How to identify that my child suffers from a substance addiction?

The classic definition of addiction refers to all substances, whether of natural or artificial origin, that act on the central nervous system and whose use can cause stimulation or inhibition of functions, as well as tolerance or physical or psychological dependence. However, this definition would only be valid for substance addiction, leaving out behavioral or non-substance addictions. If these are included, the most accurate definition would be “any activity that the person is unable to control, that leads to compulsive behaviors and is detrimental to their quality of life”.

What drugs are most commonly used by young people?

Any substance that inhibits the functions or stimulates the central nervous system can be considered addictive. The most commonly consumed by adolescents are tobacco, alcohol and cannabis. They are usually “normal” young people who function integrated in their social life during the weekdays. Normally the pattern of consumption is occasional, related to weekends and leisure.

In this group it is more common to find situations of abuse and not so much substance dependence, as it is often a response to stress factors typical of this age group. Substances are key in the social relationships of young people and, in some way, act as an axis of sociability, either as a stimulant or an inhibitor. However, there is very little social awareness of their risks, as well as a certain tolerance on the part of adults.

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Regarding alcohol, beer is the most consumed beverage during the week, with mixed drinks at the weekend, as well as hard and fruit liqueurs, which are ahead. Young people tend to consume, above all, in pubs or discotheques, in the street, in bars and in bars.

In terms of the substances themselves, smoked cannabis is the most widely consumed illegal drug among young people. The action of this drug starts immediately, peaks after 30 minutes and decreases after 2 hours. The effects will vary according to the constitution of the person, the dose consumed, the expectations he/she has about it, the environment in which he/she is consuming, possible past experiences or mood.

When to be alarmed, when should we suspect substance abuse in young people?

The warning signs that may arise with respect to substance abuse are:

  • Decreased school performance.
  • Change in physical appearance, as young people neglect their clothing and personal hygiene. In addition, they may have redder eyes or dark circles under the eyes.
  • Changes in behavior and social relationships, with aggressiveness, mood swings and frequent changes of friendships.

However, the clinical picture may be hidden by factors that are related to the “crisis” of adolescence, such as rebelliousness, transient sadness or even depression, or irritability.

Early identification and treatment of substance abuse in adolescents is essential, as they may be at high risk of severe dependence due to their impulsivity, sense of invulnerability and the fact that they are in a “developmental” phase. In addition, it is difficult for an adolescent to consider that he or she is ill and needs permanent abstinence, something that will complicate the therapeutic plan proposed by the specialist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in which the family will have a determining role.