It was a shocker for a 38-year-old mother to find out that her teenage son had fallen prey to substance abuse. Noticing subtle changes in his behaviour, she started to observe his movements, followed him and caught him red handed. Experts say that while most teenagers consume substances unknowingly a couple of times and then quit, others get addicted to it. It is important for parents to know the signs and talk to them about the consequences.
Sahana (name changed), a homemaker from Bengaluru, said that her 15-year-old son was becoming rebellious and she noticed him hanging out with older classmates. She didn’t think much of it initially, but when his grades dropped in school, she decided to follow him in April 2021. “He was sitting with some older boys and trying to smoke Marijuana at an empty site near our house. I dragged him home and tried to talk him out of it,” she told Happiest Health.
Most teens are exposed to substance abuse in high school due to impulsiveness and inquisition, says Dr Krithishree Somanna, psychiatrist, KMC hospital, Mangaluru, Karnataka. “Teens try to create their identity in the groups and tend to fall into bad habits. It is important for parents to know what their children are up to – whether they are in good company or bad,” she says.
What is substance abuse?
Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, refers to the use of a drug in quantities that are dangerous to one’s body, says Dr Vishnu Gade, senior psychiatrist, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad. “It occurs when you use alcohol, traditional drugs and other legal and illegal substances in the wrong way,” he says.
Dr Gade lists a few drugs that are often abused:
• Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines
• Cigarettes and other tobacco products
• Hypnotic agents
• Stimulants, including caffeine
• Volatile solvents
• Anabolic steroids
Signs of substance abuse
Dr Somanna says that parents must notice the behavioural changes in their children and if the change is drastic, they must find out the reason behind it. She lists the signs below:
- Being hyperactive
- Being irritable
- Exhibiting violent behaviour
- Reduced self-care
- Ignoring self-hygiene
- Changes in friend circle – especially older friends
- Extreme self-praise
- Extreme spirituality
How should parents deal with it?
Dr Somanna says that parents need to be approachable for children to talk about the changes and must open a conversation to build trust and respect. “Parents should be non-judgemental and be their confidant so that the child can talk about his/her fears and inhibitions. Parents needs to understand the depth of the situation and make sure that the child gets the right help that he/she needs. Parents should tell them about the consequences of drug abuse and its negative impact,” she said.
Seeing their wards getting addicted is tough for many parents. Sahana recalled, “My husband and I spoke to our son trying to make him realise the ill effects of addiction when he seemed obedient. But after a few days, he turned violent when we stopped him from meeting his friends. He was not only smoking marijuana, but also started to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes”. She also found him stealing money from his father’s wallet and buying drugs. “We took him for counselling sessions and soon he came out of it,” she added.
Dr Somanna adds that children need to be given responsibilities at home and parents should make sure that they are involved in family activities.
Why do teens abuse drugs?
According to Dr Gade, teens indulge in substance abuse for the following reasons:
- Due to curiosity and social pressure.
- To feel good and pleasurable.
- To relieve themselves from social anxiety and stress.
- To ameliorate their focus and do better in academics.
Complications of drug abuse
Dr Gade says that the complications depend on the substance used and lists out some common issues faced:
- Liver damage (liver disease and inflammation – alcoholic liver disease)
- Heart damage (risk of heart diseases)
- Increased threat of infections like HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (through reuse of contaminated syringes and needles).
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Sexual dysfunction
- Self-harm attempts
- Fatal accidental overdoses
Dr Somanna says that while counselling will help in most cases, very few individuals might have to be put on medication for deaddiction.
Recalling one of her recent cases, Dr Somanna said, “A 14-year-old from Mangaluru who was excellent in studies and sports suddenly showed a drop in grades and quit sports. He befriended older boys who initially gave him drugs for free and after he got hooked to it, they asked him to pay. He was violent towards animals. He was aggressive and back answering teachers at school when they complained to his parents.”
She added that during counselling, the boy showed signs of manic behaviour and it was later found that he was addicted to marijuana. As a result, he had to be put under deaddiction treatment.
- Children need to be given responsibilities at home.
- Parents must involve their children in family activities.
- Parents should have open conversation with their children to build trust and respect.
- Parents need to talk to them about the consequences of drug abuse and its negative impact.