Friday, 13 October 2017
If adolescents are given mixed messages about substances (alcohol and drugs) by their parents, or are provided with false information, then there is more of a chance that the former will make use of the substances, according to psychiatrist for children and adolescents Nigel Camilleri.
Speaking to The Malta Independent a few days prior to a conference regarding the topic, Camilleri explained how providing honest information regarding the substances is the way forward to tackling the issue of substance dependency.
“If someone is given honest information, then there is less ambivalence,” he said. “If the adolescent is given honest information based on facts; like ‘yes, experimentation is common, yes you do get a high, yes there are positives, however there are also cons and they can affect your brain etc,’ then the adolescent will make a decision, rather than not believing the information he is given and trying.”
Camilleri explained that focusing on abstinence alone will not help. “One must be aware that adolescents are going to take risks, which is part of adolescence and part of growing up. Providing them with more clarity about the effects of the drugs, both positive and negative, and correcting misconceptions about alcohol and substance abuse is important,” he said.
He told this newspaper that more than half the people who develop substance abuse disorders all kick off their habit before the age of twenty. “Adolescence is a risk period for anything in life because you are negotiating a number of changes; self-identification, education, moving on to new education or into jobs, making new friends, relationships.. that increases stress levels, and as a result there is a chance that you are exposed to alcohol and drugs.”
Another aspect which makes adolescents more likely to become addicted, according to Camilleri, is that the brain of adolescents is one which is still developing. “Whilst adults use the frontal lobe and are more likely to plan, adolescents tend to use the emotional part of the brain, which makes decisions based on emotions and impulse, whereas as an adult you tend to think of the consequences more. “
Genetic risks and emotional dysregulation with parents and children (such as overreaction to certain things and attitude towards substances which can cause anxiety), are all other factors which increase the chance of adolescents making use of substances. People who form part of minority groups, have a history of trauma or experiment with substances at a very young age are other factors which would increase chance of addiction.
Camilleri explained that other factors include parental practices. “The more parents know their child, about their child, and the more they communicate with their child, then the less prevalent it is,” he said.
Substance abuse is also very common with people who have ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Camilleri said, “so targeting those people and treating them well will reduce the chance of developing substance abuse.” “Always encouraging adolescents to engage with positive activities like sport, music and extracurricular activities will reduce the chance of being addicted to substances,” he said.