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 Mental Health News/ Articles

Human Development and Drug Use among the Youth

Posted by calvinflash (accrapsy) on Aug 18 2015
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What is Adolescence; it is the gradual period of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is best characterized/view as a process or series of “soft events”.

During an average week in an academic year, adolescents are said to spend close to one-third of normal waking hours talking to their peers but only 8% of this time talking to adults. Peers provide a significant source of positive experiences for adolescents, with adolescents reporting that they are most happy when talking with their peers. Social interactions with peers may help develop social skills away from the home environment during adolescents with these outside-the –home relationships helping to ease the transition toward independence from the family.

These interactions may also in some cases facilitate antisocial behaviour, with peer conformity to antisocial behaviours (including cheating, stealing, trespassing and minor property destruction) peaking in early-to mid-adolescence.

There is also an increase in the perceived number of conflicts between the adolescent and his/her parents.

Risk Taking

By definition, a transition period such as adolescence is disequilibrating and disrupting and thus replete with opportunities that are both dangerous and growth enhancing.

Adolescents are risk takers. Compared to individuals at other ages, human adolescents as a group exhibit a disproportionate amount of reckless behaviour, sensation seeking and risk-taking. In a recent study of 11 and half – 15 year olds, 80% exhibit one or more problem behaviours during the previous month; these include disobeying parents, school misconduct, substance use and antisocial behaviours (including theft or fighting). It is also reported that more than half of all adolescents exhibit drunk driving, unprotected sex, use of illegal drugs and minor criminal activities, making reckless behaviour virtually a normative characteristics of adolescent development. Similarly, it has been concluded after studies of antisocial behaviour in adolescents that, it is statistically aberrant to refrain from such behaviour during adolescence, with “actual rates of illegal behaviour soaring so high during adolescence that participation in delinquency appears to be a normal part of teen life”.

Unfortunately, inherent in risk taking is some potential for negative outcome. Along with increases in adolescent risk taking is a sizable increase in mortality rate from early to late adolescence, with homicides, suicides and accidents collectively accounting for more than 85% of all adolescent deaths. Other potential negative outcomes from adolescent risk taking include incarceration, AIDS infection, unwanted pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse. Risk taking increases in some instances into deviant lifestyles characterized by continued involvement in criminal activities and problem behaviours in adulthood. Fortunately however, adolescent experimentation in risk taking is transient for most individuals with the vast majority of adolescents surviving the lottery for negative outcome they enter by engaging in risk taking. Although hazardous, risk taking during adolescence may confer some benefits. Risk taking may allow the adolescent to explore adult behaviour and privileges, to accomplish normal developmental task, and to develop and express mastery of hierarchal challenges associated with certain risky behaviours. Risk taking has sometimes but not always been linked to gains in self-esteem, perhaps via reinforcement provided for such behaviour among peers engaged in similar activities. Risk takers report that, they feel more accepted by peers and view risk taking as reinforcing (“fun”).

The most frequent reason for initiation of drug use is to satisfy curiosity or to experience something new or different.

For some adolescents, risk taking may not reflect so much the seeking of positive outcomes from novel or intense stimuli but rather as a means of reducing dysphoria or coping with stress, thus the justification of using substances.

Cognitive Development

Decision making capacity of adolescents may be more vulnerable to disruptions by the stresses and strains of everyday living than of adults. That is, unlike adults, adolescents may show considerably poor cognitive performance under circumstances involving everyday stress and time-limited situations than under optimal test conditions.

Adolescent Drug Use

Many adolescents explore the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs and although drug experimentation differs from drug misuse, there is evidence of the emergence of excessive use in some adolescents.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (1996) Monitoring the future, by the time that adolescents reach their senior year in high school, approximately 50% have used marijuana/hashish, 65% have smoked cigarettes, and 82% have tried alcohol. This drug use begins relatively early in adolescents and some of this use is excessive.

 Adolescents who use substantial amounts of alcohol may show a variety of alcohol dependence symptoms include evidence of ethanol dependence, escalating patterns of use and difficulty in cutting down or quitting. 

Adolescents tend to be poly drug users and this may contribute to observed adverse effects. Approximately, 85% of adolescents entering alcohol and drug treatment also smoke cigarettes with heavy use of alcohol and cigarettes exacerbating withdrawal symptoms from other drugs by adolescents.


 In the UN secretary general’s message to mark the 2015 International Day against Drug abuse and Illicit trafficking, Mr. Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to “...consider alternatives to criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs and focus criminal justice efforts on those involved in supply”. He also called for increased attention to public health models of approaches to managing the drug abuse menace. Unfortunately in Ghana, we are still using the moral model where we have demonize drug use and consider drug users as sinners instead of providing treatment.

The World drug report of 2014 has observed that, countries that have invested in harm reduction services have lowered substantially HIV transmission among injecting drug users among other benefits.

These insights and the knowledge available to us as to drug use and the risk taking nature of adolescents’ development makes it imperative for us as a nation to consider changing our drug laws to at least decriminalize drug use and focus more on treatment and legalization of marijuana at least for medicinal purposes and exportation.

It is necessary that the Ministry of education ensures that, all educational facilities in the country have qualified Guidance and Counseling professionals attached to their teaching staff to help young people to deal with the stresses they had to go through while developing.

The Ghana health service must also come out with a clear policy on pregnancy and substance use which could be displayed boldly at facilities that provide mother and child health services.


The writer is a staff at Accra Psychiatric Hospital and specializing in drug addictions.


Last changed: Aug 20 2015 at 7:08 PM

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