Transitioning to middle school or high school can be an exciting time for students as they make new friends and try new things. However, this is also when there may be heightened peer pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that 35 percent of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol, 21 percent reported using marijuana and 11 percent reported smoking cigarettes. The use of these substances at a young age can increase the risk for substance abuse and dependence.
Many adolescents reported that the main reason for substance use is stress, nervousness or living with a family member who used a substance. Those who are using drugs and alcohol may exhibit mood changes, personality changes, changes in health, decreased interest in activities, increased secrecy and personal time that is unaccounted for.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among U.S. youth, resulting in more than 4,300 deaths each year. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks in a social setting than adult drinkers. Alcohol is more harmful to a teenage brain than an adult brain, since the brain continues to develop well into young adulthood. Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning and even death.
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Adolescents may also turn to tobacco, illegal drugs and prescription medications. Marijuana is a mind-altering drug that changes the way the brain works. While it creates a pleasurable feeling, it also leads to short-term memory loss, distorted perceptions, lack of coordination and difficulty with thinking and problem solving. Additionally, this drug can lead to lack of motivation, isolation and psychological dependence.
Prescription medications and illegal drugs, like cocaine and heroin, can be addictive and could lead to death. Depending on the drug, the substance may be injected, inhaled or ingested. Drugs can lead to behavioral problems such as paranoia, aggressiveness, impaired judgment, loss of self-control and hallucinations. Those living with substance abuse and dependence typically have a higher risk for injuries, accidents, medical problems, domestic violence and death.
Substance abuse may also result in a weakened immune system, an abnormal heart rate or heart attack, collapsed veins, infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, liver damage or failure, seizures, stroke and widespread brain damage.
Treatment may be necessary to help adolescents stop using drugs and avoiding relapse. Outpatient treatment is typically offered to those with less severe abuse, and may include individual or group outpatient programs. Those suffering from more severe substance use disorders may require partial hospitalization or rehabilitation treatment, which typically requires a 24-hour structured environment.
If you know anyone who is dependent or showing symptoms of substance abuse, seek help. Helping them get the treatment they need early may help prevent future addiction.
Kelly Gillooly is director of Behavioral Health Outreach, Our Lady of Peace.