What is a drug?
A definition of a drug is: non food substances which can cause a change in the body function. Mind altering drugs – when consumed into the body alter the chemical process of the human brain and central nervous system and induce an often pleasant and desirable sensation. One important characteristic about drugs is that they will affect a person regardless of whether the person wants to be affected or not.
What are the most familiar mind-altering drugs?
- Alcohol: The most frequently used drug. Alcohol is a depressant drug found in beer, wine and spirits. It is legal and regulated by law.
- Cannabis: A frequently used illicit drug which is smoked in a rolled cigarette, in a pipe or baked into cakes. It is illegal to possess or sell.
- Cocaine: A highly toxic stimulant that is frequently used as a powder, this powder can be cooked to create a solid form called ‘Crack’ which is smoked. It is illegal to possess or sell.
- Amphetamines: Stimulants – sometimes they are called speed or Uppers. It is frequently obtained by prescription but also it is illegally manufactured or sold.
- Ecstasy: MDMA is frequently called a designer drug and is chemically based on amphetamines. They are illegal to possess or sell.
- Inhalants: Solvents and chemicals found in adhesives, paint, lighter fuel – they are usually sniffed – it is not illegal to possess these but it is illegal to sell lighter fuel to young people under 16.
- Prescribed Drugs: These are usually anti-depressants or tranquillisers that depress or sedate the brain and central nervous system. These are only legal when prescribed by a doctor but are consistently misused and mixed with other drugs including alcohol.
- Hallucinogens: These are both natural and synthetic substances which produce hallucinations such as seeing or hearing things. The most well known of these is LSD known as acid – small pieces of blotting paper with a wide range of pictures with drops of LSD
- Steroids: These are used to effect change in the body muscle, shape and strength and are well known for use by athletes – they can also be called sports drugs
- Nicotine: This is the active ingredient in tobacco products and contains over 4000 chemicals. This is legal to anyone over 16 years.
What is dependence?
It is said that a person becomes dependant on drugs when they feel an overruling need to use a substance on an ongoing basis. There are two types of dependency and many times both can be present and it can frequently be difficult to make a distinction between the two.
Psychological dependency – is when a person uses a drug regularly and come to rely on its effects to feel, encouragement, calm, to socialise, relax, as though they can cope – being without the drug will cause the person to be anxious and depressed.
Physical dependency – is when a person taking drugs repeatedly over a long time causes changes in the function of the body; so when the person stops using the drug suddenly, it can result in disagreeable physical symptoms – withdrawal this can include: vomiting, sickness, sweating, pain, sleepiness, and sometimes after heavy use of some drugs, it can prove fatal.
How can I as a parent help my child to avoid misusing drugs?
Children and young people need to feel confident about themselves and feel worthwhile as a person in their own right, they need to be encouraged and feel listened to. This will help them to cope with situations where they feel under pressure to take risks to conform or gain approval from their mates. This can be built up and developed from early childhood, by providing good role models, promoting attitudes and values by showing them that drugs are a part of daily life and are necessary but should not be used to resolve our problems.
Explain why drugs are used! Tell them what the dangers are! Why you can enjoy a glass of wine or beer but not to drink too much to be drunk or out of control! Enforce the message that you should not drink and drive! Keep drugs safely out of the way of children and don’t leave old unused medicines lying around, return them to a chemist.
Young people will watch how you cope with the stresses and strains of life, there is not a ‘pill for every ill’, sometimes life is sad or painful but it is not always disastrous and sometimes there is a lesson to be learnt from an event. Support your young person through these emotional situations giving support and reassurance but do not devalue their feelings by saying “there is nothing to be sad about or don’t worry about that,” let them experience their feelings in their own way but offer comfort or a cuddle if it’s wanted.
Be there to talk to your child or young person, bring up the topic of drugs in conversations or watching TV and if the worst happens and you find your child has used a drug – don’t despair, keep calm, be realistic – listen and communicate and ensure they have accurate information about drugs.
How do I know if my child is using drugs? What do I look for?
The trouble with this question is that many changes you may see in your child can be attributed to natural and normal adolescence and growing up.
- Sudden, noticeable mood swings
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Withdrawal from usual activities that was generally important to them before
- Loss of appetite or change in eating habits
- Lethargic, sleepy, long periods lying in bed
- Sudden shortage of money with no apparent sign of what it is spent on
- Disappearance of money or valuables – owned by the young person or other family members
- Lying, secrecy, evident attempts to conceal activities
- Evidence of drug paraphernalia i.e. cigarette papers, small wraps of paper, home made pipes made from empty lemonade bottles, plastic bags with traces of glue, extreme use of deodorants, hairsprays, unusual stains or smells on clothing
- Needle marks on the body – particularly arms and legs
- Radical change in appearance or the clothes they wear
- Staying out late or all night
- They are hanging around with a different crowd
- They have become isolated or a loner
- Problems of truancy from school, non attending or suspension from school
- They look depressed or anxious
- Laughing excessively for no apparent reason
- Comes home drunk or smelling of alcohol
- Receives mysterious phone calls at all hours
- Their eyes are bloodshot or their pupil s are dilated
- They have been arrested for anti social behaviour, shoplifting, breaking and entering etc.
- Alcohol missing from the home
- Persistent respiratory problems
- They have threatened suicide.
What if my child does not want help?
You can drag you child to your local GP, youth counsellor, drug agency but unless your child is willing to change their behaviour and accept help it will be of little use. You may have to accept that the best you can do is make certain your child has accurate factual information and sources of help – they will engage in the help – when they are ready.
Why would young people want to use drugs?
Young people come up with many different answers to why they use drugs. Some of the following are an example:
- “I just want to see what it was like” “I wanted to be with my mates in the gang”
- “It made me feel grown up” “I didn’t want to be seen as weak”
- “It was a risk; I made my own mind up to try it” “I was just having some fun”
- “It was just trying out new things” “I was bored with things in my life”
Looking at why the young people say they misuse drugs and alcohol and the views of their parents of why they use them are quite contradictory. Young people see it as inward; choosing because of something that is inside them i.e. desire to take risks, curiosity, personal choice. Whereas the parents see it as outward; it’s something or someone else – the classmates, friends, peer pressure, school. There is no doubt that young people are influenced by others, school environment, peer group or idols but we cannot attribute their decisions totally or primarily to outside influences many times they make free, personal choices to use.
Why shouldn’t I take illegal drugs?
Illegal drugs can cause brain damage. Illegal drugs are “psychoactive” they can change your personality, the way you feel and can impair your judgement. While you are under the influence of drugs you are more likely to jeopardize yourself or others and be less able to protect yourself.
Many illegal drugs are addictive – meaning when you start them they are hard to stop. This causes the body to crave the drug and so the body becomes dependant on it, the user then becomes unwell if they try to stop and so end up a slave to the drug Some drugs are seen as “gateway drugs” which can lead the user on to take more dangerous drugs.
What about drugs I can buy over the counter at my local chemist – are they safe?
No drug is completely safe and risk-free, under certain conditions any drug can be damaging. Always read the packaging and the labels – over the counter drugs only relieve symptoms of an illness they do not cure the cause. If symptoms don’t clear up – consult your doctor.
How can families and friends make a difference in the life of someone needing treatment?
Family and friends can play critical roles in motivating and supporting individuals with drug problems to get help and stay with programmes of treatment/counselling etc. Family therapy is important; especially for young people – the participation of a family member in a young person’s treatment can reinforce and extend the benefits for them.