The dangers of drugs are real. Your child will have contact with drugs before they leave home. What they do is determined by a range of factors. Your input as a parent is obviously key in this. Teenagehood and early adulthood are delicate periods, and most addictions begin around this time. Parents need to be sensitive and discerning to catch any drug addiction early. But at the same time not every teenager who tries drugs will end up addicted. Any conversation about drugs needs to reflect the reality. Having a hard line that all drugs are equally bad will ensure that your child will not listen to you as they know this is not the case. Admittedly, that’s not an easy task and must be preemptive. By the time signs of drug use manifest physically enough to be easily noticeable, the teenager is already in trouble, making it even more challenging to deal with. Talking about drugs would count as a difficult conversation, especially if you may think your child is already involved. We give advice about having difficult conversations here.
To avoid this, parents need to educate themselves on the subtle signs of drug use sufficiently. Early, casual drug use symptoms show up as loss of interest in activities and family, hidden phone use and an interest in money. Other signs could easily just be due to puberty and growing up. In between these behavioral signs, the child might also show some physical signs. They include irritability, puffy face, rapid weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, larger pupils, and disregard for hygiene. Whatever our personal experiences of drugs as a teenager, we need to be aware that it can significantly affect some. It can quickly go beyond casual cannabis at parties. If you feel that it is due to toxic friendships we give specific advice as to when and how to intervene in friendships.
Why Children Do Drugs?
For the same reasons as you or others might have done. Adolescence brings with it an impulsiveness that pushes teenagers into behaviors that stun their parents. They can be attracted to the dangers of drugs. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.9 million adolescents in the US aged 12 – 17 years old had used illicit drugs within 30 days of the study. Besides that impulsiveness, there are other reasons why a teenager might try drugs. We have specific articles on vaping and alcohol which are worth a read.
- They are miseducated. In movies, and social media, drugs can get normalized to a harmful degree, especially for impressionable teenagers. Drugs are presented as a universal solution for almost everything.
- To boost their self-esteem. Many teenagers struggle with their self-esteem during their teenage years. This struggle increases a teen’s desire for social acceptance, which encourages them to blend in with the crowd. Or to appear tough and grown up. This need to be accepted or the impression that they are trying to give may make it likely that they will try drugs.
- To deal with stress. ‘Life – Its better to be out of it than in it’. Children and teenagers get committed to a lot these days. Having expectations of your teenager is by no means bad. But parents, teachers, and caregivers often fail to find a balance that works for teenagers. This can prompt teenagers to turn to drugs to cope with the stress. A recent study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America showed that 73 percent of teens report the number-one reason for using drugs is to deal with the pressures and stress of school. Here is an article on how to help your child deal with anxiety.
- They are bored. This might seem like a flimsy reason for anyone to start drugs. But for a teenager, it’s not. When teenagers have too much time on their hands, they look for ways to fill that time. Drugs might just be how they do it. Teenagers need to be sufficiently engaged in a balanced way. Here are some suggestions on sports or other activities that children can be involved in.
- They have easy access. Ease of access can influence teenagers. This is why parents need to be selective in choosing the environment their children spend time in. A school that has a lax policy on drugs allows teenagers the free hand to do drugs. Likewise, living in a neighborhood with a high amount of drug users. Teenagers can also take drugs from their parents’ stash.
- To improve their performance. It is not only ‘bad kids’ who might be involved in drugs. For some life is about competing at every point. If your child is to have a chance at success, they have to compete. However, sometimes too much is expected of many teenagers. Either from themselves or parents are occasionally guilty of piling the pressure on. When it becomes too much, teenagers can turn to performance-enhancing drugs. They simply want to live up to all the expectations. The dangers of drugs seem less than the danger of failing.
Dangers of Drugs Use for Children and Teenagers
Drug use is prevalent among teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol are substances most commonly used by adolescents. About half of 9th through 12th grade students reported having used marijuana. While 4 in 10 9th through 12th-grade students reported having tried cigarettes. Among 12th graders, close to 2 in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription. These drugs can have devastating effects, mainly because a teenager’s brain is still in development until around 25. Below are some effects of drug abuse on children and teenagers.
- They could overdose. At the mention of a drug overdose, most people imagine someone taking an incredible amount of drugs. But that’s not how it works. Anyone can overdose from a small amount of drugs. Each drug affects the body differently, and your child can get sick from any drug they take from a single use. This usually happens when the body is already dealing with toxins and couldn’t detoxify quickly enough. When this happens, the body fails to function as it should, leading to any number of health challenges or even death.
- They could damage their immune system. Drug abuse puts a strain on the immune system over time. Drugs can affect the cells in the digestive tract, slowing down the production of the enzymes the body needs for digestion. Some substances can also reduce the multiplication of white blood cells, which reduces the body’s effectiveness in fighting deadly diseases like cancer.
- They could damage their respiratory organs. Marijuana, tobacco, and other inhaled drugs go through the lungs and other supporting organs. The smoke from these substances can do severe harm. Marijuana smoke contains toxins that cause inflammation to the lungs. Other substances, methamphetamines, for example, cause dehydration because they dry mucous membranes in the body. This leaves a teenager susceptible to disease and infection.
- Could impact their cardiovascular health. The high and energy that a teenager gets from cocaine results from the stimulating effect of the drug. That stimulation increases their heart rate and elevates their blood pressure, altering how the heart works every time they take cocaine or other stimulants. High blood pressure seems like something that happens to only the elderly. But a study led by Rebecca Kozor, a clinical cardiologist and non-invasive imaging specialist, found that it can occur in the young and healthy, even teenagers who do drugs occasionally.
- Could alter their brain. The brain feels the impact of the toxins in the substances teenagers take the most. This can result in a teenager losing memory function, reasoning, and motor skills. It might be even worse when a teenager uses drugs for a long time. Panic attacks, hallucinations, withdrawal, depression, and suicide are all associated with prolonged drug abuse. In cases of prolonged usage, these substances remap and restructure the brain or cause a chemical imbalance that leads to suicide.
Talking to Your Child About the Dangers of Drugs
That you think your child is aware of the dangers of drugs shouldn’t stop you from having conversations with them about it. For one, your child may have some misconceptions about kids taking drugs. Without a conversation, you may not know what those misconceptions are and how to correct them. Below are some practical steps on how to talk to your child about drugs.
- You need to start early. When it comes to important conversations, age is always a determinant. But sometimes, parents fall into the cycle of postponing talks over and over again because they think the child isn’t old enough. You can start the discussion about drugs as early as five and then ease the child into it. Start by explaining why you give them those medications for cold or cough. Let them know that all medicines have risks and must be taken with utmost care.
- Keep an open mind and try to put yourself in their shoes. Conversations are productive when you keep an open mind and consider things from the other person’s perspective. This means that you need to have conversations, not lectures. You’re likely to come off as judgmental if you lecture, and that may only get your teen to shut you out and stop listening. Whereas a conversation gives your teenager space to talk and for you to listen. This way, you understand their point of view better.
- Be as clear as possible. The uncertainty that comes with having a crucial conversation with a young child can make a parent talk in vague terms. That does the child no good. At best, the child has a small idea of what their parent is talking about. At worst, they miss the whole point, latching onto another version that may be harmful too. You need to be direct with your words and strict with boundaries. Let the child know that under no circumstances is it okay for them to take drugs.
- Emphasize the effects of drugs. You don’t need to scare your child, only to make sure that they understand how harmful drugs can be. Touch on the short and long-term effects. Doing drugs can affect their physical and mental well-being. The result can affect their immediate and future success. Try and stick to factual drug information for kids.
- Touch on peer pressure. Peer pressure affects even adults. As humans, we have a desire to be liked and to belong. That desire can make a child do things that even they know are wrong. Therefore, endeavor to talk about the effects of peer pressure with your child. They need to know that they always have a choice and can choose to rise above the crowd. Explain to them that they don’t have to be at the mercy of the whims of others. Roleplay with your child if you can. It can help build their ability to say no if they don’t want to do something, no matter who is asking.
Final Thoughts on the Dangers of Drugs
Addiction is genetic to an extent. A NIDA-funded study found over 400 locations in the genome and at least 566 variants within these locations that influence smoking or alcohol use. This increases the odds that your child might pick up an addiction. You need to know your child’s genetic risks. However, this knowledge sets nothing in stone. Just because your family has a history of addiction doesn’t mean that your child will definitely grow up to be an addict. Just take precautions without making it seem like your child is doomed. Drugs are quite likely to be one of your main sources of parental anxiety. Make sure that you don’t bury your head in the sand, but rather are pro-active in talking with your child.