Juveniles and Adolescents and Drug Use
Drugs are defined as substances other than food and water, which when taken up into the body change the physiological and physical body functions. Drugs commonly fall under two categories: they can be either legal or illegal. Legal drugs include medication drugs, caffeine, tobacco, or even alcohol, while illegal drugs include cocaine, morphine, hashish, and heroine, among others. Drug abuse refers to the use or misuse of illegal drugs or misuse of over-the-counter prescription drugs for purposes other than those indicated or in quantities other than those required. The aim of drug abuse among many people is to achieve certain desired effects like in sports performance or to help in altering individual moods (Buddy, 2011). Over time, the drugs may change the physiology of the body and create dependence where the body fails to function normally in the absence of the substances. This is what is known as drug addiction.
Reasons for Drug Use
As indicated above, many people abuse drugs for various reasons. Among these is altering the moods of an individual. Altered moods lead to a feeling of relaxation, fun, confidence, and lessened inhibitions. This also brings a sense of escapism from reality, relieves boredom and stress, and helps in increasing celebratory moods during social functions (Hurley, 2000). Normally, drug abuse is an acquired habit that is due to peer influence or that is built out of curiosity or out of a need to achieve sporting excellence. Juveniles and adolescents mainly abuse drugs because of the first two reasons.
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Types of Drugs Normally Abused
In order to alter the moods, thinking, and behavior of an individual as expected, the abused drugs have to affect the brain and the central nervous system in a certain manner. This leads to categorization of drugs according to the effects they have on the central nervous system. The main categories of abused drugs are stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and others.
Stimulants. Stimulants increase the brain activity, which leads to increased state of body arousal. Among these are caffeine, amphetamine, and nicotine.
Depressants. Depressants decrease the activity of the central nervous system leading to decreased alertness. In this category are heroine and alcohol (Sloman, 1983).
Hallucinogens. Hallucinogens alter the perception of an individual and can make one hear or see things that are not there. LSD is one of the main drugs in this category.
Others. Certain drugs may fall in more than one of the categories above and are, therefore, categorized in the “others” category. For example, cannabis sativa, which is commonly known as marijuana, has hallucinogenic, stimulating, and depressant effects all combined. Marijuana, therefore, falls into this category (Hurley, 2000).
Effects of Drug Abuse
Drug abuse can lead to myriad health effects. Different drugs have different effects to the body (Courtwright, 1982). The mostly abused drugs (and their effects to the body) include;
This is the most abused drug in America (Buddy, 2011). It may lead to perception problems, memory loss, and lack of coordination, anxiety, and thinking problems. Marijuana also leads to lowered blood pressure and increased heartbeat, which can increase chances of heart attack. Smoking marijuana can lead to respiratory effects in the same way as smoking tobacco does. Marijuana contains three times more carcinogenic substances than tobacco. This, therefore, increases chances of lung cancer, as compared to tobacco smokers (Sloman, 1983). The active ingredient in marijuana, known as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is also known to inhibit the body’s immune system. This causes increased susceptibility to ailments.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in America categorizes pain relievers, stimulants, tranquilizers, and sedatives as the second-most abused drugs after marijuana. Under this category are drugs that may be manufactured illegally and include ecstasy and methamphetamine. Prescription drugs are a wide range of drugs with various effects to individuals that include increased chances for heart attack, decreased appetite, lack of sleep, and anxiety, among others.
With nearly 2.1 million users in America, cocaine is the third most abused drug. It affects the central nervous system and can cause depression, irritability, heart attack, seizures, and headaches, and in more serious cases it can lead to stroke if used over a long time.
According to NSDUH, the most commonly abused hallucinogens include katamine, PCP, LSD, and DMX. Hallucinogens affect a person’s ability to communicate coherently, inhibit recognition of reality, and can lead to dangerous and bizarre acts.
Of all the commonly abused drugs, heroine is the least abused with close to only about 200,000 users in America. Heroine is more addictive than most other drugs. Use of non-sterile equipment to inject heroine into the body causes transmission of diseases like hepatitis C. In fact, close to 70% of all new hepatitis C infections in America are due to sharing of non-sterile injection needles among heroine users. It is also a known cause of infections of the heart lining and valves.
Statistics on Juvenile Drug Use in America
The “Monitoring the Future” (MTF) survey is used to measure drug, cigarette, and alcohol use and related habits among adolescent students nationwide in America. The survey has some disturbing figures on substance use by the young Americans. For example, marijuana use progressively increases from grade 8 to grade 12 students. Studies show certain interesting trends where marijuana use has surpassed cigarette smoking. A case in point is 2010, where the survey shows that 21.4% of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days compared to 19.2% who smoked cigarettes. The same survey shows that abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is at percentages of between 6% and 9%, while among the grade 8 students, the rate of use is at between 2% and 3% (Aue, 2006).
Implications of Drug Use among Young People
Drug abuse has many health and social effects, especially when done by the young people in the society. As indicated above, health problems may include decreased brain activity, lack of alertness, dependency, and, in more serious cases, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Considering that adolescence is a stage at which many youngsters are still in school, use of substances may affect school performance due to its effect on brain activity with resulting poor school grades. This, in effect, lowers the ability of the individual to optimize his or her potential often leading to failure in life. Poor health, as a result of substance use, may affect the growth and development of a young individual’s body and brain. This would lead to poor personal performance in life or even an early death (Musto, 2002).
Studies have also shown that chances of addiction and dependence on drugs for younger people are higher than for older people. Therefore, once introduced into drugs, young people are more likely to get hooked for a longer time with the risk of suffering the after effects being higher than for other people. Many young people using drugs are also known to end up with behavioral and emotional problems that may lead to suicidal thoughts, violence, and depression. In fact, close to 34% of all teens treated for depression in America reported having abused drugs at some point in life. Drug related violence can lead to destruction of property, injuries, imprisonments, and deaths to both, the users and innocent society members.
Getting drugs costs money. Most youngsters still in school normally do not have a reliable or sustainable source of money to buy these drugs. To get drugs, young people may result into social crimes like stealing or running errands for drug peddlers. The implications of these criminal behaviors are an unsafe society and unproductive members, among others. Adolescents using drugs tend to engage in sex earlier. They have a higher probability of engaging in unprotected sex with strangers than other young people. This can cause unwanted pregnancies, vulnerability to sexual assault, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Use of drugs at an early age may also lead to other effects that include brain damage. This can cause mental disorders, amnesia, learning disabilities, and impaired reasoning. Other effects may include permanent damage to the brain and the central nervous system (Nelson, 2011).
Drug abuse is a social problem. It is, therefore, necessary to treat it so, rather than using punishment like imprisonment to those who engage in the habit. Punishment is a retrogressive way of dealing with this problem. Treatment can be done best through several ways that include:
Behavioral Treatments. These include: cognitive therapies that help substance users cope and acquire right decision-making skills, and management therapies that enhance and promote behavioral changes like abstinence from using drugs. Others are motivational therapies aimed at motivating participation in both, treatment and non–drug-related activities (Bennet et al., 1998).
Community Based Interventions. These are both, preventive and treatment oriented. Community intervention groups help in imparting the right knowledge to the young people on the dangers and effects of drug abuse and how best to wean oneself out of the habit.
Effective treatment and post treatment care helps in effectively eradicating addiction followed by effective follow-up care to avoid relapsing back into the habit.