Drug abuse is the chronic use of a drug in which the person consumes the drug in amounts or by ways which are very hazardous and harmful. The abuse of drugs continues to be a major health problem in the country today. Alcohol, cannabis, opium and heroin are the major drugs misused in India. In the world we live, addiction is considered both as a trend and simultaneously a disease. Many drug users start abusing drugs at an early age. Accidental and intentional fatalities that are associated with drugs and alcohol use represent one of the leading preventable causes of death for the 16 to 30 year old population. Negative health outcomes resulting from drug abuse, can be prevented by reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors.
Who is more vulnerable? Adolescence is a critical stage in the course of life and can be considered the most transformative period in an individual’s life. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to being misled if they are not properly informed about wide range of life problems. They are at a greater risk of emotional problems which in turn affects quality of life, proper glucose metabolism and hormonal balance inside the body. Some teenagers start using drugs at very early age. The most common age range of drug abusers is 15 to 25 years. Drug abuse has been proven to increase among a lot of individuals at these ages.
What leads them to the use of drugs? Individuals begin to use drugs with varied choices. The factors which increase the risk of drug abuse include peer and family influence, friends’ persuasion, lack of parental supervision, exposure to drugs, love failure, exam failure, education and job stress. Generally, the most prevalent reasons for drug abuse include socio-economic status, race, gender, religion, extreme poverty, ease of availability of drugs and government rules like lower minimum drinking age. Some people use drugs to relieve some medical condition but continue to use them even after the medical condition is over. Adverse childhood events also lead to increased risk of drug abuse which includes physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, criminality of household members, mental illness among household members and parental discord. Sometimes, alcoholism and drug addiction are genetically inherited. There are numerous personal characteristics too that lead to drugs and alcohol use which include experimental curiosity, low harm avoidance, poor impulse control, parents with a history of alcoholism and drug abuse, high levels of family conflict, history of antisocial and aggressive behavior in the family and personality problems of the individual.
How does it impact their life? Drug abuse is regarded as a brain disease since drugs have a direct impact on the brain. They change its structure and the way it works. The changes in the brain can be long lasting and lead to the harmful behaviors. One of the first changes in the brain that may occur in response to repeated drug abuse is tolerance. Tolerance develops when a person requires a higher amount of drug to reach that level of pleasure or a state of alteration of consciousness that he achieved previously through lower doses of drugs. In addition to this impairment of brain, drug addiction also makes people vulnerable to other health risks. For example, inhalant abusers are at higher risk of heart problems like disruption of heart rhythms. Often drug addicts consume and inject drugs in a group, which puts them at higher risk of contracting HIV due to use of contaminated needles. Alcohol and other drugs used in the adolescent population carries a high risk for school underachievement, teenage pregnancy and depression. A drug to which a person becomes addict does not merely impair the person’s cognitive skills and behavior, but also permanently damages certain abilities depending on the amount and frequency of dose.
How can we save them from this problem? In order to prevent drug abuse among adolescents, risk factors that put youth at risk should be identified and targeted. Protective factors must be enhanced through family, school and community prevention programs. Being aware of these risk factors can assist families, health professionals, schools and other community workers to identify them and aid in reducing or eliminating them through prevention and treatment programs. Factors which prevent drug abuse include functional family communication, effective family socialization and the ability to notice the destructive effects of drugs use at early age. Another important protective factor against using drugs is religiosity that prevents people from using drugs even if they are exposed to drugs in the environment. Also, there is a need to address multiple risk and protective factors, provide appropriate information relative to the target age group, include material to help young people recognize and resist pressures to engage in drug use, include comprehensive personal and social skills training to build resistance, deliver information through interactive methods and cultural sensitivity that includes relevant language and audiovisual content familiar to the target audience. By raising people’s awareness on drug abuse, providing irrefutable facts, and performing prevention programs for vulnerable kids and teens, the drug use can be decreased. It is not even too late for those who are presently involved in a drug abuse. There is also hope for individuals who have already consumed drugs by the cycle of addiction. School based health centers should give consultations to students who need such treatment plans and connect students to available community resources. Schools are the most appropriate settings for drug prevention programs for 3 reasons. Firstly, children should be prevented from drug abuse before their beliefs and expectations about drug abuse are established; Secondly, young people are the most systematically available for schools and thirdly, schools can improve drug-related educational policies. It is a challenge for educators to make children and adolescents understand the facts about drug abuse without tempting them to try drugs. Several curricula that prove to be influential must be designed for school use and delivered to students in interesting, interactive, and developmentally appropriate ways.
What is the right time to save them? Adolescence is the critical time for preventing drug addiction. Use of drugs or alcohol at an early age increases a person’s chance of becoming addicted. So, preventing their early use may go a long way in reducing the risk. Risk of drug use increases greatly during times of transition. For an adult, a divorce or loss of job may increase the risk of drug use. For a teenager, risky times include moving from a place to another, changing schools or family divorce. When children advance from elementary to middle school, they face new and challenging social, family, and academic situations. During this period, children are often exposed to drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol for the first time. When they enter high school, teens may encounter greater availability of drugs, drug use by older teens and social activities where drugs are used. When individuals leave high school and live more independently, either in college or as an employed adult, they may find themselves exposed to drug use while separated from the protective structure provided by family and school. A certain amount of risk-taking is a normal part of adolescent development. The desire to try new things and become more independent is healthy, but it may also increase teens’ tendencies to experiment with drugs. The parts of the brain that control judgment and decision-making do not fully develop until people are in their early or mid-20s. This limits a teen’s ability to accurately assess the risks of drug experimentation and makes young people more vulnerable.
Drug abuse is a psychological, social, and biological issue in adolescents and is one of the most critical issues for the country. The abuse of alcohol and drugs has resulted in significant morbidity and mortality among adolescents worldwide. Many of them have lost their lives due to drugs and alcohol and a significant number are likely to grow up to become problematic drug users. Although, the drug abuse problem is complex and large in magnitude, there is a substantial amount of evidence based research available to physicians, community leaders and schools to implement interventions that can decrease adolescent drug abuse rates. Because this issue is not peculiar to any one community, state or culture, we recognize that individual interventions may not be universally effective. Therefore, strategy of targeting modifiable risk factors and enhancing protective factors through family, school and community prevention programs would be more influential and would lead to better protective results. Drug addicts often feel isolated and sense of alienation, so providing them certain kind of social and moral support and inculcate in them some positive behaviors will help them and make them more empowered to get over this menace.