- Even the happiest and strongest families can find themselves one day having to deal with teenage addiction.
Unsuspecting parents may be unaware of drug use by their children, however illicit drug use, underage drinking and smoking appears to be more widespread than parents may suspect.
Founder of the non-profit organisation Umhlali based, Against Drugs and Child Abuse (ADCA), Rex Hunt said that one of the most powerful tools at parents’ disposal in reducing teen drug and alcohol use is communication.
While parents often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when raising teens, Hunt advises parents to stay involved in their teens’ activities – both online and off.
Many teenagers are experimenting with cannabis and some use it regularly, believing it to be safer than alcohol and other drugs.
According to Hunt, cannabis is often the main drug of choice among teens.
“Research tells us that the brain continues to mature into the 20s. For teenagers, cannabis use can have much longer-term effects and may disrupt brain development, because during the formative years the brain is very sensitive to drug exposure,” said Hunt.
A Ballito mother whose teenage son is currently at a treatment facility fighting for recovery, said cannabis has become a “gateway drug” and it resulted in her son having a psychotic episode.
“I never really had a ‘real’ exposure to addiction. What I saw was what was depicted in the movies and on TV.
“We lived in the suburbs where ‘that just didn’t happen around here’. Boy, was I wrong! This is happening in our homes, our communities, our schools. No one is immune. It affects all classes, races, ages, and professions.
“Parents need to get their heads out of the sand. If you feel like ‘it will never happen to me or anyone in my circle’, take a look around. It’s happening!”
According to Hunt, it is no secret that university students casually trade Ritalin and other ADHD drugs, snorting or swallowing them.
While some say they take Ritalin to help them study, others are simply interested in a quick high.
This has even become rife at high school level where the majority of ADHD prescriptions are being misused.
Some teens are even selling ADHD drugs to each other.
According to a 2017 report by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) almost 40% of patients in treatment in KZN centres were younger than 20 years.
The most common primary substance of abuse for patients younger than 20 years was cannabis (70%).
“The drug world is extremely organised and well strategised. Social areas are where drug dealers will hang around looking for business to come to them (car parks, beaches and teenage hang out spots).
“Then there are the drug dealers that use teenagers to get them business and the dealer will supply them with drugs as long as they get them business,” said Hunt.
Dolphin Coast recovered drug addict Paul (not his real name) and his drug councillor told the Courier he was first offered drugs when he was 9 years old.
He said it was very easy for teens and young adults to experiment with drugs as they were so easily available.
“Parents need to engage with their kids. What starts out as an experiment can quickly turn into an addiction. The addictive nature of the drugs out there today are very lethal. Also with different concoctions of drugs being mixed together, some can find it difficult to stop once they start.”
The availability of illicit substances in most communities gives teens easy access to drugs, at school and elsewhere.
Groups of teens can develop specific ways to find drugs and distribute them to each other without adults figuring out what is going on.
He said the “gateway drugs” (alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana) were the most popular choice amongst teens today.
Synthetic (man-made) marijuana-like drugs such as “K2” and “Spice”, prescription meds and cocaine were also used by young adults.
Another trend emerging is vaping liquid or wax marijuana in an electronic cigarette.
According to studies, vaping rates whether nicotine or THC have increased significantly in the last few years among teens.
Teenagers say cannabis “is harmless because it is natural,” “it is not addictive,” or “it does not affect my thinking or my grades.”
Some people even justify use of cannabis because it is used for medical purposes.
However, research shows that marijuana can cause serious problems with learning, feelings, and health.
“Cannabis is definitely harmful to the development of today’s kids brains, and with many mixing them with other ingredients you get some really bad outcomes,” says Hunt.
“Community and school awareness campaigns on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol should be discussed and not pushed aside. The idea is to shine a light on this issue. Youth need to be convinced that the risks associated with drug abuse are not worth taking.
“As a community we need to support each other to raise awareness and educate our children on the consequences of using drugs and alcohol. As a parent you can never intervene too soon,” advises Hunt.
He added that because schools and teachers are a major influence on teenagers, activities need to include schools as a key partner.
Their role may be supportive rather than a lead role.