Extreme Side Effects of Synthetic Drugs Among Adolescents

One population that has been greatly affected by the rising popularity of synthetic drugs, specifically synthetic marijuana, is adolescents. This is likely due to the fact that young people can often obtain the substances without going to a drug dealer, they are (falsely) perceived as being safer than street drugs and there is very little education on the dangers of these types of compounds. In an effort to combat this trend, a group of researchers has published a study that examines and highlights the grave dangers of using such drugs, especially on the developing brain of an adolescent.

One of the important factors of this study was that it was a longitudinal study. This means that the 964 high school students that were interviewed about their drug use, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms and any other emotional or physical ailment was conducted again on the same students a year later. This type of study allowed the researchers to document the changes, if any, that were being reported.

They found that students who exhibited depressive symptoms appeared to be more likely to gravitate towards the use of synthetic marijuana. This was important information because educators, health care officials and parents can learn to spot indicators before a child resorts to synthetic marijuana use. Preventing experimentation and abuse of this drug is vital because the side effects of synthetic marijuana are extreme. Suicidal thoughts and ideations, seizures, strokes, paranoia, extreme anxiety and depression are all common among young people who use these drugs.

And while the outcome of the study was to highlight the dangers of synthetic marijuana use, the researchers did not set out to make this the focus of their work. “Substance use is one of the risk factors that we were particularly interested in studying, and of course, we think alcohol, drug use and other mental health outcomes are important to examine in their own right. Over time, we became aware of synthetic cannabinoid use in adolescents and decided that it was critical to add that variable to our research as well,” explained Gregory Stuart, co-author of the study and psychology professor at The University of Texas.

Memories May be Clue to Future Drug Abuse Tendencies

In order to determine some of the common factors in adolescent drug use and abuse, researchers gathered data from 387 young adults. The group was compiled eight years ago, and monitored through surveys, until they were 18-20 years-old. The researchers, working with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, were able to track potential risk factors that make it more likely a teenager will use drugs more heavily than others.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this long-term study was the influence of working memory on drug use potential among adolescents. Working memory is a term used to describe the ability to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. The researchers in this study found that the participants who had poor working memories were much more likely to experiment with drugs in the future, and also more likely to develop drug addiction problems. They noted that the children with above average working memories were much less likely to develop drug abuse problems in the future. This information is new to the health community and raises a lot of questions regarding current drug education and treatment solutions.

“Unanswered in our earlier work was whether it was specific forms of early use that predict later substance abuse. People really hadn’t focused on the heterogeneity of drug-use patterns. Some youths can start early and experiment but not progress while others experiment and progress into heavier drug use,” explained Atika Khurana, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon.

The researchers pointed out that current drug prevention strategies target all youths. It is common to communicate that any drug use will lead to a drug addiction, but researchers point out that this is not true, and a much more effective way of educating young people on the dangers of drugs is to tailor the material to specific needs. For instance, if a teacher has a classroom full of students with above average working memories then a drug prevention talk may be more focused on limiting experimentations and effective ways of staying safe. While a teacher with a classroom of students with poor working memories may be helped more by a talk with a stronger focus on the dangers of abuse.

The continued examination of drug use and abuse among youths is vital in developing effective prevention curriculum as well as effective treatment solutions.

Grandparents Left to Raise Children After Parents Turn to Drugs

Oftentimes addicts cannot see the damage that is created by their drug use. They cannot see the terror and sadness on their child’s face when their mother or father ignores them, leaves them, or hurts them. Drug addicts generally keep their focus on the drug – obtaining it, using it and feeling the effects of it.

When children are discovered to have parents that are addicted to drugs, they are often sent to foster homes or to family members to be raised. As the drug problem in the United States continues to grow, more and more children are being raised by their grandparents because their parents are unable to maintain sobriety long enough to provide a safe and loving household.

In fact, this problem is so severe that it is estimated that 2.6 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren due to parental drug use. This number rose 8% in 14 years, following the same upward motion as the number of addicts in this country. Coming as a surprise to many people, the majority of children that have to be raised by their grandparents are white. This is likely due to the fact that drugs continue to more into the suburbs and out of the city.

Oftentimes grandparents will assume responsibility for their grandchildren because the parents are incarcerated or attending drug and alcohol treatment. Most long term guardianships start off as being short term solutions, but if the addict cannot remain sober, children often spend their entire childhood under the care of grandparents.

“At the time of the custody hearing, both my daughter and the children’s father were in jail on drug-related charges. I remember the judge asking me how long I thought it would be before the children’s parents would be capable of taking care of their children. I optimistically said, ‘Oh, about six months, your honor.’ Well, here we are more than 20 years later…It can be a third of your life caring for grandkids when addiction is in the picture,” explained Angela Cimino, a grandmother who has had to care for her grandchildren after their parents developed a drug addiction.

Experts hope that the amount of children having to be raised by grandparents will start to go down as a greater focus has been placed on effective treatment for addicts. Additionally, a larger emphasis has been placed on education and prevention rather than jail time. Just one of the many damaging effects on the children is their learned behavior as well as genetic predisposition to addiction.

Behavioral Issues Among Teenage Drug Users

Anyone who knows a teenager that abuses drugs and/or alcohol can probably attest to the fact that these children also have behavioral problems. While this may not come as a surprise to many people, researchers recently conducted a study that revealed exactly what types of bad behaviors are most commonly associated with teenage drug users. Understanding what behaviors are associated with drug use can give parents and medical professionals an early warning that drug use is present and help to guide in early intervention techniques.

Researchers found that teenagers who abuse drugs are more likely to display behavioral traits like engaging in unprotected sex, driving under the influence and are less likely to help others. And while these are behaviors that seem to go hand in hand with the teenage years, the researchers pointed out that family members are likely to witness these behaviors to an extreme level. For instance, not having a desire to help other people is something that parents often overlook as normal teenage behavior, however the research shows that not being aware of how one’s actions impact others is a common sign of abuse.

“Alcoholics have been described as a ‘tornado running through the lives of others’. Results from this study suggest that alcoholics lack awareness of others and ho their actions impact others, rather than being sociopaths or intending to harm others,” explained Dr. Maria Pagano, a professor of child psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University.

The study was conducted by gathering 585 high school students. Some of the students had received drug treatment in the past, some were currently receiving treatment, and others had not engaged in drugs at all. The researchers found that the teens who had abused drugs, or who were currently receiving treatment for drugs were more likely to engage in risky behaviors and have a more difficult time exhibiting compassion for others.

The results of the study, which appears in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, are a strong indicator that behavior and drugs go hand in hand. Parents who are concerned that their child may be engaging in experimentation or abuse can look to their child’s most recent behavior as a sign if their fears are warranted. Drug treatment for teenagers may evolve to encompass sorting out these types of behavioral issues as well.