Addiction has been part of human nature since the time immemorial. People have always tried to get it under control, but the success rate does not look good. According to experts, the most important criterion of addiction is the inability to control one's behaviour. Addiction or a habit is an uncontrollable urge to repeat certain behaviour regardless of its consequences.
We generally divide addiction into physical and psychological. Psychological addiction manifests with irresistible desire to continue abusing certain substances. Physical addiction comes at the point when stopping using the substances causes physiological functions of the addicted person to fail.
General Characteristics of Addiction
- irresistible desire for the given substance (cigarette, a glass of alcohol, another drug fix)
- reduced self-control
- need for increasing doses
- abstinence symptoms after stopping using
- abusing the substance despite the knowledge of its damage
There is no such personality structure that would be a 100% protection against occurrence of drug addiction or its single cause.
However, it is true that personalities that are unreserved, unbalanced, immature and socially inflexible have higher propensity to drug experimentation. Addiction may also get people who are sensitive and unable to handle stress well. Another group with a propensity to drug use is introverts - people who are rather closed up, they have difficulty making contact with people around them and drugs help them remove the social barrier. People needing to be in the centre of the attention are also frequently drug-users.
Age also plays an important role.. Statistics shows that the riskiest period for drug experimentation is 15-25 years of age of the potential user. After passing this limit, we encounter occurrence of primal addiction only rarely. Sex is also a factor (there are less addicted girls than boys)- Intellect plays only a minor role in terms of drug addiction.
The most important factors of limiting the risks of addiction is upbringing and relationships within the family. Many addicts manifest disorders in this field.
Family Environment and Risk Factors
Family is an indispensable and irreplaceable unit of society for children as well for adults. Human personality is forming since early childhood, the environment of the family is therefore very important for its development. Family is a source of values, experience, behaviour patterns, traditions and habits, it is back-ground for self-assertion. It plays the most important role in man's upbringing.
The role of parents is very demanding and not every parent handles it well. The most frequent destructive factors in families are:
- absence of one of the parents
- unfulfilled basic family functions
- disrupted mother-child relationship (long separation of the child from the mother)
- unfavourable emotional climate in the family, emotional deprivation
- negative parent patterns
- low cultural and economic standard in the family
- unbalanced upbringing (liberal upbringing, excessive punishment...)
Other risk factors in family that may lead to drug addiction are:
- addiction in one or both parents, serious mental disease in one of the parents, frequent moving around, child living without a family and a home, co-addiction (approving of excessive drinking or drug abuse), non-existent clear rules in the upbringing, lack of time spent with children
Triggering Factors or Stimuli
People need some triggering or provoking stimulus to take a drug. The trigger will then initiate the events between the drug, the personality and the environment.
In youth, triggers for drug experimentation may include curiosity, boredom, feeling of "emptiness in life", inability to adjust to social conditions or demands/requirements they find themselves under. Frequent reason is also effort to "appear asult" or some negative influence of a troublemaking group.
In 80% of future drug addicts, provoking moments are conditions of long-term psychological tension. In men, these include troubles at work (fear and jitters of rivals, worries about failure at their job), existential worries. In women, these conditions are induced mainly by discontent in marriage (emotional and sexual deprivation), excessive strain at work and at home, problems with their children, etc.
So sometimes they start taking drugs because they seek positive experience and euphoria in them or because they strive to escape from unpleasant feelings, suffering, pain and anxiety.
Red Flags Signalizing Possible Drug Use
Unfortunately, one thing is certain from common experience clearly - despite countless information on the topic and parental tendencies to excessive worries or suspicions - most parents still refuse to acknowledge and accept the fact that their children could be taking drugs.
Sometimes the situation gets so weird that when the red flags start to make their way into the family's life and child's behaviour intensively parents become sort of "blind" and they miss the red flags showing their child setting on the drug path altogether.
There are several warning signs or red flags that may not be entirely conclusive. First of all, we need to consider that the time of adolescence is a time when children show many features and changes that would point to trouble in an adult person.
If your child shows a larger amount of these signals, it is worth spending more time with them or consult an expert.
Sudden mood swings, atypical reactions to certain situations
Some children start closing off from others, other children suddenly become the most popular kids around. Some children start to initiate fights, other children start behaving suspiciously nicely. Increased irritability as well as obvious calm and passivity are typical symptoms of drug use.
Worsened school results, decreasing interest in hobbies
Absences in school, neglecting homework, worsening grades. The child may stop attending extracurricular activities or sports. They quit easily at the slightest obstacle.
Changing friends and acquaintances
Significant changes in the child's close friends always points to a big change. If the new friends are older or they are people your child does not want to introduce to you, it is good to keep an eye out for the child and increase the level of attention and care you give them.
Significant changes in style and music preferences
Nowadays, it is impossible to say that one or more particular styles are related to drug use more or less. Abrupt changes are part of adolescence, but it is always worth it spending more time with your child and communicating.
Hiding and covering
Sunglasses may cover reddy eyes after smoking marijuana or dilated pupils after heroin. Long sleeves cover track marks. Clothes too big for the child's size cover for weight loss. It is natural that adolescents require higher respect to their privacy However, excessive hiding and covering and irritability upon entering their personal space may point to more than just the need for privacy.
Frequent exhaustion, fatigue and sleepiness
Rather than real exhaustion, it can be a summary of partial symptoms related to drug abuse.
This concerns mainly increased lying and pretending in children who were not lying before. Naturally, this depends largely on the previous development of the child in this area and general environment in the family. The reasons are simple: Children lie to continue their drug or alcohol use; this is prerequisited by questioning some moral values.
Sexual activity coming surprisingly fast
Mainly in those who were introvert and shy before, fast increase in sexual activity implies they use alcohol or drugs to suppress their shyness or for encouragement.
Isolation from the family
Adolescents learn to be alone and they need to form a natural border between them and the rest of the family. But when this alone-time prevails for a long time and it blocks natural communication with others, it may be a result of excessive engagement of the child in another world - i.e. possibly even the world of drugs. Such isolation is not easy to overcome and it requires patience, sensitivity and significant inventiveness from the parents.
The feeling of being an outsider both in the family and at school often precedes drug experimentation. Drop in a child that is always criticized, unsuccessful and refused should always become a red flag for the child's close ones.
Medicine or alcohol missing at home
A signal that the adolescent or their friends are trying out drugs that are easily available to them. This goes for alcohol as well.
Things and money getting lost
Especially in larger or wealthier households, things or money may start getting lost. This signal usually goes by without a response. However, when a child starts taking money at home, pawning or selling things from home whether their own or someone else's - it is usually a sign that a whole new need has entered their life. But when the child breaks common norms, takes things without previous agreement and is unable to prove their spendings, it is good to pay closer attention to the problem.
How to Respond to Drug Use in the Family?
It is not recommended to:
- Start reproaching immediately old and forgotten mistakes and misdeeds.
- Immediately establish punishments, sanctions and definitive changes in family habits. Although setting certain sanctions is not a bad idea, in the momentary frame of mind the parents are usually not able to reason and they may set such punishments that cannot be controlled, are not realistic or are unrelated to what they need to prevent in the first place.
- Search for a culprit. General blaming never helps, such as: "It's that troublemaking boy of yours - it's his fault!" or "If your mother wasn't spoiling you, this wouldn't have happened!" etc.
- Unrealistic threatening with gruesome immediate future.
- Moralize Long monologues in which the parent describes a long list of the child's misdeeds, putting together things that are not related, rubbing the mistakes in the child's face... These are rather desperate efforts to catch up on stuff that parents haven't been doing during the everyday life so far. In critical moments we are talking about, moralizing does not help anybody.
- Do not react right away - take your time to consider all circumstances and think about further process.
- Talk about everything with a person who usually helps you find a solution that you find right and suitable for you.
- Talk about the situation with the child. Apart from questions, let the child know how you feel about the issue.
- Pronounce a decision, but one that is realistic and you can stand your ground with it.
- When you feel the situation is getting serious, find expert help. Preferably expert help in the given field.
Some people encounter drugs without any serious consequence; for others, drugs may be life-changing. Each encounter with a drug may be fatal.