Although many kids, particularly teenagers, experiment with drugs and alcohol, they are often unaware of the risks involved with this experimentation. In truth, children and adolescents are at risk for social, academic and health problems related to drug abuse. Experimentation can lead to substance abuse and addiction as well. Some children might be aware of the risks but may believe that they are immune to these problems. It is therefore important that both children and their parents are aware of the risks involved in drug use.
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All young people who experiment with substances are at risk for health problems as well as addiction and dependency. It is often impossible to predict which children will develop dependency and which will not. However, certain factors lead to increased risk for developing substance dependence for young people. A family history of substance abuse increases risk, as does being depressed and having low self-esteem. Similarly, children who feel that they don't fit in or have problems with their peer groups are more likely to use and become addicted.
The most commonly used illegal drugs among young people include marijuana, stimulants (including cocaine, crack and speed), hallucinogens (such as LSD or PCP) and designer drugs (such as Ecstasy). Some children start abusing drugs as early as 12 or 13 years old. Young people who are involved in drug use early have a greater chance of developing addictions.
Abuse of prescription drugs among young people is on the rise. According to The Partnership at Drugfree.org, one in five teenagers reports having abused prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse includes using these drugs to get high or for reasons other than prescribed. Other legally available drugs include alcohol, inhalants (such as fumes from glues, aerosols and solvents) and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep and diet medications.
Young people who are having problems with substance abuse often try to hide their symptoms. There are, however, warning signs that a young person is struggling with substance problems. Physical signs include changes in sleep and eating patterns, rapid weight loss or gain and not attending to personal grooming habits. Behavioural signs can include truancy and poorer performance at school, stealing or borrowing a lot of money without explanation, secretive behaviour, changes in peer groups and increased problems with fights, accidents or legal problems. Psychological signs of drug abuse include changes in personality or attitude, mood swings and irritability, hyperactivity and agitation, lack of motivation and fear or paranoia.
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- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs, 2008.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: In Brief -- Preventing Drugs Use Among Children and Adolescents,
- The Partnership at Drugfree.org: Preventing Teen Abuse of Prescription Drugs Fact Sheet, 2010.
- Helpguide.org: Drug Abuse and Addiction, 2010.