It is important to know that drug use is not a strange and unusual behaviour. Throughout human history people have consumed one substance or another to feel good. Alcohol is an example of a drug found in most societies and used for a variety of personal and cultural reasons. The problem with drugs is that some people use them excessively or in ways they should not be used.
Experimental drug use often begins in adolescence. Young people often begin to use tobacco or any other drug for several reasons. The risk factors are many and fall into five broad groups: Individual, Family, Peer, School and Community.
Young people may use drugs as a way of rebelling against parents or authority; to feel like an adult; to fit in and belong to a group of other youth; to satisfy their curiosity; and to simply derive pleasure from the short-term effects of drugs. Children with underlying social or psychological problems are particularly at high risk for drug use.
Many family factors are associated with drug use by adolescents. These are:
- Drug use by parents and siblings
- Family history of alcohol and drug dependence
- Lack of clear rules and norms
- Inconsistent discipline
- Low educational expectations
- Poor relationship between children and parents
Friends and Peers
- Associating with peers who use drugs or are tolerant of drug use
- Being rejected by peers
- Poor coping, problem-solving skills
- Inability to refuse pressure to engage in deviant behaviours
- Lack of clear school policy regarding the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs
- Poor relationship with teachers and school administrators
- Availability of drugs in the school environment
- Availability of drugs in the community
- Lack of strong cultural norms which disapprove of drug use
- Promotion of drugs in the media
- Low cost of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
- Lack of alternative leisure time activities
- Social and economic deprivation
This is an incomplete list of the factors that have been identified as risk factors for the initiation of drug use by adolescents. The mere presence of any of these factors does not mean that drug use has begun.
If the opportunity does not present itself, e.g., if a drug is not available in the community for purchase or if a friend does not offer a child a drug, then use will not occur. Even in these situations, a child who is aware of the danger of starting a potential dangerous habit may not be easily persuaded to engage in such behaviour.
It takes the combination of factors to try a drug for the first time and to continue to experiment with it. Parents and adults have a major role to play in reducing the chance that when their children are exposed to drugs (whether it is tobacco, alcohol or Indian hemp) they will refuse to engage in a potentially destructive behaviour.