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The Adverse Effects of Teens and Drug Use

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Is it possible to use illicit drugs, but not abuse them? I know that marijuana has medicinal qualities as well as other non-beneficial side effects. Can it use be regulated for recreational use, but not abused? Teenagers often experiment with a variety of activities and substances. Unfortunately, this experimentation can lead to substance abuse and addiction. Statistics show that drug abuse is a growing problem among teens. In addition to cocaine, Ecstasy and other club drugs, a recent Monitoring the Future Study showed that the top six most abused drugs by teens are: marijuana (31.5%), Vicodin (9.7%), amphetamines (8.1%), cough medicine (6.9%), sedatives & tranquilizers (6.6% each). Without treatment, the effects of drug abuse on teens can lead to serious consequences now and well into adulthood.

Drug abuse at any age can cause serious health effects, but teens who abuse drugs are at particular risk for negative consequences. Teens who abuse drugs are more likely to struggle with addiction later in life and have permanent and irreversible brain damage. Some other common negative effects of teen drug abuse are: * Emotional problems. Drug abuse can cause or mask emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia. In fact, among teens with major depression, 34.6 percent report using drugs. Unfortunately, drug use can also increase the severity of these emotional problems. For example, teens that use marijuana weekly double their risk of depression and anxiety.

* Behavioral problems. Teens who abuse drugs have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, teens who abuse drugs are more likely than teens who don’t abuse drugs to engage in delinquent behaviors such as fighting and stealing.

* Addiction and dependence. Studies prove that the younger a person is when they begin using drugs the more likely they are to develop a substance abuse problem and relapse later in life.

* Risky sex. Teens that use drugs are five times more likely to have sex than teens who don’t use drugs. Teens that use drugs are also more likely to have unprotected sex and have sex with a stranger. This leads to higher risks of STDs, teen pregnancy and sexual assault.

* Learning problems. Drug abuse damages short-term and long-term memory and can lead to problems with learning and memory later in life.

* Diseases. Teens who abuse drugs with needles increase their risk of blood-borne diseases like HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.

* Brain damage. Drug abuse among teens can result in serious mental disorders or permanent, irreversible damage to the brain or nervous system. Brain damage among teens who abuse drugs includes brain shrinkage; impaired learning abilities; amnesia and memory problems; impaired reasoning, perception and intuition; increased or decreased socialization; and changes in sexual desire.

* Car accidents. Teenagers who abuse drugs are more likely to be involved in car accident-related injuries or death. One study showed that 4 to 14 percent of drivers who are injured or die in traffic accidents test positive for THC.

Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age has negative health effects. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others. It is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which will develop serious problems. Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those:

* with a family history of substance abuse
* who are depressed
* who have low self-esteem, and
* who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream

Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescribed medications, inhalants (fumes from glues, aerosols, and solvents) and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana (pot), stimulants (cocaine, crack, and speed), LSD, PCP, opiates, heroin, and designer drugs (Ecstasy). The use of illegal drugs is increasing, especially among young teens. The average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before age 12. The use of marijuana and alcohol in high school has become common. Drug use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide. Parents can prevent their children from using drugs by talking to them about drugs, open communication, role modeling, responsible behavior, and recognizing if problems are developing.

Warning signs of teenage alcohol and drug abuse may include:

Physical: Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.

Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, and a general lack of interest.

Family: starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.

School: decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.

Social problems: new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music.

Some of the warning signs listed above can also be signs of other problems. Parents may recognize signs of trouble and possible abuse of alcohol and other drugs with their teenager. If you have concerns you may want to consult a physician to rule out physical causes of the warning signs. This should often be followed or accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or mental health professional.

The prospect of drug use frightens many parents and with good reason. But many parents mistakenly believe there is nothing they can do to protect their children. While parents cannot completely prevent their children’s eventual exposure to alcohol and other drugs, there are steps parents can take to reduce the potential risks. First, parents themselves must become informed about the risks and dangers of adolescent drug use as discussed in the previous section and become familiar with the alcohol and drug situation within their own communities. Today’s youth are most likely to use and abuse alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and inhalants. However, youth are still at risk for using other substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine, hallucinogens, or steroids. The type of drugs youth choose to use depends upon the availability and popularity of particular drugs within their community, neighborhood, and culture. Parents can familiarize themselves with the local drug situation by contacting their local police or child’s school resource officer.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (CDC, 2009), 72.5% of high school youth reported they had drunk alcohol at some point in their life, and 41.8% of the responders reported they had drank in the previous month (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010). Using alcohol can cause a person to feel more relaxed and more euphoric in the early stages of intoxication. More worrisome, 24.2% the youth reported they had participated in binge drinking, which was defined as consuming 4-5 drinks or more within a few hours (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010). Binge drinking seriously increases the risk of youth becoming intoxicated and becoming involved in dangerous situations as their inhibitions are lessened. It also increases the risk of a youth overdosing or experiencing alcohol poisoning. The survey also reported that 46.3% of youth had smoked a cigarette at least once in their life, and 19.5% reported using cigarettes currently. Furthermore, 26% of youth reported they are currently using some form of tobacco (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010).

The primary ingredient in tobacco is nicotine, which is a highly-addictive stimulant. Moreover, 36.8% of the respondents reported using marijuana at some point in life, and 20.8% of them reported having used in the previous month (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010). The survey also found that 20.2% of youth reported taking prescription drugs that hadn’t been prescribed to them (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010). Strong pain medications like Oxycontin, Percocet®, and Vicodin® and anxiety medications like Xanex® can create pleasurable feelings when abused outside their prescribed use. Medications meant to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) like Ritalin® or Adderall® can cause people without ADD to have unlimited energy and reduces the need to sleep. Some youth abuse these drugs to experience the high, but others abuse them to increase their ability to do schoolwork, work, and other activities and reduce the need for sleep. The survey did not ask youth about over-the-counter drug use for reasons other than directed uses, but professionals worry that youth are getting high off of substances like those found in cough and cold medicines as well. Of the youth who completed the survey, 11.7% of youth reported having used inhalants in the past to get high (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, et al., 2010).

Youth choose to “huff” chemicals, such as the fumes from gasoline, spray paint, or glue or inhaling the contents of aerosol household products, such as computer keyboard cleaner or room deodorizers. The chemicals in these products can cut off the oxygen supply to the brain. While this creates a sensation that youth can find thrilling or pleasurable, it can also cause short-term and long-term brain damage and even immediate death. Once parents have become informed about the risks of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and understand the local drug situation in their community, they are better prepared to take the necessary steps to educate and protect their youth. Furthermore, informed parents are better able to identify the early signs of alcohol and other drug use. As such, they are in a better position to intervene quickly and effectively, and to seek professional guidance and medical intervention when necessary. 1) Model Healthy Behavior

First and foremost, parents and caregivers need to model healthy behaviors around alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. It’s important that parents are abstaining from illegal drugs and tobacco, as youth pay more attention to what their parents do than what their parents say. While many adults may choose to indulge in occasional alcohol use, it’s important that youth observe their parents and other adults using alcohol in a responsible way. This means parents consume alcoholic beverages infrequently and only in moderation. Parents should not drink to the point of intoxication, and youth should observe their parents strictly avoid drinking and driving either by using public transportation, or having a sober designated driver when socializing with friends. If parents feel they are struggling with their own alcohol, tobacco, or drug use, they should make attempts to get help to address these issues. Parents can find help at websites like www.smokefree.gov or http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov.

2) Talk to Youth About Tobacco, Alcohol, and Other Drug Use

Parents also need to talk to their youth early and often about substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Some parents fear that talking with their youth about alcohol and other drugs “puts ideas into their head.” But parents must understand that youth are talking about alcohol and other drugs with each other. Therefore, parents’ silence on the subject is ill-advised, and may appear to communicate parental indifference to drug use. Furthermore, youth are talking about, and even experimenting with these substances at younger and younger ages. Therefore, parents should begin talking with their children about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs around ages 11-12 years, even though this may seem may seem too early for such a discussion.

It’s important that the conversation is a two-way discussion, and not just educational lectures. Parents should listen to their children talk about these substances, and parents should communicate their understanding of children’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about drug use. Children should be encouraged to discuss their opinions about people’s decisions to use drugs, and to discuss their curiosities and questions about drugs. Parents can use these conversations to educate youth about the risks of drug use and these conversations can help youth to identify how drug use can negatively impact their plans, goals, and dreams. Despite the fact that youth need to be educated about the risks, parents and other guardians should not rely on scare tactics to deter youth from using drugs, as youth will still experience temptations to experiment, and have a keen desire to fit in with their peers.

Furthermore, like most important topics, parents should not rely on a single discussion. Instead, these issues will need to be discussed throughout the teen years because youth may encounter new temptations and may forget or minimize the risks of experimentation as they mature. Parents often struggle with how to initiate these discussions. Current events in the news can be a good springboard for discussion (for example reports of drug use by a famous sports icon, or movie star). Similarly, popular movies and television shows often touch upon the topic. Parents and youth can discuss how drug and alcohol use affected a character in the movie or television show. Or, if drug and alcohol use was inaccurately depicted (for instance humor surrounding drunkenness) parents and youth can discuss the realities that were omitted or distorted.

3) Practice and Rehearse Refusal Skills

Parents and youth should expect that at some point, someone is going to offer them a cigarette, an alcoholic drink, and an illegal drug or other intoxicating substance. Many youth are caught off-guard and acquiesce simply because they were not prepared for handling such a scenario. For this reason, parents can help their youth practice assertively declining such an invitation through the use of role plays.

4) Set Clear Expectations That Are Consistent With the Law

Besides talking to youth about the risks of using substances, parents need to express clear rules and expectations around teen substance use. At a minimum parents should establish rules that are consistent with state and federal laws. Youth should not be allowed to smoke or use any tobacco product before they turn 18, and they shouldn’t be allowed to drink until they are 21. Illegal drugs are off-limits for the same reasons; because in fact, they are illegal. Parents need to make these boundaries clear. Therefore, parents should not provide their youth with alcohol or tobacco, or allow any youth to use alcohol or tobacco while in their presence. Some parents may wish to make an exception for substances used during sacred religious events or important family traditions. For instance, in the Catholic tradition, the consumption of a small amount of wine is part of a holy sacrament and in the Lakota tradition, tobacco may be consumed during a sweat lodge purification ceremony.

Parents should also restrict teens’ access to these substances in their own home. There should be no tobacco products or illegal drugs in a youth’s home for them to gain access to. As alcohol can be legally consumed by adults, some parents will have alcohol in their home. However, parents need to carefully protect and monitor any alcoholic beverages in their homes. The liquor cabinet or wine cabinet should be locked, and parents should monitor alcoholic beverages stored in the refrigerator to be sure these beverages are only consumed by adult members of the household and aren’t mysteriously disappearing. Furthermore, parents should be careful how they store over-the-counter and prescription medications, as most youth who misuse medications get them from home. Only limited quantities of common over-the-counter medications should be accessible in common areas in the home. Parents’ prescription medications should be locked up in the parents’ bedroom, bathroom, or safe and should be monitored to make sure pills or doses aren’t disappearing. Furthermore, parents should be sure to dispose of any unused or unneeded medication as soon as possible. Ask a local pharmacist for the best and safest way to dispose of unused medications.

Furthermore, parents should never allow their teens or their friends to drink or smoke in their home with or without their direct supervision. Some parents feel that allowing youth to have drinking parties in a home with parental supervision will allow youth to experiment with alcohol in a safe manner. However, this arrangement is illegal. It is illegal for adults to provide alcohol or tobacco products to underage youth. Parents who knowingly allow youth to drink alcohol under their roof can be found guilty of providing alcohol to underage youth. In addition, several states are considering stricter laws that would make parents liable for any injury or death that occurs as a result of teenage consumption at their home.

Parents should make it clear that they do not want their children to be with their friends when they are engaging in illegal activities (stealing, property damage, drug and alcohol use, etc.). From a legal and common sense approach, there is guilt by association. Furthermore this rule has the added benefit of eliminating arguments about who was, and was not, drinking. Youth need to know that it is wrong to be with people who are violating the law even if they themselves do not directly engage in the illegal activity. Of course, there may be times when youth find themselves unexpectedly in a circumstance when friends decide to use drugs and alcohol. In this case, they should initiate a previously determined lifesaver or safety plan.

5) Establish Consequences for Tobacco, Alcohol, or Other Drug Use

Parents need to prepare their youth that there will be consequences for using these substances, just as there are consequences for breaking other rules. For example, a sixteen-year-old needs to know that if he’s caught drinking, smoking, or experimenting with drugs, there will be a consequence such as grounding, loss of privileges, or extra chores. If youth operate a motor vehicle or break another rule after drinking or using substances, the consequences will be greater. For older adolescents who still live at home, parents should still enforce rules about illegal substance use. Although these adolescents may have reached the age where they can legally drink or smoke, parents still have the right to establish what behaviors are acceptable in their home. Many adults do not permit other adult guests to smoke or drink in their home and their older adolescent children should be no exception. For youth who reside independently, parents can withhold financial support if they belief their youth are abusing alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

6) Develop a Lifesaver or Safety Plan

Parents must strike a balance between enforcing clear rules and ensuring their youth’s safety. Sometimes youth can make a single poor decision that results in their safety being compromised; for instance, youth might have decided to experiment with alcohol or another drug and may have misjudged the dose and related effects thereby placing their life in danger. Or, they may find themselves in a dangerous situation over which they have no control; for example, they may have ridden to a party with a friend who subsequently started drinking or using drugs at the party. Additionally, intoxicated youth can easily become lost and may find themselves in a dangerous part of town. On these occasions, youth may fail to ask for help for fear of getting into trouble; and yet, failing to ask for help may put their life in danger.

Therefore, parents and youth should develop an agreement in advance, sometimes called the lifesaver or safety plan: If youth should ever find themselves in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation they can call their parents at any time and get help with no questions asked. Their agreement should specify when youth contact their parents and evoke “the agreement,” their parents will come to pick them up and there will be no further discussion about the incident until the following day, when everyone will be sober, calm, and rested. During that conversation, youth should be permitted to discuss what occurred. Parents should help youth to reflect on what they might have done differently. Parents should determine what consequences, if any, should be applied. It is suggested that parents should apply some leniency if they determine that the youth realized they made poor choices and asked for help. Parents want to reinforce that their youth’s willingness to call for help was a good decision, despite the poor choices which made it necessary for them to call for help in the first place.

7)Know When to Seek Professional Help

If parents realize that they are disciplining their youth multiple times for the same or similar substance-related issues or that their children are showing signs of possible drug or substance use, they should seek professional help. Some signs of possible drug use can mimic signs of other emotional problems. These can include declining grades, reports of poor school attendance, behavioral or angry outbursts at school or at home, loss of interest in activities they used to find enjoyable, isolation from friends or family, drastic change in friendship groups, significant changes in personal style and grooming, significant decline in personal hygiene, significant changes in mood, or changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Other signs are more directly linked to alcohol and drug use such as: unusual odors or excessive use of perfumes, air fresheners, and mouth wash; finding cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia in the teen’s laundry, book bag, room, or other belongings; or visible signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, watery or red eyes, or loss of coordination. If youth experience any legal problems or school discipline problems at school due to drug or alcohol use, it is also an immediate sign that a parent needs to seek help for their child.

Parents should consult with their family doctor or pediatrician if they are concerned about their teen’s drug use. There are also counselors and therapists who can assess a youth’s current substance use and make recommendations about how to help youth. There are some at-home drug testing kits on the market that parents may feel tempted to use to determine if their teen is on drugs. However, it’s best for parents to use a professional therapist or chemical dependency counselor to do a full assessment, as these assessments factor in many other variables other than if there are currently substances in their system. Parents can look here http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ for substance abuse assessment providers and treatment resources in their area.

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