Many teens in
search of quick thrills never realize the consequences
May 4, 2006
BY BRENDA RINDGE
The Post and Courier
school year comes to a close, 'tis the season for proms,
graduations, last flings and parties.
For some teens, health
experts say, it also can be the season for dangerous
behavior ? drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, abusing
medication and inhaling household products.
Teens who engage in these
activities often are seeking the quick thrill, never
considering the fact that the result can be serious injury
or even death.
Experts say it's important
to talk to kids about such risky behavior, but acknowledge
that it's not as easy as it used to be.
"A lot of times, parents
have never heard of the things kids are doing," says
Charleston family therapist Susan Johnson. "Parents know
about alcohol and drug abuse, but they don't know these
newer ways to get high."
What's more, teens, and
many times even younger children, often do know about
"Parents need to stay
current and keep the lines of communication open," she
says. "Talk to your children about drugs, and do it
Kids who learn about the
risks of drugs at home are half as likely as their peers
to try or use drugs, according to the Partnership for a
"Risk-taking is fairly
common during adolescence and the teen years," Johnson
says. "It's how kids learn new things, but it can also be
a problem if your child takes the wrong risks. By modeling
positive risk-taking, parents can help teens through this
Teenagers often are drawn
to danger by peer pressure, oppositional behavior (trying
to be the opposite of what their parents are) and feelings
of invincibility, according to the Campaign for Our
New research from the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published in
the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that
teens who participate in a variety of physical activities,
particularly with their parents, are at decreased risk for
drinking, drugs, violence, smoking, sex and delinquency.
"Adolescents who spend a
lot of time watching TV or playing computer video games
tend to be at higher risk for engaging in all of these
risky behaviors," says study co-author Penny
Gordon-Larsen, assistant professor of nutrition at UNC and
a fellow at the Carolina Population Center.
"Anything we can do to get
kids to be physically active will help them in terms of
their physical health, but this research suggests that
engaging in a variety of activities may also have social,
emotional and cognitive benefits."
Teenagers with low
self-esteem or family issues are more at risk for
self-destructive behaviors. Another study in Pediatrics
found that obese kids have lower self-esteem than their
nonobese peers, making them more likely to engage in risky
Each day, 7,000 kids in the
United States under the age of 16 take their first drink,
according to the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free
How can you tell if your
child is drinking? If several of the following signs occur
at the same time, or they happen suddenly or are extreme
in nature, it could indicate an alcohol problem, the group
--Mood changes: flare-ups
of temper, irritability and defensiveness.
--Switching friends, along
with a reluctance to have you get to know their new
--A "nothing matters"
attitude: sloppy appearance, lack of involvement in former
interests, general low energy.
--Finding alcohol in your
child's possession or smelling alcohol on your child.
--Physical or mental
problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot
eyes, lack of coordination or slurred speech.
Teen use of illegal drugs
such as marijuana and Ecstasy has declined in recent
years, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free
America, but they are still a problem.
"Parents often tell me they
had no idea their child was doing drugs," Johnson says.
"Usually, there are tell-tale signs, but parents might
If your child has been
smoking, you can probably smell it on his breath, in his
hair or on his clothes. However, if he comes home chewing
gum, you might also want to take a closer look to see if
he is covering something up.
Heavy-lidded, bloodshot or
dilated eyes can be a sign of drug use. Snorting cocaine
can cause nosebleeds. Burns on the lips or fingers may
indicate your child is smoking a substance through a hot
glass or metal pipe.
Unusual behavior also can
be indicative of drug use. Hysterical laughing, clumsiness
or even an atypically sullen attitude can signal a drug
Other signs can include
secretiveness, decreased motivation, stealing, a change in
friends or a cash-flow problem.
Inhalants are used by more
teens than any illegal drug except marijuana, according to
the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which last week
released the results of a 2005 study showing that as many
as one in five teenagers have abused inhalants.
Inhalants, which are
poisons and toxins, are often the first substance abused
by youngsters, according to the National Inhalant
Prevention Coalition. Inhalants are inexpensive, easy to
get and easy to hide. They don't require a dealer or any
While inhalant use ?
"huffing" or "sniffing" ? is on the rise, fewer than 1 in
20 parents believe their children have ever done it. As a
result, parents often don't talk to their children about
The chemicals used as
inhalants are found in more than 1,000 common household
Generally, products that
are adhesives, aerosols, solvents, gases or cleaning
agents can be inhaled, often by way of a plastic bag, an
inhalant-soaked rag or directly from the container.
Inhalants starve the body
of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more
The chemicals act quickly
to give users a slight stimulation, a feeling of less
inhibition or loss of consciousness, but they also can
cause Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, even the first time
they are used. Chronic inhalant users can suffer permanent
brain damage or risk hearing loss, bone-marrow damage,
short-term memory loss, limb spasms or liver and kidney
According to the National
Inhalant Prevention Coalition (www.inhalants.org), signs a
child may be using inhalants can include: paint or stains
on body, clothing, rags or bags; unusual breath odor or
chemical odor on clothing; slurred or disoriented speech;
anxiety, excitability, irritability or restlessness;
missing household items; red or runny eyes or nose; spots
or sores around the mouth; drunk, dazed or dizzy
appearance; nausea or loss of appetite.
Inhalants are physically
and psychologically addicting and users suffer withdrawal
symptoms, which can include hallucinations, nausea,
excessive sweating, hand tremors, muscle cramps,
headaches, chills and delirium tremens, according to the
National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.
Prescription, OTC drugs
Kids as young as 12 abuse
prescription drugs ? pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives
and tranquilizers ? to "self-medicate," according to the
Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Because they are often in
the child's own home, prescription pills are easier for
teens to get than illegal drugs.
Teens often think these
types of medications are safer than street drugs, but
they're wrong. Taking prescription medications without a
doctor's supervision can be just as dangerous and as
potentially lethal as taking illicit drugs, experts warn.
Parents should know what
medicines, including over-the-counter drugs, are in their
home and pay attention to quantities.
Signs that a child may be
abusing medications can include: sweating, high body
temperature, dry mouth, blurred vision, hallucinations,
delusions, nausea, stomach pains, vomiting, irregular
heart beat, high blood pressure, numbness in toes and
fingers, red face, headache and loss of consciousness.
What to do
"Kids need to hear from
their parents that drug and alcohol use will not be
allowed," Johnson says. "They need to know they will be
held accountable and what the consequences are."
The rules should be simple:
No drug or alcohol use by teens will be allowed, according
to Parents: the Antidrug (www.antidrug.com).
The punishment should be straightforward and meaningful.
If you think your child may
already be abusing drugs or alcohol, let him know you know
and tell him how you feel about it. Have this discussion
without getting mad or making accusations.
When you have a better idea
of the situation, you can decide what to do next, such as
setting new rules, punishments and possible treatment.