Substance abuse is a serious problem in the United States. A survey done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2009 found that 23.5 million people abused alcohol or drugs. Addiction can lead to ruined lives, legal issues, job loss, financial ruin, serious health problems, cognitive impairment, destroyed relationships, even death.
People tend to start drinking or using drugs for various reasons. Some may seek to self-medicate due to feeling isolated, depressed, or anxious. Others may use substances to relieve pain, escape from problems, attain ecstatic states, or feel more socially or spiritually connected. Adolescents often experiment with drugs because of peer pressure or wanting to fit in.
Mood-altering substances have been used since the beginning of time and continue to be used in certain parts of the world for spiritual ceremonies. Individuals have employed them to try to attain mystical insight and altered states of consciousness. Within this context, substances tend to be abused less, but in many other environments, they often destroy or devastate the lives of those who abuse them, as well as those of their families and loved ones.
Because addiction can cause so much suffering, prevention is critical in order to avoid problems to begin with. As early as possible, parents need to try to educate their children about the serious potential consequences of drinking and abusing drugs. There are many helpful videos available online that parents can use to show their children some of the harmful effects associated with substance use.
In addition, parents need to be on the lookout for any warning signs that their child may have started drinking or using drugs. Some of the red flags that should be taken seriously include:
- Unusual behavior. If your child has started acting in ways that are out of the ordinary, this could indicate there might be a problem. Some substances, for example, can cause an increase in aggression; others might cause agitation or lethargy. Any changes in normal behavior should be explored with your child.
- Physical signs. If you suspect your child may be drinking or using drugs, be on the lookout for signs that might indicate this, such as red eyes, dilated pupils, slurred speech, unsteady gait, or appetite changes.
- Lower grades. Becoming involved with substance use may affect your child’s grades at school, so this should be a warning sign as well. If your child appears to be struggling academically, try talking to them to find out if they may be experiencing any problems you are not aware of, such as bullying, relationship issues, or feeling socially isolated.
- Changes in mood. If your child appears to be struggling with depression, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy, they may be more prone to use substances as an unhealthy way to try to cope with their feelings.
- Family use of substances. Children are much more likely to use substances if someone else in the family has a drinking or substance abuse issue. Alcohol and/or drugs tend to be more accessible when used by another member of the family and may be seen by the child as an acceptable way of dealing with problems.
If you discover that your child has a substance abuse problem, obtaining treatment as early as possible is extremely important. Treatment recommendations include individual therapy, as well as family therapy (which can be helpful to learn to understand the addiction and to repair any damages to relationships that may have occurred). Attending a 12-step meeting, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can also be beneficial for ongoing support with sobriety. For some types of addiction, medical detoxification in a hospital setting may be needed prior to seeking out other forms of treatment.
Substance abuse can be a serious issue, which can have devastating effects on the individual as well as on their families and loved ones. Taking steps to try to prevent people from becoming addicted, as well as treating those who have already developed an issue, are both extremely important in order to work toward stopping the damage that can be caused from substance abuse.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Treatment Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics
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