Young people and substance misuse
March 15, 2010 1 Comment
Blog Post by Professor Hamid Ghodse, Dept of Addictive Behaviour & Psychological Medicine, St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London
The young people of today live in a world that it is complex, providing them both with tremendous opportunities as well as challenges, with many benefits as well as many risks. The influence of their peers and their surroundings upon them and their behaviour, their life style and their health is greater than ever before. Peer influences are no longer solely emanating from school or the neighbourhood but can come from thousands of miles away. Indeed, adolescents’ ideals and role models may be in another continent, and their problems may start from under the same roof or from a long distance away.
It is quite evident that the foundations of health in adulthood are made or set during childhood and adolescence and that, as a child grows, major health and development needs and challenges evolve. This is particularly so in adolescents who face varied internal and external, biological, psychological and social challenges as progress towards adulthood. At all stages of growing up, the new born, young children and adolescents are in need of supportive and healthy environments in which to grow to reach their full potential.
Substance misuse is one of the major threats to all of these stages – whether among their parents, peer group, society in general or indeed later on by themselves – and is seen as an important indicator of a country’s development and progress. Amongst a host of illnesses and conditions such as infectious diseases, malnutrition etc, one of the most preventable conditions is substance misuse, particularly among the young people in their teens and early adult-hood. This is a significant challenge to the healthy development of adolescents and includes the misuse of both illicit and licit drugs, tobacco and alcohol – and the subsequent development of addiction.
Substance misuse, for example, increases the risk of delayed emotional and psychological maturity, of growth, accidental injuries, intoxication, of HIV, hepatitis and unintended pregnancies through unsafe sexual practices, and a range of other physical, mental and social problems. Although there is a wealth of knowledge about developmental processes in all areas of health in this age group as well as extensive knowledge about the effects of different substances, on both mental and physical well-being, the inter-relationship between the two has received inadequate attention. This is due in part to the fact, that substance misuse at this particular developmental stage is often considered as a passing phase and as recreational rather than problematic. However, it is important to recognise that the substance misuse problems during adolescence may have long term effects extending into adulthood, and may even impact on the well being of the next generation.
In the broadest context, the health and development needs of the adolescent have received very little attention despite the fact that the vulnerability of this group is well- known and acknowledged. Therefore the prevention at all levels including treatment and rehabilitation are of paramount importance in response to the increasing problem of drug misuse among young people.
Ghodse’s Drugs and Addictive Behaviour, A Guide to Treatment, 4th Edition is available in paperback and hardback from Cambridge University Press