Substance Abuse

  • Substance abuse is the overindulgence in and dependence on an addictive substance, usually alcohol or a narcotic drug.  Substance abuse can contribute to a pattern of behavior that displays many negative results from the continual use.  Doses of the substance are usually self-administrated despite the continual problems related to the use of that substance.

    Other Names and Terms: substance abuse disorder, drug abuse, substance abuse, substance related disorder, substance dependence, drug use, chemical abuse

    Trends Concerning Substance Abuse:

    • According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction over 8% of the entire population of the United States are current users of an illicit substance. That represents almost 20 million people.
    • By the time they have completed high school, over half (51%) of the young people in America will have tried an illicit substance.
    • “Huffing” and the use of inhalants is on the rise among 8th graders in the United States -with over 17% reporting that have tried inhalants at least once.
    • 8% of Americans over the age of 12 report having used an illicit drug at least once in the past month.
    • According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice over 66% of high school students report having used alcohol at least once within the past month.
    • Alcohol abuse seems to go along with generational trends. Studies also show that parents who abuse alcohol increase the odds of their children abusing alcohol.
    • Children whose parents are alcoholics are four times more at risk of abusing alcohol than children of non-alcoholics. 

    Key Points of Discussion:  Parents, guardians, youth workers, and friends are ideal to help understand and deal with issues involving substance abuse. However, your student’s professional school counselor, campus intervention specialist, or a medical health professional could be used as additional resource. Listed below are key points that might be useful in discussing substance abuse: 

    • Explain to kids that alcoholism is a disease, not a sign of weakness. If a parent or loved one is an alcoholic, it's not a reflection of not caring for the child, it's an illness that needs to be addressed and treated
    • Start young. It is never too early to begin discussing this issue of substance abuse with children. Sometimes adults wait until children are teenagers to begin discussing this topic with them.  By that time, children have already started experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and it is too late.
    • Take advantage of teachable moments. If you're watching television with your child and a drug or alcohol situation occurs or a beer commercial comes on, take the time to discuss the way drugs and alcohol is portrayed on television, as opposed to the realities of drug and alcohol use in real life.
    • When children ask questions about drug and alcohol use, sit down and talk to them about it. Explain that consuming drugs is illegal.  Also explain that alcohol use among children and teens is illegal, and that adults should be cautious about their own consumption. Discuss drug and alcohol use and abuse with teens when they begin driving, as well.
    • Detail the effects of substance abuse, and be honest.  Discuss short term and long term effects of substance abuse.
    • Teach children to identify warning signs of substance abuse.
    • Get help as early as possible if you feel your child or teen might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Support groups and community resources are available to help families facing difficulties stemming from substance abuse.

    Talking to children: Parents and concerned adults need to talk to children about substance abuse. It is vital to their success and livelihood.  Parents should start talking to their kids when they begin to ask questions:  it is NEVER too early.

    Age 4: Talk to your kids about medication, and who is allowed to give it to them.  Make it clear to them it is not safe to take anyone else’s prescribed medication.  Also, teach them to drink out of their own cup or glass.  Make it clear they should never drink out of anyone else’s, especially at a party. What may appear to be juice, soda, water may actually be an alcoholic beverage.

    Ages 5-8: Talk to your children about medication, smoking, alcohol, and the consequences.  Medication should only be taken when an individual is sick or not feeling well.  Smoking tobacco or marijuana gives people bad breath and turns their teeth yellow.  Smoking crystal meth causes teeth to fall out. Drinking alcohol makes impairs judgment, and makes an individual tired and lazy.  Allow your kids to ask questions, and make sure to address television, newspaper, magazine, and billboard advertisements.  Make sure your child (ren) understands that smoking, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs is not “cool”.  Rather it is dangerous to their health and family.

    Ages 9-11: Make sure your child is familiar with what rules, boundaries, and consequences are.  Your household should already have rules and consequences for not doing chores, homework, lying, etc.  Make sure these rules and consequences are clearly stated, and you follow through with the consequences when rules are broken.  Boundaries are limits, and when they are crossed a rule has been broken.  Boundaries keep kids and adults safe. Examples of boundaries are:  personal space, opinions, safety procedures, traffic laws, household rules, etc.  Consequences are positive or negative outcomes.  For example, a positive consequence for studying is scoring a 100 a spelling.  An example of a negative consequence is scoring a 0 for not turning in homework.  It is important to teach you kids what these things mean, and how they protect individuals.

    Another important aspect of teaching your child (ren) about drugs is to teach them about self-esteem.  Make sure to tell your child (ren) how special they are to you, what makes them special, and why they are special.  Also, be sure to offer your child (ren) choices for extracurricular activities.  These activities help build a positive self image, confidence, and help children feel secure and successful.  Talk to your kid(s) about potential situations which may arise.  Act these situations out with your child, and guide them on how to say ‘no’ and how to get out of a sticky situation.

    Risk Factors and Warning Signs:

    Family situations can be one of the causes of substance abuse.  Early childhood is the most crucial time for an individual.  During this time the brain is in a constant state of change.  Using drugs, smoking cigarettes, and/or drinking alcohol during this stage of life can prove to be very harmful.  Drug abuse is more common among individuals who have experienced/witnessed is domestic violence, traumatic experiences, and any kind of abuse/neglect. Individuals who have a family history of substance abuse, and/or mental disorders are predisposed to substance abuse.  Also, the early use of drugs, and the method used to administrate them are deciding factors in substance abuse.

    Warning Signs:

    • a drop in grades
    • lack of motivation
    • moods are up and down
    • dishonest about a lot of things
    • early cigarette smoking
    • defies authority figures
    • red, watery, or glassy eyes
    • uses eye drops to hide red eyes
    • hangs out with the  “wrong crowd”
    • poor hygiene
    • rejection of parental values
    • have found drugs & paraphernalia in his/her possession
    • disappearance of money or possessions
    • defensive about drug use
    • antisocial behavior
    • seems to have drug-using friends
    • often draws pot leaves, drugs, or drug symbols 

    Coping Skills and Techniques
    Although there is no cure for substance abuse there is help.  The most common forms of help include: rehabilitation centers, medication, and/or a combination of both.