Teenage is fraught with many dangers, especially substance abuse and drug addiction. These can have serious consequences and even, lead to depression and mental health issues. How can you help?
By Dr Kamna Chhibber
Today, there is an alarming increase in the number of teens falling prey to drugs. This could be because of its easy availability and also, because youngsters are vulnerable to addictive behaviour. Often, the problem does not go away easily and a teen gets trapped in a vicious cycle — detrimental to his health, well-being, quality of life, relationships and productivity.
In fact, drug abuse and mental health problems like anxiety and depression often occur together in adolescents. This is common and is called a 'dual diagnosis' by psychotherapists. A recent report ‘The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness’, published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, notes that 60 percent of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programmes also meet the diagnostic criteria for another mental illness.
On International Youth Day, we focus on how parents, teachers, and members of the community must together create awareness among teens about the dangers of drug use. Only then can we dissuade them from behaviour that leads to substance abuse.
1. The role played by peers and role models: Today, peers and role models play a significant role in influencing teens. In fact, there is evidence that peers can encourage a teen to indulge in drug use. In most cases, it begins with the teen wanting to try out something new/different, which, over time, can develop into dependence and addiction. Then, the teen feels the need for regular and increasing quantities of the substance.
2. Socio-psychological framework: Another major reason why a young person falls prey to drugs is his socio-psychological framework. This relates to the surrounding environment, support system and thinking pattern. Often, a teen might engage in substance abuse to disconnect from the environment, perceived problems, people around, and because of his inability to cope with difficult situations.
Parents and the community can do several things to help create a supportive environment so that teens stay away from drugs. Parents especially have a significant role to play here.
1. Learning to say NO: Parents must teach their child to say NO. A cultural shift is necessary to help teens recognise the need to refuse what can be detrimental and dangerous. Teach them that thinking of health and well-being and making intelligent choices, has to be the prime focus.
2. Utilising peer support in schools: Encouraging buddy and mentor systems within schools will ensure that more students know the harmful effects of substance use. This is an effective method of saying NO to drugs.
3. Information on the negative impact of drug use: A lot of information is available. But, not everything is accurate or backed by research. So, it is essential that parents must provide young people with the right information about drug usage, its impact and negative effects on health and well-being.
4. Encouraging teens to seek help: Your teen must realise that escaping problems or finding solace in drugs and other substances, is not helpful. So, be there for your teen so she can find solutions to the challenges she faces and work through issues. Support her as she focuses on developing effective coping skills.
5. Value health and well-being: As parents, encourage your teen to place emphasis on her health and well-being instead of giving space to the thoughts and beliefs of peers and friends. A good way of doing this is to demonstrate how you take care of your own health.
6. Starting conversations early: Busting myths and misconceptions happens best at an early stage. Hence, it is vital to create a space where young people can have conversations and discussions, regardless of whether you are a parent, teacher or member of a community. Creating an open environment will help provide the right skills to manage challenges. This will enable your teen to stay away from behaviour that can be detrimental to his well-being in the long run.
Substance abuse is a problem that needs urgent and consistent attention from all members of society. Hence, taking steps to provide the right information and support for young people is the most important thing to do.
The author is Head, Mental Health & Behavioral Science at a leading hospital in Gurugram.
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