No to drugs! - The low-down on the high
March 18-24 is being recognised as Global Teen Health Week, aimed at raising the profile of adolescent health. Below is an article from the Paediatrics Association of Jamaica.
Adolescents by nature like to explore new things and experience new activities. This can be one of their greatest assets but also a potential risk factor. This characteristic in conjunction with a desire to fit in, may put your child at risk of substance use, which continues to be a growing problem for our young people.
It is not uncommon for adolescents to experiment with a drug that is try it once or twice to see what it is like, especially if their friends are also trying or using it. However, adolescents may go on to use the drug more frequently, seeking out the high they first felt and then may progress to use even more regularly, with interference in their ability and desire to do schoolwork, attend school or continue their usual healthy activities. The worse-case scenario is when they go on to become dependent on the drug to be able to function on a day-to-day basis, needing the drug to even just feel normal.
Adolescents use drugs for many reasons - to fit in with their peers and or family members, to become socially acceptable, to relieve stress, depression, anxiety - as a type of self-medicating. They may also be influenced by the media they are exposed to and their cultural environment where, for some, it may be considered a rite of passage.
Although most teens who do experiment with a substance once do not go on to be addicted, we know that most adults who do have a drug problem started using drugs during adolescence. We do not and cannot know which adolescent will try a drug and go on to have problematic use and therefore as health providers, parents and caregivers, we must encourage our children and adolescents to not use any substances at all.
Each drug, whether it be alcohol, tobacco or marijuana to name a few, will affect the brain differently, but what is common is that they all release a chemical in the brain (dopamine) that controls reward and pleasure. This chemical response will encourage persons to use the drug again to receive similar pleasure.
Problematic for youngsters
Adolescents who go on to repeated and problematic use of drugs can and will experience a range of challenges, including deterioration of relationships with their family and friends; difficulty concentrating and poor memory and school performance, which may go on to being a school dropout, taking part in other high-risk behaviour such as driving under the influence of drugs (driving while high) and having unprotected sex.
Be aware of new methods of drug use such as e-cigarettes that, contrary to what many persons, including young people, think, have recently been confirmed to result in carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) being found in persons who use them. Also of concern and becoming increasingly popular, are edible forms of drugs such as marijuana brownies/ cookies, drug-infused candy and use of prescription drugs other than for their specific purpose.
SPEAK TO THEM
Speak to your child when they are young, and continue to do so through the teen years about the challenges with drug use and the pressure that they may face to try using a drug. Have a conversation with them, speaking in an open and honest fashion, calmly and not aggressively. Seize suitable moments, for example, after a scene in a movie or sitcom, or after a song that you've listened to in the car or bus that deals with drugs. Encourage them to choose friends that don't use drugs and to avoid those that do. Let them know it's okay to say 'no' to drugs and to practise how they can say 'no' when it is offered to them - because it will be. Get to know your children's friends, know where your child is and know who they are with. Get them engaged in healthy activities such as team sports or other extracurricular activities to help protect them against starting risky behaviour.
Communication is key! Speak regularly with your teen. Start at the point of trusting your child and encourage him/her to maintain that trust.
If you suspect that your child, your relative or even yourself, may have a drug problem, the time to get help is now. Speak to your doctor about these concerns and get help earlier rather than later.
- Dr Abigail Harrison is consultant paediatrician/adolescent medicine physician, University of the West Indies and Paediatric Association of Jamaica president.