Alcohol and Drugs – The Facts

What is drug abuse?

People often regard drug abuse as the consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol only, but can be involved many other types of substances. Misuse is when a pattern of harmful use develops which contributes to dysfunctional behaviors, to impaired judgment or psychological harm.

The substances that young people and children commonly use include:

  • illicit drugs (cannabis, amphetamines, etc.)
  • alcohol, as well as alcohol containing products
  • tobacco products
  • inhalants (glue, paint, nail polish)
  • medications (sedatives, painkillers, stimulants, cough medicine)
  • steroids (performance enhancers)

Several of these substances are readily available and their possession and sale are not restricted by law – particularly inhalants and medications.

What is the impact of alcohol and other drug use?

Alcohol and drug use has the potential to cause a wide range of both long and short-term problems for young people and children, including psychological, physical and even legal issues. For example, in drinkers under the age of 18, there is a high risk of violence, accidents, self-harm, and injury.

Early commencement of alcohol use is likely to be associated with the more frequentl alcohol use during a child’s adolescence, which can lead to alcohol-related harms in adolescence, and later in adulthood.

Behavioral and physical concerns

The more often and the greater the amount alcohol or drugs are used, the greater the potential for health problems. For example:

  • overdoses of some drugs may lead to organ failure or even death
  • misusing prescription medications if used with other substances can cause problems
  • long-term use of some prescription and many illicit drugs can lead to the drug addiction
  • there is a strong association between sexual behavior and substance use which increases the chances to get sexually transmitted diseases

Mental health concerns

Psychological risks involved with alcohol and drug use include:

  • young people and children using alcohol or drugs as a way of handling the psychological stress or having a mental illness
  • marijuana and inhalants can lead to long-term learning difficulties
  • exacerbate existing mental health problems and even to trigger the onset of mental health problems such as psychotic disorders and depression
  • impairment of judgment and reasoning, which in some studies, have been related to an increase in risky injecting and sexual behaviors
  • big risk factors in the uptake of alcohol and drug use are psychiatric disorders

What can you expect?

Adolescence is a time of experimentation, risk-taking and testing boundaries, and using alcohol or drugs is often part of this developmental process.

For a number of the reason children and young people use alcohol and drugs, including:

  • to feel pleasure
  • to increase confidence in social situations
  • to have more energy
  • to cope with problems
  • to relax
  • to get to sleep
  • to build muscle
  • peer pressure (everyone else is using it so I may as well also)

The particular drug, including alcohol that a child or young person chooses to use, will depend upon both its availability and its expected effect. Also, if children and young people believe they can use alcohol or drugs, whilst avoiding getting into trouble from parents or carers, the law or their school, they will be more likely to use it.

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