How to recognise if your child has a drug problem

2008-06-04 00:00

As Youth Day approaches it is pertinent to consider a major problem affecting young people worldwide — the consumption of drugs. Drugs are a major cause of indiscipline in the school system, the family institution and the society at large.

Teenagers may be involved with alcohol and illegal drugs in various ways. 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 immune to the problems that others experience.

Parents and teachers need to remind their teenage children that using tobacco and alcohol at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later in life. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally without significant problems. It is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which ones will develop serious social and psychological problems.

Others will develop dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because they make them feel good, reduce anxiety, feel grown up or fit in a peer group.

Teenagers at risk of developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those with a family history of substance abuse, those who are depressed, who have a low self-esteem, who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream culture of their peer group.

Research has shown that 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, cocaine, heroine and other stimulants. The use of marijuana is increasing, especially among our teens. Research studies have shown that the average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before the age of 12.

Marijuana use by adolescent children is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including school failure and poor judgment, which put teenagers at risk of accidents, violent behaviour, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.

Warning signs of teenagers’ alcohol and drug abuse may include the following.

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

• Emotional. The teenage child experiences personality changes that include sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behaviour, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression and a general lack of interest in school activities.

• Family. The child may start unnecessary arguments, break rules or withdraw from participating in family activities.

• School. The child shows a decreased interest in learning, negative attitudes, and a drastic drop in grades, and is often absent, plays truant and has discipline problems.

• Social problems. The child develops relationships with new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities. The child also finds him or herself in conflict with the law and there are marked changes to his or her style of dress and music.

However, some of the warning signs listed above can also be signs of other problems. An effective way is to show care and concern through open and constructive communication with the teenage children.

• Alois Nzembe has several years of teaching experience at both primary and high school levels. He is currently teaching Geography at Icesa College.

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