Twenty-seven year old English singer Amy Winehouse died alone in her home this week. Her battle with addiction and substance abuse was well documented in song and performance. She became popular by singing: ‘They tried to make me go to rehab and I said no, no, no” even though she obviously needed and even sought treatment.
Drug addiction and substance abuse among children, teens and young adults is a serious problem. Winehouse was a prime example of how fast and furiously a life can be controlled and extinguished by drugs and alcohol. It is also a reminder of how important it is for parents to talk to their children about drug and alcohol use.
Often, people will focus attention on the parents of a troubled youth and ask “where are the parents? Why aren’t they doing something to help her?” Winehouse’s parents tried. Her father even asked that her fans stop buying her music so that she couldn’t support her habit.
Like many families dealing with substance abuse and addiction, parents, siblings, and friends are trying to help … all to no avail. Some people just won’t accept help. It can be especially hard to reach young addicts. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Reaching out and honest communication may eventually get through and save a life.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University conducted a study that included an online survey of 1,000 high school students, 1,000 parents, and 500 school personnel; in-depth analyses of seven national data sets; interviews with 50 experts; five focus groups; and review of 2,000 scientific articles and reports.
The study suggests that adolescent substance use is America’s #1 public health problem.
The statistics show that 1 in 4 American teens that started using before age 18 became addicted, compared to 1 in 25 who started using addictive substances at 21 years or older. This stresses that addiction has roots to the teenage years when the brain is still developing.
Many parents feel drinking and smoking in the teenage years is just a “phase” or a “rite of passage”. According to the director of Drugfree.org, it is imperative that parents take action right way if they feel their child may be experimenting with drugs or drinking, especially if there are additional risk factors such as a family history of substance abuse or addiction, or a co-occurring mental health issue.
What is the difference between substance abuse and addiction? A small gray line. Substance abuse means using an illegal substance or using a legal substance in the wrong way. Addiction begins as abuse, and becomes a habit.
Addiction means a person has no control over whether he or she uses a drug or drinks. Someone who’s addicted to cocaine has grown so used to the drug that he or she has to have it. Addiction can be physical, psychological, or both.
Signs of Addiction
The most obvious sign of an addiction is the need to have a particular drug or substance. However, many other signs can suggest a possible addiction, such as changes in mood or weight loss or gain. (These also are signs of other conditions too, though, such as depression or eating disorders.)
Some signs that you or someone you know may have a drug or alcohol addiction include:
- Use of drugs or alcohol as a way to forget problems or to relax.
- Withdrawal or keeping secrets from family and friends.
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be important.
- Problems with schoolwork, such as slipping grades or absences.
- Changes in friendships, such as hanging out only with friends who use drugs.
- Spending a lot of time figuring out how to get drugs.
- Stealing or selling belongings to be able to afford drugs.
- Failed attempts to stop taking drugs or drinking.
- Anxiety, anger, or depression.
- Mood swings.
- Changes in sleeping habits.
- Feeling shaky or sick when trying to stop.
- Needing to take more of the substance to get the same effect.
- Changes in eating habits, including weight loss or gain.
If you suspect that your child is using drugs, there are many resources available for information and guidance. Parent influence still has the most powerful impact on their children’s decision making. The attitudes of parents, friends and others in the community have a great effect on whether your teenage child will drink underage or take drugs. Knowing that there will be immediate consequences also effects whether teenagers drink or take drugs.
If you are at all concerned about your child – or even just have a bad feeling – you can and should intervene by:
- Setting tighter limits with clear consequences
- Getting outside help and support if necessary
- Having productive conversations with your child — remain calm, share your concerns and listen.
- Closely monitoring your child’s behavior and activities
One resource for parents is drugfree.org. There are tips for helping your child, getting treatment, and steps through recovery.
Amy Winehouse was a beautiful young girl with a boatload of talent. It’s how we all see our child- beautiful and talented. She stepped right into the fire when she started using drugs and drinking. Unfortunately, she wasn’t unique – it happens to other young persons, every day.