem-solving skills and helping them find a sense of purpose can also help them avoid resorting to substance abuse to cope with their feelings and focus on something beyond drinking and drugs. Family, school and community support also contribute to boosting kid’s self-esteem and resilience to substance use.

The work can pay off: for each year of delayed substance used, the risk of developing an addiction is slim.

“It sounds trite, but if you meet kids where they’re at, they’ll walk away with love and compassion,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton also urged parents to look at themselves as models for their children. He recommended not taking children’s wrongdoings personally, learning to forgive them and showing children your own flaws.

“The more you show your humanity, the more lovable you are,” he said.

Hamilton also told audience members to address concerns about a child’s substance use by asking if they’ve driven under the influence, use substances to relax or while alone, if they forget from their drinking or if they’ve gotten in trouble for it before.

Hamilton’s talk was followed by a talk by Darien resident Trey Laird on how he recovered from addiction and alcoholism. Dr. Robert Zembroski also spoke on his own personal experience with stress and chronic illness.

According to David Knauf, Director of Health, the town hopes to hold future talks on cancer, heart disease and concussions, as well as continued talks on substance abuse.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata