Drug abuse in Adolescence

Amit Khanna, a 17 year-old happy-go-lucky young kid, lately began avoiding family conversations.

Editorial Team
MiscellaneousWritten by: Editorial TeamPublished at: Feb 04, 2011Updated at: May 14, 2015
 Drug abuse in Adolescence

Amit Khanna, a 17 year-old happy-go-lucky young kid, lately began avoiding family conversations.  He used to lock himself up in the room by keeping all conversations within himself.  His parents were not too worried for several reasons – they thought he is growing up…he is temperamental as he is stressed, he is studying hard after all – it is his boards this year and he has to perform well.

“Yes, he does look fatigued but then school classes and coaching centre does take a toll on him. But, it is unavoidable,” thought his mother till the time she discovered a small packet of white powder in his jeans pocket. He was on drugs.

Vulnerable and adolescent

Adolescence can be a difficult age for some.  It is time when a child experiences new things-emotions, pressures, responsibilities, more freedom and more exposure. A teen may abuse drugs for several reasons including curiosity because it feels good to reduce stress, to feel grown up, to fit in.  Besides this, it is difficult to know which teenagers will experiment and stop, and which will go on to develop serious problems. Drug abuse, however, is a reality and it will help to know and identify warning signs, which may indicate if an adolescent is moving towards addiction.

Though the percentage of teenagers on drugs in the west is declining, the picture in India does not seem optimistic.  More than 10 adolescents and their distressed parents every week consult Dr. Jitendra Nagpal, consultant psychiatrist of VIMHANS, New Delhi.

Drugs are a reality to which most parents are not waking up to. It cannot, happen in our family, they insist.  Nowadays, parents are often ignorant and increasingly overindulgent.  Many of them even fail to detect early symptoms of drug abuse.  Think that drug abuse among teens is limited to illegal substances like marijuana, hashish and club drugs such as Ecstasy? Think again.

Symptoms of drug abuse

  • Increased secrecy about possessions or activites
  • Negative changes in schoolwork or declining grades; missing school
  • Increase in borrowing money
  • Missing prescription drugs – especially narcotics and mood stabilisers
  • Red or glassy eyes, extreme fatigue and poor health – bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers etc.
  • Increase agitation and irritability – depression, confusion, and mood swings
  • Getting into fights or severe conflict with parents
  • Hanging out with a new, possibly older crowd of friends
  • Changes in likes and dislikes and dislikes to a more unconventional style (such as with music, hair and clothing)
  • A significant weight gain or loss
  • Evidence of use of inhalant products (such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, common household products); Rags and paper bags are sometimes used as accessories

Harmless temptations?

Cold and cough medicines seemed to disappear from Jaya Kulkarni’s medicine cabinet.  Her son, Siddharth kept on taking the medicines even after sore throat symptoms subsided.  One category of products sometimes abused by teenagers that few parents know about is OTC (over the counter) cough and cold remedies.  These readily available medicines are safe and effected when used as directed.

Taken in excessive doses, dextromethorphan, an ingredient found in nearly half of these medications produces a high or cause psychoactive effects. “In college hostels, at times it was difficult to get alcohol inside but cough syrups could always be managed.  Anyway, whisky and beer were quite heavy on our monthly allowance.  We would have the entire bottle bottoms up,” reveals Aakash Bhatia, 25, call centre executive.  When had in excessive amounts, the drug acts as a depressant and mild hallucinogenic.  It may cause a number of adverse effects, including impaired judgement and mental performance, loss of coordination, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes, dissociation and hallucination

Need to break free
So, why are teens vulnerable to drugs despite being aware of side effects?

Teens are a trying period of transition from a child to an adult. The body is going through hormonal changes, while the mind is constantly under pressure to perform. “They are constantly questioning the parameters of success, and many a times inadequacy seeps in,” opines Dr. Nagpal, who adds, “A discord between the real self and projected self often weakens the inner personality.”  And unfortunately, parental pressure worsens the scene.

Teens prone to drugs

  •  Those with an inferiority complex
  •  Those who come from broken homes
  •  Those with family history of alcohol or drug abuse
  •  Those who are depressed

“Mr. Taneja’s son is in the IIT, Shiela’s daughter is going to Harvard on scholarship while our neighbour Sharmaji’s nephew topped in his class…Constant comparisons aggravate fear of what if I do not do well in boards, do not get into a good college, do not get a job, just be a failure in life?” questions 14-year-old Vishal Garg.

Every year just about seven to eight per cent students score above 85 percent in their boards, rest are disillusioned.  Many give up their survival instincts and find solace to drugs.

Reasons vary.  For many, drugs are a means to fit in the group, which is cool, hip and happening. Weekend rave parties are ideal meeting grounds for drug peddlers and their clients, not to mention new entrants.

Just for kicks

And, drug abuse is rampant not just among boys but is equally catching up amongst girls, too. “If guys can do it, why not us?” The ‘me too’ attitude backed by the freedom to make subjective choices, has led to a significant increase in drugs among girls.

“Girls who did not smoke, drink and experiment with grass were often seen as ‘uncool’ behenjis. My boyfriend initiated me into alcohol, smoking and, later, dope.  I loved it as we shared our cigarettes, and later even injections. Infact I loved it so much that it completely drained a hefty bank account that I had worked very hard to earn.  I found myself struggling, to afford my habit.  I suffered severe depression and anxiety, and found myself stuck in a whirlpool of hate and confusion.  It became hard to complete my own sentences. I could not keep my mind on one thing for more than a minute. Do I wish I had never done it? Of course, everyday,” Kirti Mehta, 26, shares her own experience. Today, after a year spent at the rehabilitation centre, she is leading an almost normal life.

By Aparna Gupta(Courtesy: Wellbeing, Aramuc)

What should parents do?








Kids imitate adults. If you abuse drugs yourself, no matter what you tell your teens, it is not going to help.  Your actions should speak louder than words.

Find out about the issues. Check with local schools, agencies, and information services for the resources you will need.  The more informed you are, the easier it will be to discuss issues.

The key to

     lies in

Listen to what your teens have to say.  Ask questions and do not judge.

Your main message should be clearly stated – “do not use drugs” should be the core theme of your discussions. Keep it relaxed – avoid the “We have to talk” approach.  If you are casual, it will help your children to be more honest and willing to talk.

Talk about way to say ‘no’ and how to deal with the pressures to conform and fit if.

Consult a psychiatrist or a counsellor if your child is on drugs. Admit your ward in a rehabilitation centre if need be.

Do not tell the neighbourhood and relative brigade of your vows.  Let your child know that you still respect him/her and are ready to give them a second chance.  Keep a positive attitude and it will rub on to your ward.