Addiction & Its Chemistry
We received a call to our child helpline on last Thursday from a teacher of a school. She said that some of her students were using drugs and pressuring others to take drugs. Our team met the school principal and fixed an awareness class on drug abuse. Our Success For Success (S4S) team in an effort to empower children from different problems that face them; has been conducting training for different stake holders as well as school children. It is an alarming revelation that School children across Kerala are more and more exposed to substance abuse and there is easy availability of the same.
“I was a good student looking forward to the future. I liked my friends and started hanging out with them… It all changed suddenly and I started using drugs. Now my life and my future have been compromised. I need help” This is one of the comments we received during the S4S training class conducted in the school. Some students who were using drugs came to meet us personally. Most of them who used drugs got into it through peer pressure as well as lack of understanding about the consequences. We provided counseling and involved the parents and school authorities to provide expert help for children. We formed a task force involving children and responsible teachers to trace how children receive drugs and pass information so that we could initiate action against those responsible for destroying the lives of children.
Why are teenagers more prone to substance abuse?
The New York University School of Medicine has spent years studying the way drugs act on the brain. Among their findings is the fact that drugs begin to change a user’s brain the very first time a drug is tried, with the drug-induced release of a key brain neurotransmitter called dopamine. At first, dopamine causes an intensely pleasurable feeling, but as time—and drug use—progresses, the brain begins to rely upon this release of dopamine without any of the pleasurable side effects. With time, drugs actually alter the way the brain uses dopamine. When a person becomes addicted, it means that his brain has been changed to the point that he needs the drug just to maintain a minimal or “normal” level of functioning.
All this has a special significance for teenagers. New studies have also discovered that teens are more vulnerable to addiction than adults. The teenage brain is a wonderful thing, changing and developing in response to experiences and environment. Because the teen brain is still building itself, it is easy for a young person to learn new things quickly. But that ability to be molded by outside influences also carries a serious risk when a teen experiments with drugs because such use can cause permanent damage. On top of that, research has shown that a teen’s frontal lobes, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and planning, is still immature—making teens less likely to consider the consequences of their actions and thus more likely to take dangerous risks like using drugs.
When teens were surveyed to find out why they started using drugs in the first place most of them replied that it was due to pressure from their friends. They wanted to be cool and popular. As the dealers know it they will approach teens as a friend and offer to “help you out” with “something to bring you up.” The drug will “help you fit in” or “make you cool.” Dealers will say anything to get the teens to buy it because they are motivated by the profit they make.
It is not so easy to say “NO” to drugs. Friend may expect you to say “YES” to it. When a person first takes drugs, it is voluntary decision. But there is a point when the person’s decision to take drugs may no longer be voluntary. It is as if a “switch” goes off in the user’s brain, and the person becomes addicted. Once a person becomes addicted, his or her top priority in life becomes obtaining drugs, taking drugs, getting high, and then getting more drugs. Everything else – family, friends, study, job, the future – loses importance.
But there are also many protective or resilience factors, such as good adult role models, supportive friends, and achievement in school, which can reduce the chance of someone becoming a drug abuser. Strengthening protective factors can help you and your friends avoid drug use altogether, even if there are still many risk factors in your lives.
Once you decide to make a big change in your life, it is hard to figure out where to start. Here are some ideas to get rid of:
1. You could stop seeing or mingling with the drug users which may tempt you to do it again.
2. Concentrate more on your studies.
3. Talk to people you trust about difficult situations. Tell people who can and will help you quit drinking and using drugs, let them know what they can do to help.
4. Google ‘natural dopamine boosters’ and follow instructions.
Always remember, we have only one life. Instead being addicted to drugs we must let ourselves be addicted to life!