What Should Mothers Do About Kids Using Drugs
Like everything vile in this world, drug use or what is now referred to as Drug Use Disorder has infiltrated our lives and left a devastating mess in its wake. Research shows that drug use often starts in the teen years and the younger a child user is, the more likely he or she is to get addicted later on in their life.
What is even more disturbing, according to official reports is that kids as young as 7 and eight are either using or have tried Class A drugs, such as cocaine. Current drug use trends have revealed that teens are now using bizarre mind-altering substances such as embalming fluid along with various synthetic and organic drugs whose effects haven’t been studied and are often undetectable.
About Drug Use Disorder
Simply put, drug use disorder is the use of mood or mind-altering substances such as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription drugs, or illegal street drugs for the sole purpose of getting high. Drug use disorder has become a worldwide pandemic that not only affects the user, but one that also affects families and those around them directly or indirectly. For some, a one time or infrequent use of drugs can result in tragedy, and for those who do not use drugs, they too could become a victim of a drug-related crime.
Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain and body in various ways, and when abused, they can lead to detrimental effects on the brain and body’s functions and even cause permanent impairment to them even after a user has stopped taking them. Whether ingested, inhaled, or injected, drug use affects the overall “reward system” or euphoric system of the brain, consequently flooding it with dopamine and causing a spike or abnormal dopamine levels in it. It’s the feeling of euphoria that makes a user to crave drug intake more, subsequently leading to dependence and addictive behavior. In addition to causing drug dependency, drug use can also lead to the following health effects:
- A weakened immune system and abdominal problems such as vomiting, nausea, and pain
- Cardiovascular problems such as collapsed veins, abnormal heart palpitations, infected blood vessels and heart valves, etc
- Liver cirrhosis and failure
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Cognitive impairment
Research shows that brain development is still in progress during teenage years and maturation occur from the back of the brain to the front. The immature brain region known as the prefrontal cortex, which in essence, is responsible for high-level reasoning and decision-making is what places teenagers at an elevated risk to the effects of drugs use and dependency.
This helps explain why some teenagers make risky decisions that lead to safety issues and health concerns. Not only is the prefrontal area of the brain responsible for planning, good judgment, decision-making, and impulse control, but it also plays an important role in forming adult personality and behavior. Research has found that juvenile drug use could cause severe, long-term and irreversible changes in this area and consequently lead to learning and memory issues.
Causes of drug use disorder
Addiction, be it of alcohol or drugs is a brain disorder whose consequences is craving, seeking, and using one or more substances, even though they are harmful to one’s overall health. Physical dependence is often part of addiction that may not necessarily develop an addiction, but it’s a state where a drug is used either achieve tolerance or cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the said drug is decreased or stopped. While some teenagers have a proclivity for addiction than others, there are a variety of reasons why they develop an addiction to drugs or experiment with them. Studies show that about 40% of a predisposition to addiction is genetically determined and teenagers with a predisposition are at a higher risk of using more powerful, addictive substances and consequently become addicted to drugs.
We all have the genetic predisposition for addiction. However, a child has an eight times greater chance of developing an addiction in the future if they have a parent who has a drug addiction. Additionally, a teenager can also start out with a low genetic predisposition for addiction but a habitual abuse of drugs, which in essence, rewires the brain can lead to full-blown drug use disorder.
There are teenagers who come from addicted families but managed to overcome their family history and live happy lives. However, 50% of drug use disorder can also be as a result of poor coping skills, in fact, early childhood trauma such as parental neglect or abuse has been linked to teenage vulnerability to self-medicate as a coping mechanism. Some people will use drugs or alcohol to cope with life’s ills such as guilt, death, anger, abuse, etc., and what in the beginning may seem a harmless attempt to numb emotional pain, later on, becomes an acquired habit that helps them get through a day.
The body eventually develops a tolerance to these substances, and such individuals find that they need to take more doses of drugs or alcohol to produce a higher mind-numbing effect. Teenagers that do not have healthy coping mechanisms or find it difficult even embarrassing to reach out to family or friends for help and support end up becoming fully dependent on mind-altering substances.
While 60% of drug addiction is attributed to a child’s environment, however, to get fully dependent on a drug, a kid has to get it from somewhere in order to try it first. Most parents assume that their children experiment on drugs and alcohol because they are rebellious and want to lash out. What is surprising is that teens report that they try drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine simply because these drugs are easy to get, prescription pills in particular. Other reasons why teenagers begin experimenting with drugs aside from using them as a form of escapism or coping mechanism is simply out of curiosity to know what it feels like to get high.
Also, teens who have low self-esteem issues are more likely to seek acceptance from the wrong crowd by using drugs. They will also turn to drugs either due to peer pressure or to help them feel confident enough to bond with a popular group or to make friends with them. Low self-esteem in teenagers between the age of thirteen and sixteen due to body image issues, lack of friends, or bullying often leads to self-destructive behaviors such as developing eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia) or relying on alcohol and drugs to be more comfortable in social situations.
Risks of kids using drugs
Marijuana is, arguably, the most common illegal drug abused by teens followed by ecstasy, cocaine, bath salts, PCP, methamphetamine, and heroin including inhalants such as paint, gas, cleaning liquids, or glue. Some kids will take drugs such as cocaine or Adderall to enhance energy and focus, marijuana and alcohol to “relax,” and ecstasy for lack of inhibition and enhanced sexual experience.
The short and long-term effects of drug abuse may differ from person to the next and may depend on a person’s age, gender, genetic makeup, and their current mental health state. Most of the abovementioned substances lend themselves to severe and life-threatening outcomes that can lead to significant impairment in many areas of a child’s life, from their school and interpersonal skills.
While different drugs affect the body differently, all drugs have a chemical effect in the brain contingent on the amount used, the potency of the drug, and whether it’s been combined with other mind-altering substances. The short-term effects of drugs use, particularly for an underdeveloped brain of a teenager may:
- Impair a teenager’s motor functioning
- Affect their thinking capacity, mood, and energy levels
- Impair their perception and consequently interfere with decision-making and problem-solving skills
- Reduce their inhibitions and cause a host of physical health problems such as contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) or unwanted pregnancies
Long-term drug use can have devastating physical and mental health consequences because as the body builds up a tolerance, it requires more of the drug to experience the desired high, eventually leading to drug use disorder. Chronic and persistent drug use will lead to long-term consequences such as cross-tolerance to other types of similar drugs, including:
- Life-threatening withdrawals dependent on the drug
- Suicidal ideations
- Chronic psychotic symptoms that don’t dissipate once the drug wears off
- Sexual dysfunction
- Irregular menses in teenage girls
- Intravenous consequences such as HIV, tuberculosis or hepatitis virus contraction, peripheral edema, abscesses, infection of the heart lining, etc
- Intranasal effects such as irritation and perforation of nasal lining and septum as well as bleeding
- Health issues such as decreased respiratory rate or slowed pulse, cancer, pancreatitis, low blood pressure, liver and kidney damage
- Psychological and mental dysfunction issues such as anxiety, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, sleep disorder, memory impairment, white matter damage in the brain
Types of drugs
As mentioned earlier, there are many types of drugs that kids are using that trigger an outright drug use disorder nowadays. These drugs fall into seven categories, each with its own set of physical and psychological effects and risks. Under the Controlled Substance Act, these drugs can be categorized in a number of ways, mainly by their chemical activity and how they the brain and body. Common classifications include:
- Marijuana (cannabis)
- New psychoactive substances (NPS)
The Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) legally classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and dependence. These drugs are classified into schedule I, II, III, IV, and V.
- Schedule I Drugs – include cannabis, ecstasy, GHB, heroin, LSD, mescaline, and methaqualone, all with a high potential for abuse and are not accepted for medical use.
- Schedule II Drugs – include cocaine, fentanyl, hydromorphone oxycodone, and hydrocodone. While some are currently accepted for medical use but with severe restrictions, they too have a high potential for abuse.
- Schedule III Drugs – include anabolic steroids, buprenorphine, and ketamine. They have a potential for abuse and misuse may lead to moderate physical and psychological dependence
- Schedule IV Drugs – include benzodiazepines, modafinil, and tramadol, which have a low potential for abuse, however, misuse may lead to physical and psychological dependence
- Schedule V Drugs – include low potential for abuse drugs such as diphenoxylate, lacosamide, and pregabalin
Regardless of the drug, the potential health risks are still the same. For example, a doctor may prescribe depressants such as Rohypnol, Xanax, Valium, Barbituates, or Benzodiazepines to mitigate conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder. While these drugs often offer a sedative experience to the user, they can be highly addictive especially for a highly stressed out teen who wants an escape. I addition to causing physical dependence, depressant abuse can also lead to both short and long-term effects such as:
- Impaired memory
- Sluggish thinking
- High risk of diabetes, high and low blood pressure, or weight gain
- Death from withdrawals
What to do
Your first reaction as a concerned parent once you find out that your child is using drugs is probably to lash out at them. It is an expected and natural reaction because all you want to do is protect them and keep them safe from harm. All forms of addictions have obvious and well-documented effects on the abuser overall health, and their behavior also affects those closest to him or her. When substance abuse is added to a family’s dynamic, it impacts its finances, physical health, and psychological well-being.
Families that were once close feel devastated by this seemingly willful act and most of the time they will find themselves guilt-tripping the addict in the family so that they can stop. Addiction is a disease, and the sooner family members of an addict realize this fact, the sooner they can put a contingency plan in place to seek the appropriate help. In most cases, an addict won’t even realize the hurt and discord he or she is causing the family because all they care about is their next fix, depending on their level of addiction or drug of choice.
It’s important to remain calm when dealing with a drug using teenager. It’s very easy to blame yourself and think that you have failed as a parent, but it’s important not to instead, responding with love and knowing that you are not alone will help you to remain focused enough to determine what needs to be done. A teenager who is hooked on drugs is extremely fragile, and a good rule of thumb that psychologists swear by is to keep lines of communication open, reserve your judgment and allow your child to open up to you.
It is for this reason that parents need to be vigilant and watch out for some tell-tale signs of drug use among their teenage children. Which brings us to the next point.
Warning Signs of teen drug use
Teenagers are habitually short-tempered, defensive, morose; they want their privacy and most of the time they just want to be left alone. This is what confuses most parents because they wonder whether their child is acting like a typical teenager or behaving differently as a result of drug use, emotional or behavioral difficulties, or due to mental illness. It can be difficult to tell the difference between normal problems that all teenagers experience from time to time and symptoms of drug use. You may notice that your teenager experiences episodes of extreme moodiness, anxiety, defeat or being too overwhelmed, but such episodes shouldn’t carry on more than a few days.
There are, however, certain warning signs that may you determine whether your teenage child is using drugs, the key is to look for new changes. For example, your child may have been a calm and subdued teenager but suddenly becomes very augmentative to the point of being physically violent for no apparent reason. Physical signs to look out for include:
- Inability to sleep or oversleeping
- Tremors or shakiness in the hands or feet
- A cough, runny nose, and frequently rubbing the nose
- Cold or sweaty palms
- Lack of physical coordination
- Red or watery eyes
- Pupil dilation
- Teeth grinding
- Sluggishness, laziness, hyperactivity, or talkativeness
- Flashing or pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
Behavioral signs of drug use are almost always confused with “normal” adolescent behavior such as loss of interest in family activity, loss of motivation, self-esteem issues, changes in hobbies, etc. As a parent, you know your child’s behavior probably like the back of your palm, and certain behavioral shifts are bound to raise a warning flag, for instance.
- Neglect of personal hygiene habits
- Suspicious and secretive behavior
- Skipping school
- A serious drop in grades
- Excessive desire for privacy and frequently being unreachable
- Being overly forgetful
- Unexplained temper tantrums, giddiness, moodiness, nervousness, irritability
- A sudden need for cash
- Stealing prescription medications
- Mysterious scratches, bruises, injuries
How to prevent drug use disorder
Addiction is not a moral affliction but a serious and progressive mental illness that affects people from all cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Like other mental illnesses, genetics, childhood experiences, environment, peer pressure, play a significant role in the development of drug use disorder. While these risk factors do not always determine a teenager’s proclivity to drug use, it’s important, especially for families with a history of chemical dependence to address and educate their children about the risks of drug use beforehand.
Substance abuse education should begin with parents assuming the majority of the responsibility and talking candidly to their children about the risk of drug use whether or not drug prevention programs are being offered at school. Special care should be taken especially with a teenager who has a psychiatric condition such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression. While not all with such conditions turn to substance abuse, such children are at a higher risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem in the future.
It is not uncommon for psychiatric conditions including emotional and behavioral problems to trigger and even escalate drug use disorder in teenagers. Therefore, managing underlying mental health conditions is important in order to mitigate future drug use or dependence. Teenagers who have been faced with traumatic events such as being victims of sexual abuse or witnessing a disturbing incident have been shown to be at a very high risk of substance abuse. While we can’t always be there to protect our children, it is important that parents do all they can to ensure that a child with a traumatic history gets the help they need as soon as possible.
It is worth mentioning that there are teenagers who come from very warm, happy and healthy families but still experiment in drugs. Whether a child is taking drugs for the fun of it or because they think it’s a “cool” thing to do, a one-time use can also turn into a drug use disorder if there are no early intervention measures in place. Parents who have a good reason to believe that their teenage child is using drugs must begin addressing the issue as soon as possible.
Being a teenager today is very challenging. They are constantly under a lot of pressure with school, sports, relationships, the list is endless. It’s important for parents to teach them good techniques to handle everyday stresses. This way you can rest assured knowing that your teenage son or daughter will use good judgment when it comes to drug use. It’s also important to model good behavior as a parent. You cannot preach water and drink wine. Kids are very good at emulating behavior, not thanks to their underdeveloped brains and doing things like getting drunk, smoking, or self-medicating in full view of your child may lead to such behavior in the future.
In addition to watching out for signs of drug use such as depression, falling grades, isolation, etc., parents can also keep their children off drugs by:
- Keeping them active
- Keeping prescription drugs away from their reach
- Knowing their children’s friends and
- Never leave them unsupervised for too long