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DRUG ABUSE   During the earlier years you get to know your child pretty well. As they gets older, children become more independent. As they approach adolescence, alot is happening to them and they are prone to substances abuse. They do not yet have a clear picture of themselves and are attempting to develop self-identification. They are prone to risk-taking in an attempt to explore their limits. They are seeking independence from you as well as acceptance from their peers. They are going through the physical changes of pubescence. The use of alcohol and drugs may represent maturity to your child and independence from parental domination. They use drugs to deal with peer group acceptance, stress-reduction, and escapism. The key to successful treatment of substance abuse is early intervention. This article is important for all parents since the seeds of abuse are sown in early childhood.

How can you tell if your child is using drugs? There are five stages of substance abuse that you should recognize. The first is the Potential Stage. At this stage the child has the personality traits and environmental factors that can lead him to abuse drugs and alcohol. In one study, boys with extreme personality styles were more likely than their peers to abuse alcohol when they became adults. Extreme personality styles were either daredevil risk-takers or shy introverts.

Some children show a need for immediate gratification and a lack of self-control. These traits may have developed from overindulgence and oversubmission. There may be easy access to a variety of substances. Authority figures may have liberal attitudes toward drugs, alcohol and tobacco, believing that their use in adolescence is a developmental phase. These authority figures may minimize the seriousness of using alcohol and drugs to relieve stress. There may also be a poor family relationship that fosters a low self-esteem and an increased need for peer acceptance. The child may be angry at their parents who seem to have little time for them. Such parents are preoccupied with their own lives and careers.

The second stage is The Experimental Stage. At this stage there is experimentation with drugs. The child experiences mild euphoria with few, if any, consequences. There is little change in the child's behavior but there is the start of avoidance lying. There is an increase in the regular weekend use of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol. There may be a change in your child's friends. You may find drug literature or paraphernalia in his room. He may start to dress slovenly, having little regard for the way he looks. Intervention with adolescent and family counseling to get at underlying problems is helpful at this stage.

The third stage is Regular Use. There is a subtle and gradual increase in the regular use of a wider variety of drugs. The abuser is regularly buying or steeling drugs. There is a definite change in behavior, dress, friends and school performance. There are mood swings, with definite euphoria and excitement followed by anxiety, discomfort, and guilt. The child is increasingly abusive to authority figures and may gain the reputation of being a smart aleck. He may be cutting classes and may start to hang out around school. Treatment at this stage requires separating the adolescent from peers and drugs.

The fourth stage is Obsession. There is daily use of harder drugs and hallucinogens. To get the drugs the abuser may steal, sell and even prostitute. The abuser has marked dysphoria without drugs and may even experience withdrawal symptoms. He may appear aloof and has no straight friends. There is depression and suicidal thoughts. There are more family fights, pathologic lying, and school failure. There is more risk-taking and self-destructive activities which may lead to overdosing. A community mental health clinic or drug program may be appropriate at this point.

The fifth stage is Burnout. The abuser uses drugs and alcohol to free himself from pain and depression. There is guilt, withdrawal, depression, shame, and remorse. Risk-taking and self-destructive behavior may lead to suicide. There is physical and mental deterioration with paranoia, angry aggression, dropping out, flashbacks, amnesia, and overdoses.

How do you deal with the problems of substance abuse? It is very important to talk to your children when they are young. You can start as early as third grade. Experimenting often begins in middle school. Your child should know the dangers associated with alcohol and drugs. Our culture glamorizes the use of alcohol and drugs through advertisements, music, and cinema. It has become a way to gain acceptance and enhance beauty and sexual attractiveness. Your child should know that alcohol is a drug and that all drugs can be addictive and damaging. Become informed. Learn more than your child knows about drugs and their effects so you can counter widespread misinformation. Don't be moralistic nor confrontational when speaking to your child. To open the subject, you might comment on a news report on drug abuse. When watching television together, encourage criticism of beer and wine-cooler advertisements. You may ask, "Do you really have to drink beer to have fun or be popular?"

Children use drugs to ease the pain of feeling too slow, too small, too clumsy, too unpopular. This drug solution does not teach children how to cope with the difficulties of growing up. Building his self-esteem is more effective and will help him resist this drug choice. Get involved in your child's life. Get to know his teachers and friends. Spend time with him and make him feel good about himself. Honest praise and encouragement will do much to build your child's self-esteem. Children with high self-esteem feel worthwhile, loved, and optimistic. They are sure of their ability to meet life's challenges without resorting to drugs and alcohol.

Give your child practice in making decisions. Let him choose between blue socks or red socks. Let him choose going to the movies or to the store. Knowing alternatives can help a child make sensible decisions about the use of drugs. Also support him when he takes a stand. It will help prepare him to deal with peer pressure. It is difficult for a child to take a stand that is against his peers. Above all, set a good example. If you don't want your children to use drugs, don't use them yourself. Also, set and enforce rules. If the rule is bedtime at nine o'clock, mean it. Then your children will take seriously household rules about drugs and alcohol. In some households, drinking alcohol in moderation is acceptable. In this situation you may have to explain to your child that certain behavior is okay for adults but not for children.

Parents see their children's successes and failures as report cards on their parenting. You can't take all the blame for your child's failures just as you can't take all the credit for their successes. Ninety of all adolescents have tried alcohol or marijuana. Experimenting with marijuana or alcohol does not put a child on the road to addiction. The abuser is only a symptom. The real problems are the community, society and our culture. Until we solve these problems, our children are at increased risk of substance abuse.

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