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Substance use in young people is a global problem, with potential short-term and long-term impacts on physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Young people’s brains are growing and developing until they are in their mid-20’s. This is especially true of the prefrontal cortex, which is used to make decisions. Taking drugs when young can interfere with developmental processes occurring in the brain. It can also affect their decision-making. They may be more likely to do risky things, such as unsafe sex and dangerous driving.

The earlier young people start using drugs, the greater their chances of continuing to use them and become addicted later in life. Taking drugs when you are young can contribute to the development of adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

The majority of adults who meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder started using substances during their teen and young adult years. Young people with substance use disorders also experience higher rates of physical and mental illnesses, diminished overall health and well-being, and potential progression to addiction.

Young people may not be aware that they have a problem or may not be paying attention to and seeking help for their substance use. It is important to remember that asking for help is a normal part of life, young people and their families do not need to feel like they have to take on such problems alone.

 Why do young people take drugs?

There are many different reasons why a young person may take drugs, including:

  • To fit in. Young people may do drugs because they want to be accepted by friends or peers who are doing drugs.
  • To feel good. Abused drugs can produce feelings of pleasure.
  • To feel better. Some young people suffer from depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain. They may do drugs to try to get some relief.
  • To do better in academics or sports. Some young people may take stimulants for studying or anabolic steroids to improve their athletic performance.
  • To experiment. Young people often want to try new experiences, especially ones that they think are thrilling or daring.

Which young people are at risk for drug use?

Different factors may raise a young person’s risk for drug use, including:

  • Stressful early life experiences, such as sexual/physical/verbal abuse, and other forms of trauma
  • Genetics
  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs
  • Lack of parental supervision or monitoring
  • Having peers and/or friends who use drugs

What are the signs that a young person has a drug problem?

  • Changing friends a lot
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Losing interest in favorite things
  • Not taking care of themselves – for example, not taking showers, changing clothes, or brushing their teeth
  • Being really tired and sad
  • Eating more or eating less than usual
  • Being very energetic, talking fast, or saying things that don’t make sense
  • Being in a bad mood
  • Quickly changing between feeling bad and feeling good
  • Missing important appointments
  • Having problems at school – missing class, getting bad grades
  • Having problems in personal or family relationships
  • Lying and stealing
  • Memory lapses, poor concentration, lack of coordination, slurred speech, etc.

Some things can protect our young people such as;

    • School connectedness
    • Family support
    • Parent or guardian engagement in treatment

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