There is no one way young people progress in drug abuse. Some start with experimental use of alcohol while others are led into the throes of addiction through prescription pain killers. Rarely does anyone set out to become addicted to heroin or any other opiate. However, once that line is crossed it is very difficult to come back. The allure of opiates centers on the immediate effects of the drugs. One of the reasons why addicts, young or old, have a difficult time maintaining sobriety is that the drugs provide immediate relief. When an opiate addict is psychologically or emotionally distraught it is difficult to resist the temptation to use. Most heroin addicts are aware that their drug use is destructive. That awareness is often secondary to the pursuit of instant gratification. Non-addicts have a difficult time understanding this. It takes time for an addict to become willing to delay gratification, therefore treatment requires tremendous patience from the family and clinical team.
How does The Addict Start?
Conventional wisdom is that most opiate addicts begin through prescription painkillers and eventually use heroin because it is cheap and widely available. However, this is not necessarily the case for many young addicts. While some do begin using as the result of abuse of legal drugs, most teenagers begin drug abuse as they always have. Based on research, The Insight Program found that the majority of heroin addicts treated in the past several years began by using marijuana and alcohol. Most of those surveyed began smoking pot and drinking in early adolescence and progressed into opiate abuse several years after the onset of abuse of other drugs. This doesn’t mean that every person who uses alcohol or marijuana in early adolescence will progress to heroin abuse. What can be learned from this is that the sooner a family is able to intervene with someone who is abusing anydrugs or alcohol, the better.
What Can Be Done?
Recently it has become clear that many people do not intervene on teenagers who are abusing alcohol and marijuana. These behaviors have become more normalized and viewed almost as a “right of passage.” Most teenagers will face the opportunity to smoke pot or drink. One would be hard pressed to find a middle schooler who doesn’t know a fellow student who is prescribed Adderall or Ritalin. Parents should be aware that if they are concerned their teenager is abusing alcohol or other drugs that early intervention is not an overreaction. In fact, it is better to “overreact” than to wait for the problem to get worse. When a parent is in doubt, seeking a qualified counselor to evaluate whether there is a problem with drug abuse is an important step. It is never too soon to act.