Why do teenagers abuse drugs and alcohol?
There are a number of reasons why a teenager may become involved in alcohol and/or drug abuse. According to the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA), the rising incidence of alcohol consumption among teens is partly due to irresponsible drinking by parents in front of children as well as the willingness of outlets to sell alcohol to minors.
Other possible causes of alcohol and drug abuse in teenagers include:
· A lack of communication between parents and children
· A lack of parental supervision
· Inconsistent or harsh discipline
· Severe and/or ongoing conflicts in the family
· A family history of substance abuse
· A personal history physical or sexual victimisation
· Emotional instability
· Learning difficulties
· Impulsive or thrill-seeking behaviour
· A desire to experiment
· Incorrect perceptions about the risk of substance abuse
· Peer pressure - a fear of not ‘belonging' or a need to belong to a certain group of peers
What are the risks of alcohol abuse in teens?
Long-term abuse of alcohol can result in a number of dangerous health complications in adults, but in teenagers the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for some very different reasons, such as:
· A decrease in attention span
· Impaired memory
· Poor school grades
· A tendency to abuse other substances, such as dagga, at the same time with alcohol
· A greater chance of attempting suicide
· A higher rate of success with suicide attempts
· A greater likelihood of engaging in sexual activity, having unprotected sex, having sex with a stranger or being the victim or perpetrator of a sexual crime
· A greater chance of developing alcoholism in later years
· Less cautious behaviour when it comes to trying different drugs
What are the risks of drug abuse in teens?
The dangers of drug abuse in teens are very similar to those listed above, with the following additional risks:
· The masking of other emotional problems such as anxiety and depression
· A greater likelihood of committing crime for money
· Extremely dangerous healthcare risks from specific types of drugs, for example
o Permanent brain damage from inhalants
o Heart attack and stroke from stimulants
o Halted breathing from sedatives
What are some of the drugs teenagers use?
· Tobacco products e.g. cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco
· Inhalants e.g. petrol, glue, ammonia (the fumes are breathed into the lungs, which is often referred to as ‘huffing')
· Stimulants e.g. cocaine, methamphetamine (also known as ‘tik')
· Sedative-hypnotic drugs e.g. Mandrax (SA has the highest rate of Mandrax use in the world)
· Narcotics e.g. heroin, morphine, codeine (found in certain cough syrups)
· Club drugs e.g. ecstasy
· Hallucinogens e.g. LSD, magic mushrooms
What are the signs of substance abuse in teenagers?
· Mood swings
· Change in personality
· Change in friend or peer groups
· Telling lies about social activities or school-related issues
· Making excuses for his or herself, or for friends
· Breaking rules that have been set down by parents or guardians
· Withdrawing from family life
· Displaying unusual behaviour such as aggression and abuse towards others
· Depression and suicidal tendencies
· Having drug or alcohol-related items in possession
What can be done to prevent or stop substance abuse in teenagers?
It is important to speak to your child about the dangers of substance abuse and to keep the lines of communication open throughout adolescence, no matter how much your teenager resists. Tell your child that you love him or her, that you value them as a person and that you care about their happiness and their future. Keep reassuring your teenager that he or she can talk to you about anything and tell them that if they ever feel pressured into doing something they do not want to do they should call you. Never make your children feel afraid of punishment for telling you the truth about any encounters they may have had with drugs or alcohol, as this will deter them from talking to you in the future.
If you suspect that your child is engaging in substance abuse, confront him or her about it but do so in a calm and open manner. It may be a good idea to discuss the problem with your doctor who will advise you as to what steps should be taken in helping your child to stop abusing alcohol or drugs.
For any GEMS member queries please phone the GEMS call centre on 0860 00 4367 or visit our website at www.gems.gov.za, GEMS will assist you in every way possible to ensure your family's health and wellbeing.