Young people – particularly those still in their teens – abusing substances both legal and illegal is always a matter of concern for society in general. Youngsters are especially vulnerable to the dangers of addiction, overdose and the direct or indirect damage that drugs and alcohol can cause, and it is the responsibility of parents, teachers and even employers to minimise the risk posed to young individuals by abuse.
According to the most recent government survey of drug and alcohol abuse among pupils at schools in England, in 2014, 38% of 11 to 15-year-olds had tried alcohol, with 8% having drunk it in the past week; 15% had taken illegal drugs, and 6% had taken them in the last month; 3% had taken legal highs.
Many experts agree that alcohol abuse, and especially binge drinking, is the most serious problem among young people. Alcohol is certainly the most accessible and socially acceptable drug, even to those who are underage. Drinking when too young can cause permanent damage to bodies not yet able to cope with even moderate levels of alcohol, and serious injuries and even death in drunken teenagers and children are unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence.
Illegal drugs may seem less readily available than alcohol, but the latter is at least usually purchased through official channels such as pubs and off-licences, where one might expect the proprietor to act responsibly and refuse to serve underage drinkers. Indeed, they leave themselves open to prosecution if they do so. The suppliers of illegal drugs, however, generally have no such qualms, and so in some ways it can be easier for youngsters to buy them once they have found a source.
Legal highs can be just as dangerous and open to abuse as illegal drugs, and they also add to the problem by making drug use seem more socially acceptable. The abuse of prescription drugs among young people is also a growing problem, with many teenagers not realising the dangers involved in taking medication that is not meant for them, or in excessive quantities. These risks can include addiction and organ failure, as well as mental derangement leading to criminal behaviour or harmful accidents.
Tackling the problem
Drug and alcohol abuse can easily go undetected among young people, who can often appear to function normally while having a serious problem. Testing for substances in schools, colleges and the workplace is one way to establish whether this is the case. An oral fluid lab test is easily administered and unobtrusive, and can detect the presence of a substance hopefully before irreparable damage has been done or addiction has set in.
Other solutions include limiting access to alcohol or prescription drugs, both of which are often taken in the family home. Education is also vital to make children aware of the dangers of alcohol and drug use as early as possible.
Drug and alcohol abuse among the young at any level is a huge concern, and solutions should be sought at root and branch level. Detection is the first step, followed by a reasoned policy of harm reduction and positive action before the situation is allowed to get worse.