Substance abuse

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Used as prescribed or directed, medicines improve our lives. When misused and abused, the opposite is true, and the consequences of this behaviour are devastating, particularly among teens (The Medicine, n.d.). 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 (Facts for Families, n.d).

Teen drug abuse is an epidemic. An epidemic that is poised to not get better. Findings from The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, show that one in four teens in the US has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime. That is a 33 percent increase since 2008. This translates to about 5 million teens, almost twice the population of Chicago (Peer Rx, 2013).

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). While some young adults will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally without experiencing significant problems, others develop a dependency. This could potentially lead them to more dangerous drugs causing not only problems to themselves, but possibly to others (Facts for Families, n.d).

Our society has become very familiar with the common use of prescription (Rx) and over the counter (OTC) medications. As new medicines for relieving symptoms come to market, they are heavily endorsed with their images advertised in newspapers, magazines, on television and the internet, raising our understanding of the conditions they treat. As a result, teens have grown up associating medicine with solving problems, and have a heightened awareness of prescription and over the counter medicines (The Medicine, n.d.). Along with the familiarity, teens also have easy access to many medications. Two-thirds (66 percent) of teens who report abuse of prescription pain relievers are getting them from friends, family and acquaintances (CADCA, 2013). It is very important that parents and/or caregivers safeguard and properly dispose of all prescription drugs.

While some teens abuse medicine to party and get high, many are using medicine to manage stress or regulate their lives. Some are abusing prescription stimulants to provide additional energy and increase their ability to focus when they’re studying or taking tests. Many teens are abusing pain relievers, tranquillisers and over-the-counter cough medicine to cope with academic, social or emotional stress (CADCA, 2013).

Although there are a wide variety of teenagers who abuse drugs, the ones who are the most risk to develop serious drug problems include those: who are depressed, have low self-esteem, who feel like they don’t fit in, and those with a family history of substance abuse disorders (Peer Rx, 2013). Research conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree.org shows that parents are not communicating the risks of prescription medicine abuse to their children as often as they talk about street drugs. This is partly because some parents are unaware of the behaviour, and partly because those who are aware of teen medicine abuse tend to underestimate the risks, just as teens do. This statistic drastically needs changed. One step we can all take is to have frequent talks with the teens in our lives about the dangers of wrongful medicine use. At The Partnership at Drugfree.org, we know that kids who learn about the dangers of drugs and alcohol early and often are much less likely to develop addiction than those who do not receive these critical messages at home (The Medicine, n.d.).

43% of teens indicate prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs. One-third of teens say “it’s okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness, or pain.” More than four in ten teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug obtained it from their parent’s medicine cabinet. One in five kids who reports having misused or abused a prescription drug before the age of 14. One in five parents indicates that they have given their teen a prescription drug that was not prescribed for them (The Medicine, n.d.).

The biggest mistake a parent can make is assuming that their child will not become addicted, or have a drug problem. Teens who know their parents do not approve of drug use are less likely to use – and vice versa. However, being firm is one thing, but “laying down the law” in a moralistic way can close off lines of communication. Parents should not be judgmental or jump to conclusions when a teenager is trying to speak to them. This will make the teenager stray from discussing these things in the future (CBS News, 2013). Another big mistake that parents tend to make is not paying attention to the changes in their teenager’s life. As the teen gets older, many things will take place in their lives. If the parent does not have an insight to any of these things, they may have a barrier to communication. Keeping track of how the child’s life is going: changing friends, break-up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, being bullied, having trouble in school. These are just a few things that one could experience throughout their teenage years. Each of these things will affect the teenager. If a parent is not aware that these are happening, in order to let the child talk with them, or find some help for the child, the problem is just going to grow.

If a parent is active in the child’s life, they would be able to easily notice an issue. This will simulate talking more easily, and help the child to not choose drugs as the go to “pick me up”. As the number in teenage drug abuse raises each year, so does the amount of help. There are constantly new websites, books, self-help groups, etc. for someone to obtain help. From a parent’s point of view, there are a number of these things as well. Many people across the world are ready, willing, and able to take a stand and help with this problem.