Every child, during the ages of 12 to 18, undergoes both physical and behavioural changes. This period, between 12 and 18 years, is known as ‘adolescence’.
During this period, both boys and girls register rapid physical growth, accompanied by changes like the growth of body hair and a sexual awakening. The voice starts to break to become deeper in the case of boys. In the wake of all these changes, adolescents are very vulnerable mentally and psychologically during this time. Adolescence is the crucial period that acts as a bridge between childhood and adulthood, when curiosity and the need to experiment and ‘discover themselves’ is powerful among youngsters. It is this natural curiosity and the need to experiment that takes them to drugs, alcohol and smoking. Though the first time is usually due to curiosity, later the youngster is tempted to take drugs, drink or smoke on a regular basis due to their perceived ‘stress-buster’ effects.
This might serve as a way to escape the stress to perform academically, an unsupportive family or peer pressure. Often, some youngsters are seen advocating drugs, drinks and alcohol as ‘cool’, thereby increasing the number of youngsters that are lured to these vices. Television, movies, newspapers and the Internet add to these perceptions by flashing ‘cool’ images of smoking and drinking in popular public figures such as actors, singers and sportspersons. Led by all these factors, adolescents frequently begin to use drugs, alcohol and smoke repeatedly. The temporary feeling of euphoria and calmness that drugs and drinks provide drives youngsters to seek these out even when not needed and even though this consumption proves self-destructive. This psychological attachment to the effects of drug and alcohol that leave a temporary feeling of well-being is called addiction.
Dependence is defined by the tendency of the body to display unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if their regular dose of drugs or alcohol is discontinued. Deprived of drugs and alcohol, the addicted youngster displays symptoms such as anxiety, shakiness, nausea, palpitations and sweating. All these symptoms stop when drug/alcohol use is resumed. At times, these withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life-threatening. This dependence on drugs and alcohol leads the addicted patient to ignore social norms or laws to get sufficient funds to sate their needs. Therefore, adequate moral support and counselling at home and in school is required during adolescence to avoid substance abuse among youngsters. Also, the addicted youngsters can be helped and rehabilitated with professional, medical care along with counselling.