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Drug abuse in children & adolescents

Drug abuse
Misuse of drugs is one of the greatest
dangers in children and young adults.
©: evgenyatamanenko - Fotolia

Misuse of drugs is one of the greatest dangers for children and young adults. Especially adolescents are particularly susceptible to such temptations. They are not entirely grounded in their lives and their personality is not fully developed. Doctors and scientists are raising the alarm. In recent years, a flood of new drugs has come to Germany, and with them, for the first time in years the number of drug-related deaths has increased. The issue of drug abuse is more explosive than ever.

Which drugs are we talking about?

In principle, any type of drugs. Beginning with soft drugs, also called gateway drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis, marijuana, amphetamines (Ecstasy, LSD, etc.). Right through to the hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine or – brand new - Crystal Meth. It is a sheer countless number of substances which pose a danger to children and young people. These days it is quite common that young people bypass the soft drugs and go straight for the hard drugs such as Crystal Meth.

Why do children and adolescents get addicted to drugs?

A general explanation for this does not exist. It could be the way the child was brought up, as well as his individual constitution and personality could weigh in whether a child or young person abuses drugs. Basically, there needs to be a connection between unhappiness and the desire to change his life, which makes the use of narcotics tempting. According to experts, curiosity alone is not enough to develop a dependency. In particularly not to slip into a long-term addiction. The desire for change can be born out of boredom, they could be overwhelmed by their school or job or the mere desire just to be like everybody else. Another, often even more to the point reason for a drug addiction might be that the young person tries to cope with a traumatic experience. This can be anything from abuse, violence or neglect.

How do I know if my child is using drugs?

There are a number of signs that may indicate a drug addiction in a child or young person. Of course, individual symptoms may also indicate other conditions. However, if the symptoms are piling up, parents should start to ask questions and look more closely. Such signs may be, for example, poor appetite. Did your child always love to eat and all of a sudden he refuses food? Are those symptoms accompanied by a strikingly pale complexion and dull, tired eyes? Other physical symptoms include tremors, increased perspiration, constant tiredness and a great nervousness.

Drug abuse
Drug abuse: addicted to heroin | ©: michaeljung - Fotolia

So much for the physical signs that may point to a drug addiction. However, mentally and emotionally you also can observe tell-tale signs. For example, do you have the feeling that all of a sudden your child is losing his joy of living? While he once was always full of life? Does he isolate himself? Did he have a sudden change of friends? Does he hardly get out of the house anymore? Did his academic achievements drop? Does his physical performance (sport, etc.) drop? Those may be signs of a drug dependency.

How to respond correctly in the face of your drug taking child

Anger, despair, helplessness, and the feeling that you have failed your child the way you brought him up. Those are the feelings arising in parents when they learn about their child’s drug addiction. You are asked to put those feelings as much as possible in the background. What you need to do is give active support. Accusations and laying blame would make matters only worse. Most likely the child would shut down and cut you out of his life completely. Try to strike up a conversation with your child and do that in a gentle manner. Express your suspicions and concerns, but do not expect for the child to open up to you immediately. To think all this needs is one conversation and it will go away is naive. Talk to your child in a clear and unmistakable manner but refrain from strict prohibitions. Neither overwhelm you child with expectations he cannot fulfill immediately. It could help to talk about your own experience with drugs, without trivializing the matter. Make your child understand that you want to help and not condemn his behaviour. This way he is much more likely to trust and cooperate with you.

Professional help for drug-addicted children and youth

Sometimes it does not go without professional help. Especially then, when parents suspect a long-standing drug addiction and they have no longer “access” to their child.

Youth work with drug-addicted children and youth

For the youth workers, it is just as difficult as for the parents to recognize a drug addiction in a child or young person. However, it may be easier for him connecting to the individual concerned since the authority of the youth worker is different to that of the parents. Sometimes it might even happen that the young person comes out to the youth worker, something he would never do with his parents or teachers.

The youth worker can use this high level of trust to gain access to the young person and initiate first steps out of the dependency. By doing so, the youth worker should engage in private conversations with the affected child because he (the child) sees his addiction as a weakness and is reluctant to admit that in front of others.

Important: Do not try to surprise the child or the youth with your activism or force him to anything he does not want to do. This almost always backfires. A gentle, soulful approach is required, with a sufficient amount of time.

If the issue of drugs is addressed within the youth group, generally that should be done in the form of drug prevention.

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