GUEST VIEW: Teen drug use is back


By Anika Gundlapalli

Many of today’s trends are revived by the hippie movement of the sixties. A trademark of the sixties, the hippie movement advocates non-violence and the rejection of societal norms. This movement was also known for the eccentric and unconventional characteristics of the people who participated in it – extravagant fashion styles, habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs, and a propensity to go without shoes. An influx of these tendencies has again appeared in mainstream culture. But unfortunately, flared jeans and flamboyant prints aren’t the only trends left over from the sixties, so is teenage drug use.

Throughout the 1960s there was a proliferation in the use of psychoactive drugs such as marijuana and this increase is not only trending again among teenagers today but is also turning into a disturbing phenomenon. . While most teenagers in the sixties used drugs to “expand their consciousness”, teenagers now use a range of more potent drugs for a plethora of reasons and at higher rates. Today, teenagers use drugs recreationally for the purpose of experimentation. But for most teenagers, experimentation degenerates into chronic addiction. Other teens abuse drugs, ingesting them as a coping mechanism, for personal issues like mental health issues. As mental health disorders rise, the rate of teen drug abuse follows suit with a direct correlation between the two. Recreational drug use disproportionately affects adolescents, especially those with mental health issues, as these groups are more susceptible to its effects. The effects of drug abuse on teens include addiction, worsening mental health disorders and serious medical conditions. These implications make adolescent drug abuse impossible to overlook.

DRUGS AND MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS

The correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse is unambiguous. Thirty to forty-five percent of adolescents with mental disorders have co-existing substance abuse issues. Young people seek out harmful substances such as drugs in an effort to manage undiagnosed mental health issues. Numerous studies show that ADHD, depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder in adolescents increase the likelihood of substance abuse.

Substance abuse also provides an avenue for the development of mental health disorders. Mental health disorders can result or be exacerbated by the recreational use of prescription drugs and antidepressants. Teenagers with a family history of psychotic disorders can trigger psychosis by abusing drugs like marijuana. Heavy use of high potency psychoactive drugs can lead to symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations, strange behavior, and inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Ingesting large doses of marijuana also gives rise to thoughts of self-harm and depression.

Adolescents with anxiety disorders use drugs to temporarily dull anxious feelings such as those resulting from interacting with peers, presenting in class, or trying to meet expectations. When these feelings exceed their thresholds, medication offers them a way to relieve their anxiety for a short time. It only makes the conditions worse. The effects of the drugs mask the symptoms of anxiety, which greatly complicates the diagnosis of the disorder that prevents adolescents from accessing appropriate treatment. Teenagers who use drugs to soothe their anxiety may experience their condition more acutely when they are not using. This leads to increased use or even tolerance that turns into addiction.

ADDICTION

Mental health issues and experimentation lead to addiction. Drugs have a more dreadful effect on teenage brains because they are not fully developed. Ninety percent of drug addicts started using it during adolescence. Teenagers are particularly affected by drugs because they are more likely to become addicted than adults. The adolescent brain has the flexibility to change. In contrast, developed adult brains are quite stable. This flexibility of the adolescent brain increases the likelihood that drug use will alter the interactions between neurons in the brain and the rest of the body. Due to these altered synaptic connections, the use of these stimulants amplifies the feelings of pleasure associated with drug use. This leads to chronic addiction.

A significant percentage of the teenage population has mental health issues, but these issues are not the only factor that drives teens to abuse drugs. Many teenagers use drugs to experiment. This is concerning because teenagers are much more likely to become dependent on drugs than adults. The results of a new study showed that 11% of teenagers had become addicted to marijuana within a year of trying them, compared to just 6.4% of adults. Surprisingly, 20% of teenagers – twice as many as adults – became addicted to marijuana just three years after experimenting with it.

This trend is similar for prescription drugs. The study results showed that teens who used prescription stimulants recreationally also showed a greater tendency to become addicted. Teens experimentally using prescription drugs developed addiction within a year at a rate of 14%, a stark contrast to a rate of 4% among adults. Other results showed that 11.2% of teens using opioids recreationally became addicted, compared to a rate of just 7% among adults.

HEALTH COMPLICATIONS

Mental health disorders and substance abuse are not the only complications that result from substance abuse in adolescents. Several marijuana users have been diagnosed with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition that involves uncontrollable, periodic bouts of vomiting and severe nausea and abdominal pain. A patient diagnosed with this syndrome said she felt her body “float” after vomiting repeatedly for more than an hour.

Compared to previous decades, the potency of drugs such as marijuana is much higher. The amount of THC detected in weed has gone from a concentration of four percent in the 90s to twelve percent today. This makes marijuana more harmful than it has ever been, as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can cause serious side effects such as memory loss and concentration problems.

Drug addiction can also lead to overdose and death. Not only is there a risk of overdose, heavy drug use also increases the likelihood of fentanyl ingestion. Fentanyl is a highly addictive narcotic that can cause death when consumed in large doses. Drugs commonly used in adolescents are often associated with fentanyl. In fact, the DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) has reported that more than 4 out of 10 pills contain fentanyl.

IMPORTANT MEASURES

Many states legalize recreational drug use, which will disproportionately affect teens and significantly hurt those with mental health issues. It is essential that policy makers implement regulations to protect adolescents. Policy makers need to re-evaluate the effects of marijuana legalization through a teen lens.

Health professionals are aware that drugs are a detrimental force on the minds and bodies of adolescents. Therefore, they work tirelessly on a daily basis to protect adolescents from drugs and must continue to do so by screening adolescent patients and offering treatment.

Finally, parents play a role in preventing drug addiction and its effects on adolescents. Teens who are educated about the risks of drug use, such as medical conditions and substance abuse, are 50% less likely to use drugs. The rate of recreational substance use among teens dropped by as much as 14% when teens felt their parents were watching their actions.

The effects of drug use on today’s teens make drug addiction unquestionably unavoidable. Addiction and mental health issues form an endless cycle. Experimenting with drugs eventually becomes an addiction, especially among teenagers. The potency of these stimulants increases, leading to death and serious health problems. Steps must be taken to ensure that today’s teenagers do not become another statistic for mental health disorders, addictions and death.

Policy makers, medical professionals and parents must ensure that the trends returning from the 1960s are limited to fashion and eccentric mannerisms, and not to drug use.

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