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Teens Becoming an Adult : Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll When to worry (part 2)

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Potentially risky behavior Smoking, drinking, and sex

Most teenagers experiment with smoking, drinking alcohol, and sexual activity. Initially this is out of curiosity, because everyone else is doing it, and because it is pleasurable. How do parents know when experimentation becomes a problem?

Smoking

Preventing your youngster from starting to smoke cigarettes may be considerably easier than preventing him from drinking alcohol because of the clear anti-smoking messages in most societies now. His reasons for trying tobacco will likely be that it looks cool, his friends are doing it and, once he has got over the initial unpleasantness of the taste of nicotine, the nausea and dizziness, he will find it hard to stop. Smoking is also a bonding activity that has been enhanced by anti-smoking laws: Smokers now tend to gather outside in huddles in order to smoke. Start early with your anti-smoking message to impress upon him that avoiding smoking is an important and desirable thing. It is wise to concentrate on short-term consequences, since teenagers are not good at taking long-term health risks into account when making decisions about current behavior. Highlighting the cost of a pack of cigarettes and what else he could buy with the money may be much more persuasive than a warning about lung cancer 10 years down the line. Or how bad it makes her breath smell, and that it stains her teeth and fingers (however, to some teens, stained fingers are cool). In order to educate your teenager about the longer-term consequences, you may need to be more creative. The ravages of smoking are much clearer on older people who have been smoking all their lives, so seeing Grandad struggling with respiratory problems or comparing the wrinkles of smoking and non-smoking family members, may serve as a warning. Being a good role model is crucial. If you are a smoker, you may have been a powerful deterrent to him when he was young. But now that he is a teenager you are more likely to be an excuse for him to smoke as well. Now is the time to kick your habit. Your experience may serve as a powerful lesson for him to learn about the addiction to, and withdrawal from, nicotine.

Smoking

Many try cigarettes but will not continue past adolescence.

Drinking

Experimentation with alcohol is complicated by the mixed messages that exist in society. It is very challenging for parents to give clear guidance to their teenage children about drinking when they are not abiding by it themselves. Whatever the reason was for starting drinking, teens end up doing it for the same reasons as their parents: To party, to be more socially attractive, to forget their troubles, to lift their mood, and to cope with shyness, anxiety, and stress.

As parents we should probably be tougher and clearer on alcohol use and abuse than any other drug. It is the most pervasive and destructive. As with other conversations about substance misuse, the advice is to keep talking, keep calm, be informed, and be a good role model. Make clear what you consider to be acceptable: A couple of beers at a family party or total abstinence before the legal drinking age. Explain your limits and your consequences. For example, being brought home disheveled and disoriented after being on the winning team at school may elicit only a warning the first time. When it happens a second time, you may want to impose a consequence such as being grounded for the next Saturday night. Parents will have to take account of their own behavior and values, but need to take care not to confuse their children with their own displays of drunken behavior and jokes about it in others. Worrying signs in a teenager might be denying that they are drinking too much, being too interested in opportunities for a drink, and making excuses for needing one. If you find your child drinking alone and not being able to remember what he did the night before, it’s time to act. There are excellent services for young people struggling with alcohol and drug problems and they are usually easily accessible by young people themselves. If you are struggling, ask your doctor to direct you to them.

Alcohol

Teens drink for the same reasons as their parents.

Sex

For parents, sexual experimentation brings with it fears of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and a fundamental challenge to your parenthood: Your child is becoming a sexual being. Teens now have sex younger and with more sexual partners, which serves to increase the risks and your fears. Sexual experimentation starts early with masturbation. Girls and boys masturbate, often using erotic fantasies about film stars and celebrities from music and sports. Masturbation and sexual fantasy is normal and acceptable in the right place at the right time. You could see this as practice for the real thing later, with real people. Your attitude to masturbation as parents will set the scene for how your child approaches sexual activity later. If she feels guilt and shame, she may approach sexual encounters with a less-healthy attitude. Talking about sex can be embarrassing and awkward for parents and teens. Try to be proactive and factual when talking about sex. Don’t wait until she approaches you; it may never happen. Talk about her right to say no and the age-old ploys that will be used to put pressure on her to have sex: “If you love me you’ll sleep with me.” Boys and girls have different approaches to sexual relationships: Boys will have sex if the opportunity arises; girls are more concerned with sex as part of a meaningful relationship. Give her information, advice, and practical help about contraception and prevention of STDs. Talk about the emotions involved in an intimate relationship. Emphasize that intimacy is not all about intercourse; there are many other ways of being intimate. However, do not be too intrusive, choose your timing for these conversations, and respect her privacy. Finally, if she approaches you with a question that alarms you, about HIV, for example, try not to freak out before you calmly find out the context of the question. As long as your teen is well informed, prepared, and protected, deciding to have sex is a choice she alone can make.

Role model

A healthy attitude to sex will help your teen to be prepared.

Commonly used substances Slang names, effects, and risks

The best way to communicate with your teen about drugs is to be well informed and to keep it casual.

Alcohol
  • Effects

    Relaxation, exaggerates your mood so can make you maudlin, aggressive, euphoric. Hangover the next day.

  • Risks

    Slurring words, falling over, vomiting. Increased vulnerability to rape, robbery, aggression. Physically and psychologically addictive. Heavy and long-term use leads to liver damage, cancer, heart disease.

Tobacco
  • Effects

    Relaxation, reduces hunger, increased heart rate and blood pressure, satisfies craving for nicotine.

  • Risks

    Nicotine is extremely addictive and very difficult to give up. Increased vulnerability to coughs, chest infections, cancer, emphysema, heart disease. Risk to others from passive smoking.

Marijuana
  • Street slang name

    Weed, dope, grass, herb, ganja, marijuana, joint, skunk, buds, (and many others).

  • Effects

    Relaxed, happy, talkative, mildly hallucinogenic, increase in hunger.

  • Risks

    Anxiety and paranoia; can become dependent; increased risk of mental illness in those with a previous or family history; affects learning and concentration.

Solvents

Gas (for example, butane from cigarette lighters or butane gas lighter refill cans), glue, aerosols, nitrous oxide (N2O) from whipped cream canisters.

  • Street slang name

    Thinners, gas.

  • Effects

    Drunk, dizzy, giggly; can hallucinate, enhanced sounds. Hangover and headaches, sometimes red rash around the mouth.

  • Risks

    Suffocation if using plastic bag to inhale; vomiting and blackouts; heart, brain, liver, and kidney damage from prolonged use; coma from overdose and death due to reckless behavior.

Ecstasy

(active ingredient: MDMA)

  • Street slang name

    E, XTC, pills, X, sweeties, M&Ms, eckies, brownies, doves.

  • Effects

    Enhances sounds and colors; makes people chatty; full of love and empathy for others. Full of energy or desire to sit cuddling. Increase in heart rate and body temperature. Can experience a marked come-down following taking E.

  • Risks

    Anxiety, panic, confusion, paranoia. Sleep deprivation. Danger of overheating and dehydration or overhydration. Often cut with other substances. Mental health problems. Liver, kidney, and heart problems due to excessive use or if mixed with other substances.

Cocaine and crack
  • Street slang name

    Cocaine: coke, Charlie, snow, dust. Crack cocaine: crack, rocks, stones, base, white, freebase (although freebasing has a different method of manufacture).

  • Effects

    Short, intense high. Hyperconfident and wide awake. Increases heart rate, body temperature, reduces appetite. May increase libido. Followed by hangover, low mood (which may include paranoia), and intense cravings.

  • Risks

    Extremely addictive—temptation to achieve the high and avoid the come-down. Risk of overdosing, can cause fits or heart attacks. Encourages risk-taking behavior. Panic attacks, anxiety, and paranoia. Smoking (usually crack) and injecting (which is rare) have risks of infection and respiratory problems. Combinations of cocaine and other drugs increases risk, especially with tranquilizers.

Amphetamines
  • Street slang name

    Speed, phet, uppers, billies, dexies, paste, base. Base tends to refer to “uncut” speed, which hasn’t been watered down with another substance, typically glucose, yet.

  • Effects

    Creates a wide-awake, energized feeling. Users appear buzzy, restless, talkative. Reduces appetite.

  • Risks

    Addictive. Hard to come down, irritability, anxiety, depression. Combinations of amphetamines with alcohol or antidepressants or relaxants such as benzodiazepines or heroin can be fatal.

Crystal Meth/methamphetamine

(type of amphetamine)

  • Street slang name

    Ice, glass, Christine, yaba, meth, crystal, crank.

  • Effects

    Euphoric stimulant. As discussed for Amphetamines, but more intense. Usually smoked or injected. Rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure.

  • Risks

    Particularly addictive if injected. More dangerous than speed. Confusion, agitation, paranoia; violent behavior. Long-term use may lead to psychosis. Overdose can cause stroke, kidney, lung, or gastrointestinal damage, coma, death. Increases sexual activity with risk of infection. Dangers of infection from injecting with dirty needles. Dangerous if taken with MAO inhibiter antidepressants.

Heroin
  • Street slang name

    H, horse, brown, gear, smack, skag.

  • Effects

    Intense euphoria, warmth, and well-being. Dulls psychological and physical pain; induces relaxation, sleepiness. Slows down bodily functions.

  • Risks

    Very addictive, as a tolerance quickly develops. Dizziness and vomiting. Choking on vomit, as suppresses gag reflex. Overdosing causes respiratory depression, leading to death. Dangers from injecting with shared or dirty needles: Gangrene and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis.

LSD
  • Street slang name

    Acid, dots, Lucy, drop, tabs, rainbows, paper mushrooms.

  • Effects

    Distortions of color, sound, time, vision. Heightens mood. Can have good and bad “trips.”

  • Risks

    A bad trip can be traumatic and last for up to 12 hours. Users may experience flashbacks weeks or months later. Can trigger preexisting mental-health problems.

Tranquilizers
  • Street slang name

    Benzos, vallies, downers, mazzies, jellies, eggs.

  • Effects

    Calm, relaxed, sedated. Higher doses may cause a deep sleep. Slows down the body’s functions.

  • Risks

    Highly addictive, particularly benzodiazepines (Valium/diazepam is frequently used). Extremely unpleasant withdrawal effects. Can be dangerous if mixed with alcohol or stimulants. Short-term memory loss.

Ketamine
  • Street slang name

    Ket, K, special K, vitamin K, cereal.

  • Effects

    Used medically as a dissociative anesthetic, sometimes for animals. Users take a fraction of the medical dose to achieve a mental and body high. Can feel very connected to objects or other humans. High doses cause a “K-hole”—feeling removed from reality and set adrift in a dream-like world, often involving complete dissociation.

  • Risks

    Severe confusion, nausea, vomiting, susceptibility to accidents (from uncoordination and change in perception of body and time). Frightening distortion of reality. Depression of heart rate and respiration. Bladder problems. Psychologically, but not physically, addictive.

Magic mushrooms

Psilocybe semilanceata or “liberty cap” and amanita muscaria or “fly agaric.”

  • Street slang name

    Liberties, magics, mushies, shrooms.

  • Effects

    Similar to LSD. Distortions of perception. Emotionally sensitive. Can feel very connected to others. An experience outside in nature tends to be more pleasant.

  • Risks

    Fly agaric is more potent and more risky. Can have bad trips leading to disorientation and ensuing flashbacks.

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