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What's with Drugs?

What is a 'drug'?

A drug is any chemical that produces a therapeutic or non-therapeutic effect in the body.

Chemicals, on the other hand, are a broad class of substances -- including drugs -- that may or may not produce noticeable effects in the body.  Many chemicals (such as tin, lead, gold) have harmful effects on the body, especially in high doses.  Most foods are not drugs.  Alcohol is a drug -- not a food, in spite of the calories it provides.  Nicotine is a chemical that is also a drug.  The group of "illegal" drugs includes dangerous chemicals that have only toxic actions, such as inhalants.



Teenagers and DrugsWho is At Risk?Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, legal and illegal.AlcoholTobaccoPrescribed medicationsInhalantsOver-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications MarijuanaStimulantsClub drugsDepressantsHeroinSteroids:  Anabolic steroids are a group of powerful compounds closely related to the male sex hormone testosterone.  From 1998 to 1999, there was a significant increase in anabolic steroid abuse among middle-schoolers.

The use of illegal drugs is increasing, especially among young teens.  The average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before age 12. The use of marijuana and alcohol in high school has become common.


Drug use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.



Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse


PhysicalEmotionalFamilySchoolSocial problemsSubstance Abuse Treatment


Parents can help through early education about drugs, open communication, good role modeling, and early recognition if problems are developing.   If there is any suspicion that there is a problem, parents must find the most appropriate intervention for their child.


The decision to get treatment for a child or adolescent is serious.  Parents are encouraged to seek consultation from a mental health professional when making decisions about substance abuse treatment for children or adolescents.


Parents and families must be informed consumers and should be involved in their child's recovery.  Here are some important things to consider:


No single treatment is appropriate for all teens.

It is important to match treatment settings, interventions, and services to each individual's particular problems and needs.  This is critical to his or her ultimate success in returning to healthy functioning in the family, school, and society.


Effective treatment must attend to the multiple needs of the individual -- not just the drug use.

Any associated medical, psychological, social, and cognitive problem must be be addressed.


Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical for treatment effectiveness and positive change.

Each person is different and the amount of time in treatment will depend on his or her problems and needs.  Research shows that for most individuals, the beginning of improvement begins at about 3 months into treatment.  After this time, there is usually further progress toward recovery.  Length of stay in a residential program can range from 8 to 18 months, depending upon the individual's willingness and commitment.


Counseling (individual and/or group) and other behavioral therapies are critical components of effective treatment.

In therapy, teens look at issues of motivation, build skills to resist drug use, replace drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding behaviors, and improve problem-solving skills.   Behavioral therapy also facilitates interpersonal relationships and the teen's ability to function in the home and community.


Addicted or drug-abusing individuals with coexisting mental disorders should have both disorders treated in an integrated way.

Because addictive disorders and mental disorders often occur in the same individual, individuals should be assessed and treated for the co-occurrence of the other type of disorder.


Medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use.

Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use.  While detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment.


Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.

Strong motivation can facilitate the treatment process.  Sanctions or enticements in the family, school setting, or juvenile justice system can increase significantly both treatment entry and retention rates and the success of drug treatment interventions.


Recovery from addiction can be a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment.

As with other chronic illnesses, relapses to drug use can occur during or after successful treatment episodes.  Addicted individuals may require prolonged treatment and multiple episodes of treatment to achieve long-term abstinence and fully restored functioning.  Participation in self-help support programs during and following treatment often is helpful in maintaining abstinence.  Parents should ask what aftercare treatment services are available for continued or future treatment.


Information provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.