Since childhood, humans have a need to alter their physiology and state of consciousness. It is universal for cultures to play spinning games that render children dizzy and nauseated, partake in risky behaviors like swinging high from a rope or swing (sending a rush of adrenaline through the nervous systems), and imagining they are somewhere or someone else that’s magical and powerful.
In the Natural Mind, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests this is innate, “the desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive” (Weil, 1972).
As we grow into adulthood, altering this physiology and state of consciousness is done through the aids of recreational activities like sports, dance, amusement parks, theater and movies.
However, for many young Americans, altering states of consciousness through normal activities is not possible for a variety of reasons that can include unavailability of access to recreational activities, mood or personality disorders, or lack of proper education to use normal activities that alter consciousness, so they turn to a drug that aids in altering the consciousness. Should these first time users already have a pattern of maladjusted or disturbances of behavior, the initial use of drugs could lead to more recreational use and addiction (Greaves, 2005).
Signs such as poor grades, rebellion, low-self esteem, and depression are forewarnings that a teenager may use and become addicted to drugs rather than symptoms of drug abuse (Grob & Dobkin de Rios, 1992).
The best signs to look for in regards to drug abuse are the side effects of the drug in question, such as in Ecstasy, a drug of choice among teenagers for raves, are dizzy or fainting spells, nausea, hypothermia, empathetic signs of sadness or depression, talkative, and respiratory distress. Since most teenagers can experience many of these symptoms without using drugs, it is important to understand what is outside of your teenager’s normal adjustments to life.
Grob and Dobkin de Rios suggest that, “the strongest predictor of substance abuse is having a peer group whose lives are centered on the acquisition and use of psychotropic substances” (1992).
Also emphasize by Grob and Dobking de Rios is that drugs such as hallucinogenic plants have paralleled with the existence of man, and when used in a normative setting, such as rituals in indigenous tribes, they are not abused, and Dr. Andrew Weil believes there is no such thing as a bad drug (Parker & Dye, 1983). That is the drugs themselves are not the culprits in abuse and addiction of drugs, but rather the need to misuse and abuse the drugs should be the target of addiction in teenagers.
Nonetheless, the movement to educate our society on the dangers of drugs has made progress, as young adults using drugs have dropped by 20% since 1980 (Ksir, Hart, & Ray, 2006).
The best defense from drug abuse and addiction is regulating your or your child’s development and environment. This includes healthy ways to deal with stress, insecurities, and family and peer relationships. It is inevitable that teenagers, like adults, want to find ways to escape everyday pressures, so it is important to learn the skills to do so in healthy ways like exercise, sports, reading, movies, meditation (for religious families, prayers are a form of meditation), the arts, and journal writing.
Having good role models or modeling these behaviors is a key to instruction and education.
Knowing your environment is also important, which includes peer groups. Avoiding environments where drugs are prevalent is a safe and healthy choice! Setting up safe environments is a public responsibility!
This article is in memory of Sasha Rodriguez.