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Tips for parents on handling Substance Abuse

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines substance abuse as harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome - a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically includes a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.

Signs of Substance Abuse

There are different signs of drug abuse. In general, people who use drugs or alcohol typically display health issues; like, a neglected appearance, changes in behaviour and irregular sleeping patterns. They also make repeated requests for money.

Psychological signs of substance abuse

Physical signs

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Flushed skin
  • Track marks or abscesses
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Impaired speech or coordination
  • Unusual smell in breath or clothing
  • Inability to sleep
  • Poor hygiene

Behavioural signs

  • Inability to focus
  • Problems in school or with authority
  • Lying and deceiving
  • Mood swings and instability
  • Hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Indifference to family or obligations
  • Unexplained guilt
  • Depression
  • Decline of self-esteem
  • Self-hatred, which may lead to self-mutilation

What can parents do?

A child’s relationship with his or her parents has a deep impact on their decision making. There is a delicate balance between being a positive role model for your child and being a smothering or overprotective parent. Eventually, teens have to make choices for themselves, and some of those might be poor. However, parents can take certain actions to reduce the likelihood that their children will experiment with drugs. Some of these actions include:

  1. Know Their Friends
  2. Your child’s groups of friends play an immense role in their attitudes on drugs. As children make transition in life, move through school and meet new people, they are likely to bounce around different circles. Some of these people may convince them to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Parents should get to know their children’s friends. It’s important to know who your child hangs out with and be cautious of harmful influences. If you notice a negative change in your teen, identify the friends they are spending time with. Encourage your child to hang around the people you consider to be positive influences.

  3. Model Good Behaviour
  4. Socialization process and parents have the biggest influence on the child’s life. An unfortunate number of parents dissipate this responsibility with careless personal habits. Something as seemingly innocuous as smoking cigarettes or drinking cocktails can set an example for your child’s future behaviour. Parents need to be cognizant of their influence, and should do their best to model good behaviours while in the presence of their children. Research shows that adolescents tend to imitate their parents’ behaviour, including alcohol or other drug use.

  5. Create a Positive Environment
  6. Parents need to go beyond modeling good behaviour and should create a positive environment for their child. In teenage years, children need a home that reinforces their good behaviour and builds their self-esteem. Teens who doubt themselves or feel disregarded by their parents are often the ones who seek alcohol or other drugs. Parents should be as involved in their child’s life as they can. Motivate your children to strive for excellence and ensure that they have a positive self-image. Diminish stress and practice stress-relief strategies with your children to teach them healthy ways to relax.

  7. Talk to Teens
  8. Early Research studies indicate that approximately nine per cent of parents do not teach their children about the dangers of drug abuse. Overwhelming evidence shows that a parent’s lessons and involvement reduce the risk of substance abuse habits, particularly when started at an early age. Therefore, it is crucial for parents to talk to their children early and often about the drugs they may encounter. Let them know the dangers of getting involved with drugs and that you find it unacceptable.

  9. Warn About Peer Pressure
  10. Whether from new friends or strangers, teens will encounter peer pressure during their middle or high school years. When you discuss drug abuse with your kids, be sure to warn them about peer pressure and how to handle it. Explain to your children that peer pressure is the influence you feel from others to do something you otherwise would not. A peer could be a friend, coworker, classmate, acquaintance or anyone you admire. Peer pressure may occur directly or indirectly. Direct pressure involves peers explicitly asking you to do something. Indirect pressure happens when you witness others engage in an activity and are motivated to do the same. The famous slogan “Just Say No” is a basic template for dealing with peer pressure.

    Warn your children that peer pressure can take many forms, and sometimes the friends your teen trusts the most end up being the ones who encourage them to experiment with drugs. Teach your children how to identify these situations, and how to be above the influence of their peers. They may tend to think that saying ‘no’ makes them look uncool. It is important to let them know that resisting peer pressure, and not following the crowd, may be the coolest thing they can do.

  11. Recognize what drugs look like, how they are consumed, and how they are stored
  12. For example, marijuana is generally smoked. This is done by rolling marijuana in paper. It can also be cooked in foods. Crack cocaine is smoked in glass pipes or snorted, typically using a straw, rolled dollar bill, or a small spoon. Heroin is injected typically into the arms or legs. Drugs such as marijuana are stored in small plastic bags, foil packets, or film canisters.

  13. Enforce Consequences for Drug Use
  14. Establish clear rules on the unacceptable use of alcohol and other drugs early in a child’s life. If they violate the rules of the house, make sure there are consequences. A lack of repercussions can lead to repeated experimentation and drug abuse. Parents can foster good behaviour by suspending a teen’s privileges or enforcing some other consequences for abusing drugs.

  15. Monitor Their Activities
  16. Parents should try their level best to keep tabs on their child’s schedule and whereabouts without looking intrusive. If they mention any parties or sleepovers, make sure you know and trust the parents or chaperones who are supervising your children. Children should not have any inhibition or problem sharing this information with you. If they hide or are reluctant to tell you, that might indicate a problem. Do not let your children stay out too late or attend any gatherings that seem suspicious to you.

    Parents whose children are into substance abuse should be familiar with the typical hiding places for drugs (especially at home). These include but are not limited to: stuffed toy animals, stereo speakers, the base of lamps, books/magazines, CDs, vents, closets, pillows, parent’s room, car trunks, bushes, soda cans, etc. While monitoring their activities this closely may seem invasive; a study revealed that high levels of parental monitoring are associated with low frequencies of substance use.

Cooperation in the community - School-parent cooperation

For a school-based prevention programme to succeed, strong policies (rules and their consequences) must be developed. This includes policies about the use, possession, and sale of drugs (including alcohol and tobacco). If there is no policy, parents can work with teachers, administrators, and others to develop one. Parents can also ensure that drug education is being taught at all levels and that the information given to students is up to date and age-relevant. Access to referral sources or community resources is also important.

Parent-community activities

When parents support community activities that promote healthy decisions and alternatives, children see this as being a good role model. Parents can help to organize events such as alcohol- and drug-free graduations, serve as chaperones, or help the event by soliciting for funds.

Community co-operation plan

Parents can work with others in their community to increase awareness about the local drug abuse problem and the need for research-based prevention programmes.

Educators can work with others in their school and school system to review current programmes, and identify research-based prevention interventions appropriate for students.

Community Leaders can organize a community group to develop a community prevention plan, coordinate resources and activities, and support research-based prevention in all sectors of the community.

Source : Raising Happy children and providing safe childhoods - A Reader by Ministry of Women and Child Development



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