Defining "Gateway Drugs"
Kids today have much more societal pressure put upon them than their parents generation did, and the widespread availability of drugs like methamphetamines and the "huffing" trend (which uses common household chemicals as drugs) can turn recreational use of a relatively harmless gateway drug into a severe or fatal addiction without warning.
The danger of gateway drugs increases in combination with many prescription medications taken by teens today. These dangerous side effects may not be addressed by your child's pediatrician if your child is legally too young to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Drugs like Ritalin, Prozac, Adderrall, Strattera, Zoloft and Concerta can be very dangerous when mixed with recreational drugs and alcohol. Combining some prescription medications with other drugs can often negate the prescription drug's effectiveness, or severely increase the side effects of the drug being abused. For example, a 2004 study by Stanford University found that the active chemical in marijuana, THC, frequently acted as a mental depressant as well as a physical depressant. If your child is currently on an anti-depressant medication like Prozac or Zoloft, marijuana use can counterbalance their antidepressant effects.
Other prescription anti depressants and anti psychotics can also become severely dangerous when mixed with alcohol. This is why is imperative that you as a parent must familiarize yourself with any prescription medications your child is taking and educate your child of the dangers of mixing their prescription drugs with other harmful drugs- even if you don't believe your child abuses drugs or alcohol.
Marijuana - Why It is More Dangerous Than You Think
Parents who smoked marijuana as teenagers may see their child's drug use as a harmless rite of passage, but with so many new and dangerous designer drugs making their way into communities across the country, the potential for marijuana to become a gateway to more dangerous drugs for your child should not be taken lightly.
Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug by both teens and adults.
The drug is more commonly smoked, but can also be added to baked goods like cookies or brownies. Marijuana which is ingested orally can be far more potent than marijuana that is smoked, but like smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana can cause lung cancer, emphysema, asthma and other chronic conditions of the lungs. Just because it is "all natural" does not make it any safer for your lungs.
Marijuana is also a depressant. This means the drug slows down the body's functions and the messages the body sends to the brain. This is why many people who are under the influence of marijuana (or "stoned") they are often sluggish or unmotivated.
Marijuana can also have psychological side effects, both temporary and permanent. Some common psychological side effects of marijuana are paranoia, confusion, restlessness, hallucinations, panic, anxiety, detachment from reality, and nausea. While these symptoms alone do not sound all that harmful, put in the wrong situation, a teen experiencing any of these feelings may act irrationally or dangerously and can potentially harm themselves or others. In more severe cases, patients who abuse marijuana can develop severe long-term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Tobacco - Just Because It Is Legal Doesn't Mean It Is Safe
While cigarettes and tobacco are considered "legal", they are not legal for teens to posses or smoke until they are 18. Still, no matter the age of your child, smoking is a habit you should encourage them to avoid, whether they can smoke legally or not.
One of the main problems with cigarettes is their addictive properties. Chemicals like nicotine are added to tobacco to keep the smoker's body craving more, thus insuring customer loyalty. This is extremely dangerous to the smoker, however, as smoking has repeatedly proven to cause a host of ailments, including lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or bronchial infection, asthma and mouth cancer- just to name a few.
In addition to nicotine, cigarettes contain over 4000 other chemicals, including formaldehyde (a poisonous compound used in some nail polishes and to preserve corpses), acetone (used in nail polish remover to dissolve paint) carbon monoxide (responsible for between 5000 to 6000 deaths annually in its "pure" form), arsenic (found in rat poison), tar (found on paved highways and roads), and hydrogen cyanide (used to kill prisoners sentenced to death in "gas chambers").
Cigarettes can also prematurely age you, causing wrinkles and dull skin, and can severely decay and stain teeth.
A new trend in cigarette smoke among young people are "bidi's", Indian cigarettes that are flavored to taste like chocolate, strawberry, mango and other sweets. Bidi's are extremely popular with teens as young as 12 and 13. Their sweet flavors and packaging may lead parents to believe that they aren't "real" cigarettes or as dangerous as brand-name cigarettes, but in many cases bidi's can be worse than brand name cigarettes, because teens become so enamored with the flavor they ingest more smoke than they might with a name brand cigarette.
Another tobacco trend is "hookah's" or hookah bars.
A hookah is an ornate silver or glass water pipe with a fabric hoses or hoses used to ingest smoke. Hookahs are popular because many smokers can share one hookah at the same time. However, despite this indirect method of ingesting tobacco smoke through a hose, hookah smoking is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke.
The Sobering Effects of Alcohol on Your Teen
Alcohol is another substance many parents don't think they need to worry about. Many believe that because they don't have alcohol at home or kept their alcohol locked up, their teens have no access to it, and stores or bars will not sell to minors. Unfortunately, this is not true. A recent study showed that approximately two-thirds of all teens who admitted to drinking alcohol said they were able to purchase alcohol themselves. Teens can also get alcohol from friends with parents who do not keep alcohol locked up or who may even provide alcohol to their children.
Alcohol is a substance that many parents also may feel conflicted about. Because purchasing and consuming alcohol is legal for most parents, some parents may not deem it harmful. Some parents believe that allowing their teen to drink while supervised by an adult is a safer alternative than "forcing" their teen to obtain alcohol illegally and drinking it unsupervised. In theory, this does sound logical, but even under adult supervision alcohol consumption is extremely dangerous for growing teens. Dr. John Nelson of the American Medical Association recently testified that even light alcohol consumption in late childhood and adolescence can cause permanent brain damage in teens. Alcohol use in teens is also linked with increased depression, ADD, reduced memory and poor academic performance.
In combination with some common anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, the effects of just one 4 oz glass of wine can be akin to that of multiple glasses, causing the user to become intoxicated much faster than someone not on anti depressants. Furthermore, because of the depressant nature of alcohol, alcohol consumption by patients treated with anti-depressants can actually counteract the anti-depressant effect and cause the patient sudden overwhelming depression while the alcohol is in their bloodstream. This low can continue to plague the patient long after the alcohol has left their system.
Because there are so many different types of alcoholic beverage with varying alcohol concentration, it is often difficult for even of-age drinkers to gauge how much is "too much". For an inexperienced teen, the consequences can be deadly. Binge drinking has made headlines recently due to cases of alcohol poisoning leading to the death of several college students across the nation. But binge drinking isn't restricted to college students. Recent studies have shown teens as young as 13 have begun binge drinking, which can cause both irreparable brain and liver damage.
It is a fact that most teenage deaths are associated with alcohol, and approximately 6000 teens die each year in alcohol related automobile accidents. Indirectly, alcohol consumption can severely alter teens' judgment, leaving them vulnerable to try riskier behaviors like reckless stunts, drugs, or violent behavior. Alcohol and other drugs also slow response time, leaving teenage girls especially in danger of sexual assault. The temporary feeling of being uninhibited can also have damaging future consequences.
With the popularity of internet sites like MySpace and Facebook, teens around the country are finding embarrassing and indecent photos of themselves surfacing online. Many of these pictures were taken while the subjects were just joking around, but some were taken while the subjects were drunk or under the influence of drugs. These photos are often incredibly difficult to remove, and can have life altering consequences. Many employers and colleges are now checking networking sites for any reference to potential employees and students, and using them as a basis to accept or decline applicants!
©2007 Sue Scheff
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