What are the pointers to drug addiction in adolescents?

Hooked on drugs? It can happen at any age, but those aged between 13 and 23 are particularly vulnerable. “This is when most of us make major mistakes in our lives. Besides sex education, schools should educate students especially between Standards IX and XI about the dangers of drug abuse. Youngsters should be made aware that once caught in its vice-like grip, the addiction to drugs destroys their brain, intelligence, career and life,” says Dr. Anita Rao, director-medical services, T.T. Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation (TTK Hospital). While it is crucial parents stay connected with their children during the tumultuous phase of their adolescence, it is also a time when they need to be watchful of their children’s behaviour, activities, peer group, friends, and places where they hang out to spot if their child is going astray.

“Drug addiction is a complex sum of many factors that include an individual’s psychological make-up and problems, genetic tendency towards addiction, family support system, peer influences and availability of drugs,” says Dr. Lakshmi Vijaykumar, consultant psychiatrist and founder of SNEHA. Laws alone are not enough to curb addiction. Parents, family, schools, colleges, institutions… all have a role to play. Encouraging children to pursue hobbies, especially a sport, keeps them engaged, positive and confident, and prevents them from falling prey to the lure of drugs. As Dr. Rao puts it, teach children the art of saying ‘No’, so that they are able to resist peer influences that persuade them to try drugs.

Pharma drugs

Apparently today, pharma drugs and sniffing solvents are displacing hard drugs such as brown sugar and cocaine, popularly associated with abuse. But these addictions are just as dangerous. Some get introduced to these drugs by friends and peers; others do so by accident. Sniffing of volatile substances has become more prevalent in the lower socio-economic group. This is dangerous and leads to lung, kidney, brain and other internal organ damage. “These children are unable to control their behaviour, and tend to inhale in the presence of others too,” says Dr. Lakshmi.

Sleeping tablets, painkillers and cough syrups happen to be the most abused, among pharma drugs. “That is why physicians should give time-bound prescriptions for consumption of these drugs. Likewise, family members must be watchful when friends or family members are taking sleeping tablets, painkillers, cough syrups, stimulants, depressants and the like, as some of us can get addicted to these drugs,” cautions Dr. Rao. The dependence can swiftly increase from one tablet to two, and change from a medical necessity to a desire to get a high. Consider the case of Niveda, a successful young career woman, who was prescribed sleeping tablets by her family physician when she complained of stress and sleeplessness. She soon became addicted to them. Later, she was diagnosed as suffering from depression, for which she was prescribed anti-depressants. Soon she became addicted to these too. Luckily for her, a supportive family and therapy helped rescue her from addiction.

Dealing with drug abuse

“All parents like to believe that the problem lies with the other children, and that their child is just a victim. But that might be a delusion. If you notice signs of drug abuse, don’t convince yourself that it is a passing phase or it might be because of x or y factors. Seek professional help immediately,” emphasises Dr. Rao. Meanwhile, horror stories are emerging from several illegal de-addiction centres (run by ex-addicts and others) that have mushroomed in the city, that follow questionable practices such as meting out punishment. So, take care to choose a registered and well-known de-addiction centre. “While family support is crucial in therapy, the underlying psychological problems must be addressed too. Otherwise, there can be a relapse,” says general physician Dr. R. Parthasarathy. Blood tests can reveal drug use, but it is better to encourage a child to talk about his problem, rather than confront him.

LOOK OUT FOR

* A dip in academic performance

* Problems in schoo

* Changes in memory or intelligence

* Psychiatric problems

* Change in attitude and behaviour

* Unwarranted anger and irritability

* Decreased sense of responsibility

* Failing to complete the usual quantum of work

* Absenteeism

* Obsessive and panicky behaviour

* Slurred speech

* Blank look in the eyes

* Unsteady gait

* Irregular sleeping habits

* Waking up at odd hours

* New set of friends, activity and hang-outs

* Confusion, restlessness, dazed look, even convulsions and tremors (in the case of volatile substance abuse)