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The Dangers of Substance Abuse & Addiction


shutterstock_125982872The years of high school, college and university can be some of the most exciting times in a young person’s life – when they are meeting new people, having new experiences, taking risks, leveraging,  opportunities, and expanding their horizons. However, during these years young adolescence also experiences some of the most highly pressured times in their lives as well as a result of succumbing to peer pressure and feeling weighed down by a number of expectations set by family, friends and even themselves.

One of the most obvious pressures of adolescence involves substances such as alcohol and drugs. Most parents expect that drugs and alcohol will become, at some point, either a substance that is introduced or used in the course of their teenager’s young life.  With the right education around these items, use might merely amount to recreational and or a short phase of their young person’s life. However, there are other moments when drugs and alcohol can take over the lives of teenagers and young adolescents in ways that were not expected, and where neither the parent or child are properly equipped to address the behaviour or health-related outcomes that result.

Warning Signs of Drug Abuse

shutterstock_219594313For those concerned whether the teenager or young adult in their life is succumbing to substance use and addition, some of the most common signs to look for include: problems with the law, such as DUI, breaking curfew, and shoplifting or theft for example; problems at school, such as excessive tardiness, poor grades, and suspension; mood swings; loss of interest in favourite activities; the accumulation of drug paraphernalia; violent behaviour; withdrawal; depression; poor hygiene and missing money.

It should come as no surprise that drugs and alcohol can have negative effects on your life. This is a fact that many allude to – whether it is in PSA campaigns about drugs and alcohol, education campaigns about substances, and even warnings provided by parents, educators and medical personnel. However, many are not aware of the full extent to which substances can change everything from your body to your bank account. These transformations can include anything from altered brain chemistry, health complications, infections, legal issues, financial problems, accidental injuries, and even death. By understanding the full effects that drugs and alcohol can have on the direction of your life, you as a young and curious adult can make informed choices about the kinds of habits you would like to develop and the choices that you like to guide your life by. While many think that alcohol and drugs are a normal component of life as a teenager and young adult, there are certainly instances in which those normalized behaviours can become particularly destructive even as the intention was only to ever simply “have fun.”

So what effects do drugs and alcohol exactly have on the lives of adolescents? And how can parents, in partnership with their young people, spare their children from the risks associated with alcohol and drug abuse and misuse?

It is often the case that young people are turning to substances to mask or address other issues in their lives. For example, drug abuse can cause or mask emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia. In fact, it is often the case that young people who are dealing with major depression report using drugs to cope. The negative outcome of this decision is that drug use can also increase the severity of these emotional problems and double their risk of depression and anxiety. Behaviourally, substance use can also adversely impact existing social problems, suicidal thoughts and violence. According to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, young people who opt to abuse drugs are more likely than teens who do not abuse drugs to engage in delinquent behaviours such as fighting and stealing.

The Effects On Brain Development

Once your teen and young adult begin abusing drugs and alcohol, whether in the experimental phrase or not, these items can have considerable impact and biological dangers on the brain – the most complex organ in the human body even at less than 3 pounds. The reason for this is because as addictive agents, many drugs activate the brain’s pleasure circuit, and as such users are compelled to repeat the same negative behaviours – and perhaps leading users to move from a stage of experimentation to possible addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of drugs changes the functions of the human brain in considerable ways given that teenage brains are still very much developing. This means that the brain’s working patterns—that is the physiological and intellectual processes – transform so much so that there is a form of chemical neurotransmission damage that develops. In particular, among teenagers, the neural patterns of their brains are far more vulnerable to the dangers of alcohol abuse and drug abuse. According to experts, drug abuse among teens can result in serious mental disorders or permanent, irreversible damage to the brain or nervous system such as: brain shrinkage; impaired learning abilities; amnesia and memory problems; impaired reasoning, perception and intuition; increased or decreased socialization; and changes in sexual desire.

With substance use, the brain is releasing dopamine which leads to users feeling euphoric. With constant use in the form of addiction, the brain eventually gets accustomed to extra dopamine, and eventually users cannot function normally without it. This transformation as a result begins to affect everything from personality, memory, and bodily processes. At the very least, drug abuse damages short-term and long-term memory and can lead to problems with learning and memory later in life.

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Putting Yourself At Greater Risk For Health Problems

There are additional complications that involve other aspects of the physical body. Other than the brain, drug and alcohol use impacts nearly every part of your body from your heart to your bowels. This means that users can expect to experience some form of abnormal heart rates and heart attacks, and collapsed veins and infections in your heart valves as a specific outcome of drug use. In addition, drug use can lead to bones that stop growing adequately or properly, muscle cramping and weakness, and – with long-time use – eventual kidney and liver damage. Drug and alcohol users might also open themselves to other kinds of vulnerabilities like infections. For example, at times, when young people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they might choose to engage in unsafe sex practices which can possible result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, teens that use drugs are five times more likely to have sex than teens who do not use drugs, and they are also more likely to have unprotected sex and have sex with a stranger. This leads to higher risks of STDs, teen pregnancy and sexual assault. Alternatively, infection in the form of hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV can also come from sharing needles while injecting particular drugs. These are very serious forms of infection. However, there are also other instances of infection which are less series – such as common colds and the flu – which can also result from sharing other drug use tools like pipes and bongs.

Drug and alcohol use can also lead to a variety of negative social outcomes. For example, as a result of abuse, young people may have to face legal consequences that last beyond short-term use or an experimental moment of risk. This might include being subjected to a random drug test before being offered a job, spending time in jail if you are found guilty of driving under the influence, having your driver’s license suspended for a short or extended period of time, or paying a heavy fine (if paying a lot of money for drugs and alcohol is not enough of a heavy financial toll by way of paying for legal counsel). In terms of social commitments, abuse of drug and alcohol can also heavily impact your productivity at work or at school, and in various other attempts to better your skills and advance your career.

Finally, at worst, drug and alcohol abuse can lead to severe physical injuries (as in car accidents) and death (in the case of suicide and homicide). According to statistics, alcohol use has resulted in nearly 5.2 million accidental injuries and 1.8 million deaths each year since the early 1980s. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 out of every 4 deaths is caused by drugs and alcohol. For teenagers in particular, substance abuse and addiction, even in the case of experimentation, has been increasingly escalating particularly in the case of drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and various other drugs associated with the dance club experience. Among teenagers, the most commonly abused substances include: marijuana (31.5%), Vicodin (9.7%), amphetamines (8.1%), cough medicine (6.9%), sedatives & tranquilizers (6.6% each) – many of which have incredibly detrimental, if not potentially fatal outcomes if used in excessive amounts.

shutterstock_150090452Due to the increased risks associated with drug and alcohol abuse, there is plenty of literature that suggests the importance of safeguarding and protecting young people from the negative impacts of substance use. This is the reason why experts stress the importance of parents catching teen use of substances early. By tracking usage early on, and monitoring it, the initial changes in neural transmission can be healed. In the case of prolonged drug use, all is not lost. Rather, while the changes in brain function are certainly more fundamental – that is, in the form of a brain disease – these are not changes that are completely irreversible.

Capital Choice Counselling Can Help

As a result, it is incredibly important to identify instances of substance abuse and intervene if necessary. The sooner this issue is addressed, the more likely the user will be able to avoid the long-lasting consequences. Treatment plans combined with psychotherapy, especially if substance abuse has led to feelings of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, has proven to be effective at helping abusers develop healthier habits, for adults and teens alike.