Experimentation with Drugs in Youth Linked to Addiction in Adulthood
Most parents want to do everything they can to ensure their children grow up to lead healthy, productive, successful lives. That goal acts as a driving force behind how parents raise their children and the day-to-day actions that parents take in doing so.
Parents may be interested to know, a new study showed that when young people (in their teen years and early 20s) experiment with drugs, they are more likely to become addicted to drugs in adulthood.
Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, worked with Dr. Beth Han and Dr. Emily B. Einstein to determine some of the long-term effects of drug use when a person begins using drugs during their adolescence. One of the most critical findings of the study was that the younger a person was when they first began experimenting with substances, the more likely they were to transition to regular substance abuse and then addiction.
According to the researchers, young people are most likely to experiment with alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco. The younger those surveyed in the study group were when they used these substances, the more likely they were to become dependent on those substances later on in life. Furthermore, the researchers found that people who experimented with one substance in their youth were more likely to experiment with other substances later in life.
For example, someone who used cannabis when they were a teenager was also more likely to use cannabis or hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, or prescription opioids later in life as opposed to someone who did not use cannabis at all in their youth.
However, the study did not go so far as to make the claim that people who do not use drugs in their adolescence are more likely to live sober, healthy lives.
Dr. Volkow, who led the study, commented on the findings. “We know that young people are more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders, but knowledge is limited on how the prevalence of specific substance use disorders varies by time since first substance use or misuse among adolescents and young adults in the United States. Though not everyone who uses a drug will develop addiction, adolescents may develop addiction to substances faster than young adults. This study provides further evidence that delaying substance exposure until the brain is more fully developed may lower risk for developing a substance use disorder.”
“Research has shown that brain development continues into a person’s 20s, and that age of drug initiation is a very important risk factor for developing addiction.”
Emily B. Einstein, Ph.D., chief of NIDA’s Science Policy Branch and a co-author of the study, also commented: “Research has shown that brain development continues into a person’s 20s, and that age of drug initiation is a very important risk factor for developing addiction. This underscores the importance of drug use prevention and screening for substance use or misuse among adolescents and young adults. Offering timely treatment and support to young people who need it must be a public health priority.”
Five Tips for Preventing Young People from Ever Experimenting with Drugs and Alcohol
Some would say that prevention is the best tool for tackling addiction, as most agree it is easier to prevent someone from ever becoming addicted to drugs than it is to help them get off drugs once they are hooked. Following are five tips on how parents can help ensure that their children never experiment with drugs, not even once:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s important to talk to kids about drugs, to have this conversation as early in their life as you are comfortable. Then, continue to have the conversation, and continue to engage your children in that conversation as they grow up.
2. Play an active role in your child’s social life. Rather than letting your children spend time with anyone and everyone, play a proactive, engaged role in their social life. Get them involved in positive and healthy groups, such as sports teams, art programs, youth groups, etc.
3. Make sure the family engages in activities together. When young people feel as though they are involved in the family unit, they are less likely to venture off and seek camaraderie and a social network elsewhere. Simply making sure that the family gets together and does fun activities together can play a significant role in ensuring sons and daughters do not experiment with substances. One study even indicated that teens who eat dinner with their families were less likely to use drugs or become delinquent.
4. Set a good example. Being a role model for your children is important. Whether they show it outwardly or not, your children look up to you, and they look to you for information on how they should act. That’s why parents must not experiment with substances.
5. Teach your kids how to say no. In most circumstances, young people use drugs for the first time because they are peer pressured. If your children know how to say no to drugs, they are much less likely to be peer pressured.
Addiction Treatment – What to Do When a Young Person Becomes Addicted to Drugs
There are many reasons why parents would not want their teen or young adult children to use drugs. The risk for addiction is one of the most obvious concerns, but other health problems can befall young people when they use drugs.
For example, something as widely accepted as marijuana use harms young people. Several studies have found that cannabis use in one’s youth can cause brain damage, harming critical areas of the brain that monitor cognitive function. Other studies suggest a link between marijuana use in one’s adolescence and stroke later on in life.
Another article, this one published by Harvard Health, discussed how cannabis use can even cause memory loss. Quoting those findings, “There’s no question that marijuana (the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant) can produce short-term problems with thinking, working memory, executive function, and psychomotor function (physical actions that require conscious thought, such as driving a car or playing a musical instrument).”
If a young person begins using drugs or alcohol and cannot stop using, they must get help. This is true even if they are using prescription medication in a way not intended by their doctor, as pharmaceutical drugs can also harm young people. When a young person begins experimenting or self-medicating, they put themselves at serious risk for injury, accidents, even death. If you have a son or daughter who is using substances and who cannot stop using them, make sure they get help at a drug and alcohol rehab center as soon as possible.
Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC-I