Why do young people become addicted to drugs?

By Marco Cárdenas, C.M.F.

I would first like to clarify that drug addiction is not only a behavior or a bad habit; it is a sickness that consists of an addiction or dependence on a substance that is toxic to the organism and that affects the central nervous system, as well as other brain functions, to greater or lesser degree. These substances produce physical and psychological effects that manifest in changes in behavior, emotions, judgment, and how we perceive the world around us. It is a progressive, mortal, and chronic disease (or evolving disease).

As the drug addict consumes more drugs or alcohol, he or she is more likely to die of an overdose, in an accident, in some sort of conflict, or by committing suicide. The drug addiction phenomenon is not exclusive to a particular group of people, or people of a specific economic status, culture, or ethnicity. As a general rule, drug addiction corresponds to a need to run away from reality because it provides a way to escape, a temporary and false relief from personal, family, or social problems. The causes and contributing factors that lead to addiction are many and varied. Here are some of them.

Social factors
Nowadays, there is considerable availability of drugs, legal and illegal, which facilitates gaining access to and using them. You can get legal drugs such as sedatives, sleeping pills, or hypnotics at a drug store without a prescription. In addition, the significant traffic and distribution of illegal drugs makes it easier to obtain them.

There is also a great lack of information about drugs. Some groups defend decriminalization and even legalization of marijuana and cocaine use. They claim that these drugs are not dangerous or at least not more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, which are legal. They also claim that legalizing drugs and eliminating illicit trafficking would disintegrate mafias and traffic rings.

Young people’s need to fit in and feel that they belong to a particular social group, as well as pressure from so called friends greatly influence them to start using drugs.

Family factors
Clinical studies show that the children of parents who are smokers, heavy drinkers, or drug addicts are more likely to use drugs than children of parents who do not engage in these behaviors. Homes where there is a permissive approach to parenting, where discipline and control over children are nonexistent; homes that are too strict, where children have overly authoritarian parents who overprotect them; families that are divided or destroyed; children who see parents fighting all the time; lack of communication between arents and children—all of these factors contribute significantly to increasing the risk of using drugs as an escape mechanism. It has been shown that drug use among young people is less frequent when they come from healthy family environments.

Individual factors
Some people use drugs as a means of alleviating frustration, loneliness, low self-esteem, or emotional problems. The bad thing is that this is just an illusion, and after the euphoric feelings go away users are left with frustration, which then leads them to turn to drugs once again. We also can’t ignore those young people who begin the road to addiction out of curiosity; therefore, it is important for parents to be ready to face this problem in their own homes.

Remember, there are still no vaccines against drug addiction nor any magic solutions. What we do have are values and family norms that oppose drug use. A strong link between parents and children and open communication can foster a healthy development and reduce the chances of young people turning to drugs.         

Food for thought for parents
As parents, we should not confuse goals with commitments; being a good teacher is a goal, being a good parent is a commitment. Good parents do not teach their children to be better than others; they teach them to better themselves. Good parents don’t solve their children’s problems; they teach them to accept responsibility for their actions and learn from their mistakes. Good parents do not teach their children to avoid failure; they teach them that failure is part of being on the path to success. Good parents do not teach their children to be critical or resentful toward society; they teach them to love peace and work toward justice. As parents, make sure your children love you until they turn 10, admire you until they turn 20, and respect you until they die. Your actions speak louder than proverbs or any advice.



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