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“Understanding and Handling Addiction in Teenagers”

Author: Dr. Ali Khwaja

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Realisation of The Facts

So, you have just found out that a family member or close friend is an addict. It may come as quite a shock. It may also explain a lot of unusual observations over a long period.

This may happen by chance or when suspicious goings on are looked into. After following some initial clues, investigations by a parent or other loved-one may reveal the evidence. This might include the actual drugs or drug-using equipment such as a smoking buds, needle, syringe etc. Alternatively, it may occur in the context of a crisis such as an overdose, serious legal charge or the discovery of medical problems.

In some cases, the drug user may himself come out and say.

The discovery proof of drug use may be devastating. Reactions vary from rejection and hostility to even further denial of the problem. With time, patience and understanding, most of these tensions can be overcome and previous harmonious relationships restored and even improved.

The majority of addicts by this stage have deceived people around them and some have committed robberies or other schemes to generate income for drugs. Few of them are proud of it, but some try to justify such behavior. Society, they say, has placed them in the untenable position of being addicted to a drug which is illegal.

What Terms to Use and Who to Tell?

It is important not to tell too many people about someone's addiction. Number one, they may not understand, and secondly it may be none of their business. The stigma is very hard to lose with some people who have fixed ideas about addiction. One reason for this is the poor results from previous approaches to treatment with the experience of repeated relapses to drug or alcohol use. Modern enlightened therapy is more likely to result in an integrated patient much earlier than traditional approaches which often emphasize segregation for extended periods.

Doctors use numerous names for drug addiction. One common is an intravenous drug user (IVDU) although this term may also be applied to users of other injected drugs. Other terms used in medical classification are 'nervous disorder', 'substance abuse', 'chemical dependency', and 'compulsive self medication'. The legal terms 'self administration', 'possession', 'narcotic trafficking', 'personal use', and the like all have certain definitions in different jurisdictions.

The old term 'nervous breakdown' is not a single medical diagnosis, but is used by some to mean a temporary inability to function due to psychiatric illness. Such conditions include depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug addiction.

Addicts should always be frank with their own doctor about what drugs they are using. Drug addiction itself is a treatable condition and its complications may also require medical intervention. The physician should know the full drug history, social circumstances and previous interventions. An examination and pathology testing will reveal important information about suitability for treatment, work or travel. It will also help with the prognosis of infectious diseases.

What Can I Do To Help?

The answer to this question is simpler than it may appear. One should behave exactly as one would on learning of any other serious problem involving a loved one. Just as if the person had diabetes, HIV, it is important not to panic. Try not to judge, even if you have been hurt. The addicted person probably also hurts for previous transgressions. Learn what you can about the condition. When seeking expert help, be aware that this is a field where there are a lot of self-styled 'experts'. Trained addiction specialists are attached to most large hospitals and most psychiatrists are also familiar with this area.

It is often helpful for relatives or loved ones to attend such a specialist, counsellor or self help group together with the addicted person. This gives an important opportunity for associates to assess the nature and quality of the treatment being considered. They can ventilate any misgivings with the parties involved and ask questions. It should also give them confidence in treatment directions and how they can help to assist in these efforts.

Help for family members is also to be had. It is best for relatives and others who are close to the addict not to offer advice, however tempting it may be. In our effort to understand, it is best to offer support and sympathy, even when these do not come readily. If circumstances are such that this is not possible at the time, it is best to be frank about one's feelings, but still to leave the way open for future reconciliation.

Do not worsen the situation by giving money which could be used for drugs.Do not be enticed into debates about whether abstinence is the best philosophy. Each type of treatment is 'correct' for the right person at the right time. Equally unrewarding are arguments about why someone originally used drugs or what made them relapse on this occasion.

Key areas in which we need to guide teenagers, include:

The concept of spirituality instead of religious rituals
Development of positive physical and mental health
Guidance to select the right careers based on his aptitude
Helping them to keep away from addictions or anti-social activities
Helping them to set clear goals based on proper role models

If a teenager feels that he is not being given his due place in family and society, and if his emotional needs are not fulfilled, he may tend to become very lonely and frustrated. There is a desperate need to seek an escape from this uncomfortable position.

Some of the outlets of such frustrating circumstances are:

Seeking solace in religion or religious groups
Disruption of relations with parents
Promiscuity, jumping from one relationship to another
Withdrawal into a shell, losing self esteem, resigning themselves to a mundane life
Alcohol or other forms of chemical substance abuse
Or, a combination of the above

As is obvious, any of the above outlets can be harmful to the child, and can have far reaching effects on his adult life. Luckily, some of them are reversible. With a change in circumstances, one can undo the desperate acts and move towards a more orderly and satisfying life.

When a person has become habituated to drinking, it is easy to fall back upon a drink to escape from facing life. There are people who have slowly added on reasons for drinking. They drink when and because:

They are sad
They are angry
They are happy
They are frustrated
They are in emotional or physical pain
They are lonely
They want to escape company
They have nothing better to do

Drinking or smoking are only the symptoms. Do not focus on pulling the child away from the habit. Focus in improving his quality of life and his relationships, and it will become very easy to wean him away from any form of addiction or distraction.

The key lies in:

  1. Listen, listen, listen to him – make him talk about anything he wants to
  2. Be non-judgmental. Don’t be in a hurry to scold or point out the negative aspects
  3. Be consistent in making rules and implementing them.
  4. Be a role model. Walk your talk, stick to your word, be honest with him.

Do not panic, take things slow and easy, and you will see him bouncing back to his normal life. Don’t hesitate to seek help, either as a group of parents, or with a counselor. Enjoy this turbulent phase of parenting. One day you can look back and laugh at it. I did

About the author


This website was initially conceived and designed by the late Sitaram N
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