The sad reality of addiction is that the vast majority of people who become addicted to tobacco, alcohol and drugs take their first puff, chew, sip, snort or injection when they are young — often, very young. Recently substance abuse has become more widespread among preteen children. Drugs can affect anyone without regard to economic, racial, geographic, educational, religious or family boundaries.
Experts in adolescent substance problems have identified a common progression of alcohol- and drug-related behaviors that moves from bad to worse. Not everyone who experiments with drugs will progress to the worst stages of involvement, but a child can incur a lot of damage before parents or others notice that something is wrong. Secretive adolescent behavior and skillful lying, combined with parental denial, may delay identification of the problem. Wise parents keep their eyes and ears open and are ready to take action if they see any signs that a problem may be developing.
The first stage is experimentation. Use is occasional, sporadic and very unplanned, happening on the weekends, summer nights, and unsupervised parties. Use can be instigated by peer pressure, thrill-seeking, curiosity, or the desire to look and feel grown-up. This is usually described as the gateway stage, mostly with cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and possibly inhalants. Things you may notice are tobacco or alcohol on the breath, intoxicated behavior with little change in normal behavior between episodes of drug use.
The second stage of is more regular drug use. Alcohol and drugs are used on weekdays as well as the weekend and can happen alone as well as friends. Quantities of alcohol and drugs increase can increase as the tolerance grows and hangovers can become more common.
The third stage is when they find themselves deep into addiction. Alcohol and drugs become the primary focus of attention. Becoming high is a daily event that is planned out. A willingness is to try more dangerous or combinations of drugs. Money seems to be spent on drugs before other necessities. You’ll also notice increased social isolation and the loss of contact with non-drug using friends.
The final stage is when they are drowning in addiction. You’ll find a constant state of intoxication, being high or stoned is routine. Blackouts can increase in frequency, while the physical appearance can begin to deteriorate. Parent’s can be at a loss with their Childs as they begin to escalate conflicts, possibly to the point of violence while also denying that there is a problem.
This descent into drug hell is a nightmare that no parent envisions while rocking a newborn baby or escorting an eager 5-year-old to kindergarten. But it can happen in any neighborhood, any church, any family, even when parents have provided a stable and loving home environment. In fact, it is often in such homes that a drug problem goes undetected until it’s reached an advanced and dangerous stage. This can’t be happening; not in my house! But if it does, parental guilt, anger and depression can undermine the responses necessary to restore order.
Information for this page comes from the Partnership for Drug Free Kids.