When it comes to kids and drug usage, a lot has changed since the time when you grew up. Today, drugs are not limited to illegal substances your child might discretely purchase behind the football stadium, and instead include pharmaceutical mental health drugs prescribed by his or her physician. Kids still use recreational street drugs, but now increasingly more kids use prescribed drugs in addition to, or in place of, street drugs. For example, a kid today might be placed on an anti-depressant or psycho-stimulant for a mental health issue, and additionally use marijuana and alcohol in a recreational manner. Yes, drug usage among kids today is widespread, complicated, and even more potentially dangerous than in years past, prompting parents to pay close attention to these changes and growing concerns.
Reasons why kids use drugs
There are many reasons why kids use drugs, ranging from general curiosity to succumbing to peer pressure. At my office there tend to be four general categories kids fall into when accounting for their drug usage:
- Recreational/Social. This group consists of kids who may or may not have sought drugs, but experienced drugs by means of social interaction with others (and possibly peer pressure). In these cases you might think of a party where a drug is brought out and kids make spontaneous decisions to try it. Some of these examples include kids who never thought they would try drugs (but got caught up in the moment), or were pressured by peers to fit in by using.
- Coping with stress. Millions of people each day turn to drugs in order to take their minds off of the stress they are experiencing. This temporary respite from stress might provide an immediate break, but often problems only compound when we use drugs as our primary way to deal with life issues. With kids, drugs used as a means of coping are especially troubling and immediate attention should be directed to help teach healthier, more effective coping.
- Prescription. Kids today are commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs for mood state, anxiety, attention, and a host of additional mental health issues. Often these drugs are viewed differently and as though they are safer than street drugs, but a quick scan of potential side-, withdrawal-, and interaction-effects show that this is simply not the case.
- Performance. Some kids, like adults, turn to various performance enhancing drugs to help build size, speed, and strength. Anabolic steroids fall into this category, and the dangers using these drugs are widely known — especially as these dangers apply to kids.
As you can see kids use drugs for different reasons, including curiosity, peer pressure, mental disorders, athletic performance, and to cope with mental distress. While street drugs generally get most of the attention when it comes to kids and drugs, even prescription drugs provided by a physician should be used with caution and include regular, ongoing communication with the prescribing doctor.
Tips to help
If you are a parent and concerned about your child and possible drug usage, consider the following tips to help:
- Talk regularly. Families who communicate regularly generally experience fewer problems with their kids relating to academic success, social relationships, and yes, drugs. Make it a point to use open-ended questions and listen closely to the issues your child experiences, and lend support in times of distress so that he or she will be less vulnerable to using drugs as a means of fitting in or coping with pain.
- Be proactive with information. Talk to your kids about the latest drug trends, concerning news around town, and any other information that needs to be discussed. Don’t let there be an “elephant in the room” where both you and your child know there is a problem, yet nobody discusses the problem.
- Hold kids accountable. If you hear rumors, or worse yet, find evidence that your child is using, make sure to address the problem and talk openly about your concerns. When considering punishment options examine ideas around future drug testing and counseling interventions.
- Model confidence & responsible decision-making. How you, the parent, carry yourself with respect to your attitude, self-esteem, confidence, and yes — drug/alcohol usage — will have a direct impact on your child’s development and future decision-making. If you want your child to improve, first look at the behaviors you are modeling for him/her.
Today, it’s easier than ever for kids to acquire and use drugs. All drugs, regardless of whether they were bought illegally on the street or provided by prescription from a physician, carry potential side-, interaction-, and withdrawal-effects, making this a very important issue for families nationwide. Talk to your kids early and often about the potential dangers of drugs, and create welcoming ways for them to self-report if they have used and/or been offered drugs so that you can intervene and effectively parent the situation.