Adolescences and Substances
Adolescence is an important, exciting and interesting time for any person to go through. Typically, adolescence refers to the ages between 13 and 18 where a person will undergo significant physiological and psychological changes that will impact significantly the rest of their life. During this time, young people face immense emotional and physical changes that can be scary. Their bodies will change shape, they will begin to have sexual urges and they will mature into an adult with their own personality, ideas, beliefs and values.
During adolescence, many people will engage in high risk, impulsive and exciting acts. They will do new things, take risks and explore themselves. It is during this time that many youth will begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. This experimentation can be harmless, but it can also lead to disastrous consequences. Impeding brain development, unwanted pregnancy, social anxieties and health problems can all be the result of experimentation that turns out badly. Additionally, the risk of developing serious substance addiction can lead to long term health problems and family dysfunction.
Brain Development and Substance Abuse
Alcohol and illicit substances are known to cause many serious problems in the development of the brain as well as brain functioning. Memory loss, ability to concentrate, motor skills and coping skills are all affected by drug and alcohol abuse. For adolescents, this can be even more significant as the brain is still developing and changing and any damage to sensitive nerves or brain matter can be permanent. Additionally, during adolescence, risk taking behaviors tend to be heightened. This means that a young person may decide to take drugs, drink alcohol and put themselves into dangerous and potentially harmless situations more easily than adults. A young person may make the decision while under the influence of alcohol to drive a car, to engage in unsafe sex or to take other substances. These poor decisions can have life-long consequences.
Social & Family Problems and Substance Abuse
Many young people who indulge in illicit substances from a young age experience problems with their peers and the greater community. They may find themselves being the target of police interventions, school discipline or being ostracized from other peers. A young person may begin to use drugs or alcohol as a way to alleviate their social anxieties but this can easily lead to a dependency on these substances. Alcohol and other drugs can make a person feel social, lively, chatty and lose their inhibitions. It can make problems seem to disappear and a person may feel that they cannot go to social events, socialize with friends or attend school without using a substance.
When a person uses substances at inappropriate times their friends and family may begin to distance themselves. They may not want to be seen with a friend who is drunk or high all the time for fear of what that person might do. Feelings of shame, embarrassment and awkwardness are common. Many parents may feel that they have failed as a parent if they bring up a child who has a substance abuse problem. The drug problem can also contribute to greater family problems including financial issues. Relationships may become strained or even broken due to the underlying issues caused by the substance abuse problem. This can have a long lasting effect on an adolescent’s future relationships and attitudes towards family members.
Delinquency and Substance Abuse
Delinquency and substance abuse have long been linked and this is particularly relevant for adolescents. Delinquency in juveniles is characterized by antisocial and problem behaviors of a criminal nature. It is often linked to drug and alcohol abuse as many of the behaviors and incidents associated with the crimes are committed when under the influence. Whether one causes the other is not clear, but the two problems combined can lead to significant problems at school, home or in the greater community.
Substance abuse is associated with both violent and income-generating crimes by youth. This increases fear among the community and demands for police to intervene and to increase juvenile incarceration to fix this problem. Association with gangs, drug trafficking, prostitution, and growing numbers of youth homicides are among the social and criminal justice problems often linked to adolescent substance abuse.
Alcohol is illegal in most countries for youth under 18 or 21 years of age to consume or possess, as with possession of illicit substances for people of any age. When a youth is caught with possession or consumption of drugs or alcohol, severe penalties including detention can be imposed. This can have significant implications for a persons life, including the recording of the offense on their record for life. Once a person has a criminal record, this can limit their future as certain jobs may not be available to them, they may not be able to travel and they could have restrictions on their movements.
Sexual Health and Substance Abuse
As an adolescent matures, so does their sexuality and sexual urges. It is during this time that many people begin to experiment with their bodies and with other people. But if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol they may find themselves in situations beyond their control or not to their liking. Substances can make a person more confident, more sexual and people lose their inhibitions. Sexual assaults and rape are sad but common act of violence that many people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol face. If a teenager experiences this act of violence, the long term consequences for their mental health can be very poor.
Along with the increase risk of sexual assaults and rapes, adolescents who experiment with drug use and their sexuality can potentially contract some very serious sexually transmitted diseases. These diseases can have a long lasting effect on a woman’s health which can include infertility and changes to menstrual cycles. For men, abusing drugs and alcohol can cause sexual dysfunction which is both troubling and embarrassing for a young man.
The risk of unwanted pregnancy rises exponentially when a person is affected by drugs or alcohol. Because of the dis-inhibiting affect of alcohol and other drugs, many people will have unprotected sex which can lead to an unwanted pregnancy. For a young person, this can alter the rest of their life if they choose to have the child, or it can lead to trauma if the pregnancy is terminated. These life-changing incidences can be prevented by practicing safe sex at all times but also by not ingesting harmful and mind altering substances.