Substance abuse is continually on the rise without discriminating against age. Reports of an 11-year-old girl overdosing on heroin shocked the nation, and studies are showing that children are experimenting with drugs or alcohol as early as ages 10-16 years old [1]. Because substance abuse is wreaking havoc on families around the world, we need to focus on the epidemic that is plaguing our pre-teens and teenagers.

Exposure and Experimentation Starts Earlier

Kids have been experimenting with drugs for decades, but it’s starting younger and progressing to harder drugs as time goes on. Studies are showing that children are trying a variety of drugs at young ages. Children are beginning to abuse prescribed drugs as early as 11 years old and hallucinogens have shown a risk at ages 12 years old [2]. Marijuana generally occurs at ages 13-14 and crack can begin as young as 15-16 years old [3]. This can permanently alter the brain’s chemistry and increase a child’s risk for developing a substance abuse disorder. The more exposure a child has with these substances the more likely they are to experiment further.

Long-Term Effects on the Developing Mind

The long-term effects from abusing drugs at any age are serious, but a child’s developing brain is at a heightened risk to be permanently damaged. When children start using drugs, they are put at greater risk to develop substance abuse issues. The longer an addiction lasts, the more risk there is to the brain. This is true for all individuals affected by substance dependence, not just children whose brains are still developing. For this reason, it is imperative that parents act fast and get their child the help that they need.

The effects of drugs and alcohol may include depression, anxiety, and paranoia. It may also affect the body physically, leading to kidney damage, liver failure, heart problems, and damaged lungs, depending on type of substance abused [4].

Changes Parents Must Make

There have been many hypotheses on why substance abuse disorders are starting younger and younger. This can stem from peer pressure, depression, and a desire to be among the “cool kids.”

Parents can help! Drug addiction can be prevented or curbed by interacting with your child. Learn to recognize the warning signs of addiction, such as a decrease in normal interests, changing friends, and missing class. Your child’s doctor can screen your child for drugs. Many addiction specialists are also available to talk to you and your child about their drug use. If necessary, inpatient treatment programs are available to help teach your child healthy coping mechanisms and intervene on drug use before it escalates out of control.

Drug addiction in your son or daughter does not always indicate poor parenting as many may believe. Addiction does not discriminate, and anyone is susceptible to developing a dependence on substances such as drugs and alcohol. By noticing the signs and symptoms of drug use in your child, you can effectively catch their addiction before it gets worse. Consulting with an addiction specialist is always recommended if you suspect your child is using drugs, as they have a wealth of knowledge to assist you in this area.