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Article. Published on Jan 12, 2018.

Teenage Experimentation with Alcohol & Drugs

Teenage Addiction

Teenagers have always held a fascination for alcohol and drugs. Over the last half century, especially, consuming these substances have been associated with the idea of being cool and for the clique-ridden halls of high school, being cool puts you on top of the hierarchy, making you popular. This has led to a lowering of the average age of first alcoholic drink. Early ages of first drink have long been associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in frequent and problematic use of alcohol in adolescents, as well as higher rates of alcoholism (Source 1 & 2).

Around the world, the prevalence of teenagers abusing drugs is at an all-time high. Despite the legal age for drinking in India lying somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25, and the illegal nature of buying and consuming other recreational drugs, a considerable number of people facing substance dependence problems are younger than 18 years old. While experimentation with drugs and alcohol can be a  natural part of an adolescent’s exploration with the world and their own boundaries, when does it signal a mental health problem; be it substance addiction or a coping mechanism for an underlying mental illness?

If your child is showing repeated signs of bloodshot eyes, an abrupt change in appetite or sleep patterns, or sudden weight fluctuations, it may be an indication that you should sit them down and have a conversation. Other symptoms of a substance dependence disorder include sudden changes in their personality, frequent mood shifts, lack of motivation, an unexpected change in friends, participating in activities like skipping class and trouble making and so on (Please look here for a more comprehensive list of symptoms of substance abuse).
While finding out if your child has a substance dependence problem is the first step, it is important to find out why your child is choosing to use or abuse substances: is it as a coping mechanism for bullying or stress in school or some sort of peer pressure? Is there a co-occurring mental health problem that they’re using alcohol or drugs as self-medication for? Children developing addiction at a young age can often be indicative of a larger problem. Teenage substance dependence can usually be traced back to external factors such as peer pressure, academic stress, familial problems and even boredom. It is, therefore, important to educate your child about finding healthy coping mechanisms for these problems, and outline the far-reaching consequences of a substance dependence disorder. Also imperative is to maintain an honest and open relationship with them so that they know that they can come to you with their problems at school.
It is vital to keep an open mind when you’re planning to confront your child about a suspected addiction. Try to show your concern and let them know that you value their privacy. They should trust you completely, and that can’t happen if they believe that you are invading their privacy. It is also important to remember that drawing attention to bad decisions your child may have made will only add to their hesitation to confront their own issue, so try your best to seem non-judgmental.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health after finding out that they are (abusing substances), it might be a good idea to visit a therapist or a mental health professional. The best way to go about it is if you could offer them the chance to see a therapist or any mental health professional as it might be easier for them to confide in a stranger than to share these things with their parents. Discuss frankly with your child on how their actions and change in personality is not only affecting them, but also the people around them. Ask them questions about how the drugs make them feel rather than why they take drugs because phrasing it like this would help in not villainising them. Also, do remember to have these discussions when you are able to give them your complete and undivided attention (Look here for more tips on how to confront your child about a suspected addiction).
In attempting to protect your child, you will additionally have to be wary of casting blame on other people, and other children in particular. Blaming another child publicly may have unintended consequences on your child’s self-confidence, affect the trust you built up between the two of you and have a drastic effect on your child’s social life. This may further lead to issues such as your child withdrawing into themselves as well as problems such as bullying.