You have a tough job. Keeping your child away from drugs and alcohol is challenging. Half of all 12th graders have used have used illicit drugs, according to a survey (Monitoring the Future) sponsored and released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2006. But with love and attention, you can do it. Your best weapon is to arm yourself with education. What substances are out there? What are the signs of abuse and addiction? If you think your child is abusing or is addicted, get help immediately and educate yourself.
Abuse and addiction are not the same. Drug abuse always comes before addiction, which is a chronic and treatable disease. Drug abuse starts when your teen makes a conscious decision to take drugs. Used too often, drugs may cause your child to crave the substance. That’s because physical changes in the brain take place. Neurons, or brain cells, use chemical messengers called neurotransmitters to “talk” to each other. Drugs interfere with this process by making both temporary and structural changes in brain cells. Mood, memory, thinking and even motor skills such as walking may be affected. When this happens, drug abuse turns into addiction. People who are addicted have a compulsive craving and cannot quit by themselves. Not everyone becomes addicted. But any drug abuse is dangerous.
Teenagers are in a phase of life in which their brains and bodies are still developing. New research suggests that alcohol may harm a developing teen’s brain. Drug abuse and addiction interfere with their sense of who they are and how they learn and mature. These problems can harm a teen’s future – physically, emotionally and behaviorally, even leading to depression and anxiety. Drugs can weaken the ability to concentrate and store information. Being under the influence of drugs can also impair judgment, leading to risky decisions about sex or about getting into a car with someone who is also under the influence.
Substances that can lead to drug abuse and addiction include alcohol, steroids, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and illegal drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin).
The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that there are 11 million underage drinkers in the U.S. Nearly 7.2 million teens are binge drinkers, meaning that they drank more than five drinks on occasion; more than two million are classified as heavy drinkers. For adults, alcohol is legal, widely accepted in American culture and easily accessible.
Some teens can get a drink at home. Our culture also makes drinking look fun and harmless. Teenagers are drinking younger and more frequently than before, often beginning at age 13. A report from the Surgeon General in 2007 indicated that if a teen starts to drink before age 15, he or she is five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life.
Alcohol is a depressant, affecting the body and mind. Alcohol travels to the brain, organs, liver, kidneys, stomach, nervous system and even muscles. The effects of alcohol may start within five to 10 minutes and last for hours. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says 2.6 million young people don’t know that someone can die from too much alcohol. Teens who drink regularly are at a higher risk for cirrhosis (a dangerous inflammation of the liver), pancreatitis (a dangerous inflammation of the pancreas), stroke and even cancer than those who do not.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among teens. This drug looks like a green, brown or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers. Common names for the drug include pot, herb, Mary Jane, grass, weed, boom, gangster and chronic. Marijuana is usually smoked as a hand-rolled cigarette, in a pipe or in a glass tube called a bong. Marijuana is not harmless. Teens can become addicted to the drug. And teens who use marijuana often do risky things such as having sex and getting into trouble with the law. Marijuana can also hurt how well your child does in school. Marijuana can change the brain in ways similar to cocaine, heroin or alcohol.
Ecstasy is a psychoactive (mind-altering) drug that can cause hallucinations. It also creates an amphetamine-like effect, or a calming sensation. This drug is also called MDMA, Adam and XTC. The drug may permanently damage brain cells called neurons, specifically the ones that deal with serotonin, a chemical that regulates emotions, memory, sleep, pain and other functions.
Drug addiction is a treatable disease and drug abuse can be stopped. Your child can overcome this with your help and the help of support groups, psychotherapy, medication, treatment programs and family counseling. These programs are customised to help your teenager lead a productive and normal life. (The News)