Dr Niall Campbell, is consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, in south-west London explains why, at the start of the annual summer music festivals season, time is rife to urge parents to make an effort to learn about drugs and the routes to addiction,
“In my opinion, it’s important to avoid dismissive statements along the lines of; “I don’t get it…it just wasn’t like this in my day”. Education and early intervention can still make a real difference and parents who are able to spot the signs of drug addiction early on – and who understand how their child might access drugs – play a pivotal role by stepping in swiftly to help.
“Parents I meet often say they don’t know anything about drugs, but every parent needs to know what’s going on in their child’s world. Talk to them, or at least try. Talk to other parents. The facts about drugs, and their effects, are all over reputable sites on the internet. The earlier a young adult is treated for drug addiction, the better, because the effects on a developing brain can be devastating – including permanent psychosis. And activities such as drug-taking and driving are an especially lethal combination.
“Drugs have a more drastic effect on children and teens than on adults because the brain continues to develop until about age 25. The parts of the brain in charge of co-ordination, emotion and motivation develop much more quickly than the parts that control reasoning and impulse.”
A common pathway into illegal drug use
“Some children start at 12, 13 or 14 having alcohol, then smoking cigarettes and weed, and then they start going out with friends and go to clubs and start doing MD (ecstasy). By 17 or 18, in clubs, they start to do cocaine and/or ketamine and usually all together – drink at home, weed, maybe coke and then they get ketamine off a dealer and then have a ‘come down’ and take Benzos (Benzodiazepines are a type of medication commonly known as tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax). This is usually by 18 or 19 – alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, ketamine, and then Benzos. That’s five drugs. Particularly for developing brains, you don’t know what damage that’s doing”
“So, how do you put young people off? Does a policeman come around and do a drugs lecture? I am not sure what effect that has. Do you have a strict school ‘no drugs’ policy? Yes absolutely. There is also an educational role for schools but you need the right sort of counsellor talking about the consequences – how it affects your physical health, mental health, your academic health, your financial health, your achievements.
“The common signs of drug use are fatigue, loss of appetite, depression or trouble concentrating. Has your teenager lost interest in studying, sleeping, self-care? Are they sullen, withdrawn, and unusually tired and slack-eyed for the hour of night? Look out for what you think is not normal behaviour.
“Are they eating less, losing all interest in a sport they loved? Keep an eye out for deceit or secretiveness. Are their weekend plans starting to sound odd? Are they always being vague about where they’re going?”
In my clinic, I’ve seen a long line of people mentally scarred by drug use. Sometimes the effects can be temporary, but no less scary. One teenager had become so “freaked out” by a recurring image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (after nibbling on magic mushroom root) that every time he closed his eyes he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. The boy nearly had to defer his university degree as a result, but the visions eventually stopped. Hauntingly for others, these effects can be “switched on” for good.
“I’m seeing an increasing number of patients, often only just 18, who are not only addicted to street drugs but have developed significant depressive and anxiety disorders. Distressing panic attacks from stimulants and hallucinogens – synthetic or mushroom-based – are rising.
“Worryingly, many drugs are not even expensive. Marijuana is everywhere and is continually being redeveloped to be stronger, and hence more dangerous. Street drug users will almost always know someone in their peer group who has developed a significant mental health problem. This should be a timely warning to them.
“Parents can offer assistance and support but only to the degree that they are financially able to However, don’t give money that you know will take them further down the road of bad behaviour – instead emphasise you are there to help wherever you can.”