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Drugs & Alcohol

Harmful Use of Drugs & Alcohol

Drugs & Alcohol

Many young people smoke, drink alcohol and may try drugs. It is important you are aware of this. Many of them think that they are just having fun or experimenting. It doesn’t take much for the young people to soon lose control and to need help to recover from this problem.

Young people are trying drugs earlier and more are drinking alcohol. More youngsters are being hospitalised and more frequently, and at a younger age, because of alcohol-related liver disease.

The most commonly used, readily available and strongly addictive drugs are tobacco and alcohol. There are numerous others that can be addictive.

Alcohol and cannabis are sometimes seen as ‘gateway’ drugs that lead to the world of other drugs like cocaine and heroin. Drugs are also classed as ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’. The obviously illegal drugs include cannabis (hash), speed (amphetamines), ecstasy (E), cocaine and heroin.

Young people may try or use drugs or alcohol for various reasons. They may do it for fun, because they are curious, or to be like their friends. Some are experimenting with the feeling of intoxication. Sometimes they use it to cope with difficult situations or feelings of worry and low mood. A young person is more likely to try or use drugs or alcohol if they hang out or stay with friends or family who use them.

Drugs and alcohol can have different effects on different people. In young people especially the effects can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Even medications for sleep or painkillers can be addictive and harmful if not used the way they are prescribed by a doctor.

Drugs and alcohol can damage health. Sharing needles or equipment can cause serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis. Accidents, arguments and fights are more likely after drinking and drug use. Young people are more likely to engage in unprotected sex when using drugs.

Using drugs can lead to serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and depression. It is very difficult to know when exactly using drugs or alcohol is more than just ‘usual’. Addiction becomes more obvious when the young person spends most of their time thinking about, looking for or using drugs. Drugs or alcohol then become the focus of the young person’s life. They ignore their usual work, such as not doing their schoolwork, or stop doing their usual hobbies/sports such as dancing or football.

Occasional use can be very difficult to detect. If the young person is using on a regular basis, their behaviour often changes. Look for signs such as:
•unexplained moodiness.
•behaviour that is ‘out of character'.
•loss of interest in school or friends.
•unexplained loss of clothes or money.
•unusual smells and items like silver foil, needle covers.

Remember, the above changes can also mean other problems rather than using drugs.

If you suspect young person is using drugs, remember some general rules.
•Pay attention to what the child is doing, including schoolwork, friends and leisure time.
•Learn about the effects of alcohol and drugs.
•Listen to what the child says about alcohol and drugs, and talk about it with them.
•Encourage the young person to be informed and responsible about drugs and alcohol.
•Talk to other parents, friends or teachers about drugs - the facts and your fears and SEEK HELP.

If someone in the family or close friend is using drugs or alcohol, it is important that they seek help too. It may be hard to expect the young person to give up, especially if a parent is using it too.

•If your child is using drugs or alcohol, seek help.
•Do stay calm and make sure of facts.
•Don't give up on them, get into long debates or arguments when they are drunk, stoned or high.
•Don’t be angry or blame them –they need your help and trust to make journey of recovery.

You can talk in confidence to a professional like your family doctor, a psychiatrist or someone in a local drug project.

As a carer you may notice that the person is:
•more concerned with getting their substance than dealing with other things
•angry if confronted about their substance use
•secretive and evasive
•more often intoxicated, or appears to be under the influence of something
•tired, irritable and looks less well
•less interested in every day things
•unable to say ‘no’ and has a strong desire for the substance
•using more and more of the substance to get the same effect
•involved in criminal activity
•anxious, depressed or shows symptoms of other mental health problems.

A diagnosis is made by talking to the person about their substance use, looking for signs of withdrawal, examining the person and asking them to perform certain tests. These can include urine-screening tests for drugs and, in the case of alcohol abuse, liver function tests.

The goal of treatment ranges from controlling consumption, to detox and giving up drinking or drugs completely. Psychological treatments are common for all forms of substance misuse, and for opiate addiction methadone and buprenorphine treatment. Medication is also available for both drug and alcohol addiction to help prevent relapse.

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