Substance abuse in adolescents

Introduction to the problems in adolescence 

Adolescence is one of the most unstable age both physiologically and emotionally. During the adolescence, children tend to be egoistic, self-centred, aggressive, and highly vulnerable to many problems. Some of the problems seen in this stage of growth and development are substance abuse, suicidal issues, behavioural problems, and teenage pregnancy. Adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood requiring a lot of attention and supervision from the family members. Apart from the parents, teachers also play a vital role in guiding, monitoring, counselling and managing them. There is a difference of opinion on which age group belongs to adolescence. As per the National Youth Policy, adolescents fall under the age group 13-19 years. During adolescence, a multitude of biological, social and sexual developmental changes result in a drastic change in the thinking, attitude, mindset, and choices among them. 




Characteristic features of adolescents

Adolescents bound to be highly adventurous, curios and love challenges.  Most often they like to experiment with things to draw the conclusions, ironically, they do not like to take opinions about their actions. Some of them are aggressive and lack judgment in what they do. Unsupervised children tend to indulge themselves in socially unacceptable activities such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, smoking, antisocial activities such as robbery and sexual offences. Guardians and parents need to be patient, watchful and aware of the fact that adolescents need much of their attention like as they care for young kids. Adolescents are guided by peer influence making it difficult for the parents to narrow down their approach of management follow. Their emotional drive guide them towards the wrong perception about things. This can result in a behaviour that satisfy them leaving behind the law orientation. There is a high tendency to feel that what is pleasing them is right and what is hurting them is wrong. They demand privacy and attention from elders. On the other hand, they generally like to work hard, help others and be the forefront of all the hurdles


Basic concepts of substance abuse 

Substance abuse is more of a psychological phenomenon rather than the social ailment. It is very important to understand the difference between dependence, addiction, and tolerance.

1. Dependence: It is a state of how one’s body manifests as a result of abruptly stopping the consumption of a drug or alcohol. The intensity of the symptoms of substance dependence varies based on how long he or she was consuming the substance. If someone was consuming alcohol right from the childhood dependency is very high. In general, dependence is when an addictive person exhibits a group of physical and mental symptoms like sleeplessness, depression, feeling of insane, aggressiveness, tremors, arrogance, lack of interest to live, etc.

2. Tolerance: Tolerance can happen if an individual is no longer responding to the substance( alcohol or a drug ) in the way it did at first. Because of the tolerance, the threshold of substance keeps high with a tendency to gradually become addictive to a particular substance. This is seen even in the normal drug therapies such as antibiotics, prolonged usage of a particular antibiotic makes our body resistant resulting in poor result. An extreme tolerance can lead to the next stage called addiction. 

3. Addiction: It is an extreme state of substance dependency. This is characterized by the impulsive attitude that if someone was using some substance for so long, and he or she fails to stop, despite the fact that there are negative consequences.


Effects of substance abuse on society and individuals

Alcoholism is a growing issue worldwide. Despite good literacy rates and many awareness programs, the evil is on the rise. It is, even more, worse if one or more of the family members has the history of alcoholism. Studies have proved that if one of the parents had a history of alcohol abuse, 25% of the chances that offspring can develop the alcoholic behaviour. The reason behind the addiction is the surrounding environment and the peer influence in which adolescents grow. On the other hand, a euphoric effect that the substance induces can have a substantial drive in the substance abuse. Over-usage of alcohol and drug addiction are manifested by irresponsible behaviour, violence and suicidal tendency.  In some serious cases, children can suffer from depression, cardiac failure, respiratory arrest, kidney damage, loss of memory, cerebral haemorrhage, etc. The risk of being a victim of road traffic accidents is tripled if a person is an alcoholic. On the academic front, addicted children exhibit poor performance as they are frequently being absent to the school/college. Peer pressure draw them towards delinquent behaviours, gang behaviour, assault and adultery tendency. More serious intoxication can result in social and familial withdrawal, depression, tiredness, day time sleepiness,  chronic fatigue,  and the rebellious behaviour.  Another issue is the drug addiction, some of the chronic alcoholics tend to experiment new drugs resulting in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases through the of needles and syringes being shared within a group. Teenage pregnancy is a burning issue connected with substance abuse. Some of the adverse effects of the abusive drugs in females can exhibit over-aggressiveness, mood swings, depression, abnormal menstrual cycles, sudden and unexplained weight gain or weight loss,  memory loss, excessive hair growth on the face and body, enlargement of the clitoris, deepening of the voice. 


Prevention and Control of substance abuse

Since it is a sensitive issue, substance abuse must be managed patiently. Prevention is better than cure, hence society must act proactively to closely monitor and counsel the children.  Banning the sale of abusive drugs might be of little help however it is advisable to do so. In the case of serious addition, De-addiction (a state of bringing a victim out of addiction) is useful. It is a group effort involving parents, teachers, doctors, counsellors, and friends of an addicted person.  In many states, free counselling help is available for teenagers.


Guide to parents  and schools

Parents must carefully monitor children's behaviour and set an acceptable limit in a firm way. Providing privacy is important but being vigilant is necessary. Signs of negative behaviour must be identified and counselled appropriately. Unusual expectations about children, peer comparison, destructive criticism on the behaviours of children is not helpful hence it is important to respect the child`s abilities and set the goals accordingly.  A sense of respect, bonding, affection and helping behaviour should be nourished in children. Schools must keep a track of the child`s behaviours and provide the necessary support and guidance. One of the great ways to keep them away from addiction is diverting their capacity and skills towards useful social activities such as camps, involving them in social and cultural activities are much helpful. Encourage them to practice mindfulness, yoga, and exercises on a regular basis.  Since the peer influence is one of the major factors to be addressed, parents must closely watch in the unusual behaviours as a result of friends.  It is very important to contact a therapist or psychiatrists in case if necessary.


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Reproductive health      


Substance abuse



  1. What is the difference between, dependence, abuse and addiction of substances?

  2. Why adolescence is more vulnerable for drugs and alcohol addiction?

  3. Explain the characteristic features of adolescents.

  4. How serious is the impact of substance abuse on society and individuals?

  5. What is de-addiction?

  6. Explain the prevention and Control of substance abuse.




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