The youth are natural risk-takers. They need to experiment and to examine limits — others’ and their own. It’s assumed that they can manage their own lives and take their own decisions. However, because of their limited experience, their judgment can at times be faulty. No wonder parents worry and sometimes feel compelled to intervene when their children’s health or safety is at risk.
Teenage drug use is a serious social issue and can directly impact academic achievement. Some symptoms include high-school dropout rate, early sexual initiation, and troubled interpersonal relationships, amongst other consequences.
Some factors that can lead young people to substance abuse are:
. Absence of close family ties
. Poor and inconsistent ways in which parents monitor and train their children
. Family conflict and dysfunctional state
. Violent behaviour at school or college or in their community
. Irresponsible sexual behaviour and associated concerns
. Perceived parental/ peer pressure/ community approval of drug use
. Learning problems and academic difficulties
. Poor social coping skills
. Having friends who smoke or associate with drug circuits.
Myths about drug abuse
. Search for pleasure
. Relieves stress, tension, or depression
. Enhances religious or mystical experiences
. Enhances social experiences
. Enhances work / play performance
. Relieves pain or symptoms of illness
Can you think of other reasons?
Recent surveys across the world on attitudes on substance abuse reveal that high stress, frequent boredom, and excessive spending habits are the key risk factors among teenagers that increase the likelihood of them smoking, drinking, and using illegal drugs.
Further, physical dependence means that the body becomes so used to drug use that, if it is withdrawn, there might be severe withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, vomiting, and profuse sweating. Physiological dependence means that the drug user experiences sensations of pleasure.
Many drugs (cocaine and the amphetamines, for example) do not lead to physical withdrawal symptoms. They can, however, produce an intense craving for the drug, sometimes considered more addictive. Tolerance means that increasingly higher doses of the drug need to be taken to get the same effect.
Should drug addiction be considered:
. A bad habit?
. A failure of will?
. A failure of morality?
. A symptom of other problems?
. A chronic disease?
A disruptive lifestyle
Young people who use drugs increase the risk of low academic achievement, dropping out of high school, early sexual experience, teenage pregnancy, problems in relationships, and disruption of marital ties during adulthood. Heavy users can also end up committing serious offences.
Prevention is the cure
During the last two decades, there has been a concerted effort to develop effective drug abuse prevention techniques for implementation in schools. Some of the widely-used school-based prevention approaches are effective, especially those that rely on providing information and life skills education in a systematic manner. Parental awareness plays an important role and is the first step in deterring drug use.
Just fight it
Prevention is better than cure. This can be achieved as follows:
. Providing scientific information about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use
. Discuss advertising and media — representation of tobacco and alcohol and how they can influence the decision to use
. Discuss risk behaviours — associated with driving and sexual behaviour under the influence of drugs
. Important to discuss implications — of use and set clear limits on their usage
. Confidential and non-judgemental — when and where and under what circumstances drugs are used.
. Majority of students who do not indulge should be lauded
. Motivation not to use is an important prevention technique
The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’