While intravenous drugs use is on the rise among teens and young adults, a new study has found that a supportive environment and early treatment can significantly reduce the risk of young people injecting drugs.
Once someone starts injecting drugs intravenously, what may have begun as experimentation or casual use turns into something much more serious. Not only does it signal the user’s need for a more intense high, it opens a whole new range of risks, including increased risk of overdose and exposure to HIV, hepatitis and other potentially fatal diseases.
Rising Rates of Intravenous Drug Use Among Youth
Watching a teenager or young adult turn to intravenous drug use is a nightmare for family and friends, but it’s a situation more and more people are facing. There’s strong evidence that more people are injecting drugs at an earlier age. In 2009, more than a quarter of people admitted to hospital for injection drug-related issues in the U.S. were aged 18-25, up dramatically from 10 years earlier. Young people are significantly more susceptible to addiction than older people, so getting drug addiction treatment early can significantly reduce the chances of them turning to IV drug use.
The importance of early intervention cannot be overstated. Statistical evidence in the U.S. shows many young people begin taking drugs as early as 12-14 years old. The Treatment Episode Data Set reveals that the average age of an adolescent’s first experience with heroin is 14.8 years old, but average for admission to a treatment facility is 16.3 years. In short, the average teen heroin user goes 18 months without receiving any treatment whatsoever.
Barriers to Drug Addiction Treatment
A recent study in Canada found that young drug users (aged 14-26) are twice as likely to start injecting drugs if they are unable to access treatment. The study, which was carried out over a 10-year period in Vancouver, found 21 percent of participants were unable to access addiction treatment, with long waiting lists and logistical issues the chief obstacles.
While this study was specific to Canada, it’s safe to say that the barriers to treatment experienced by these young people is reflected worldwide. Very often, health systems don’t have the resources to give young drug users the treatment they need, with intervention and support from family and friends often the best chance of getting them into rehab.
Signs of Drug Use
Catching drug use early and getting the proper treatment is key to reducing the risks of intravenous drug use among young people. And while the warning signs vary between the most commonly injected drugs — heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine — there are common signs you can look out for:
Be aware of any changes in behavior or mannerisms. While teenagers are naturally predisposed to mood swings, teens who are abusing drugs will often isolate themselves from their family almost completely. Be on the look out also for aggressive behavior, irritability, lethargy and slurring of speech.
Young drug users will often smoke or “chase” drugs before moving onto intravenous use. Being aware of associated paraphernalia such as pipes, tubes or burnt tinfoil can help you catch the problem early.
The drugs that lead to injecting are highly addictive with most teens unable to finance their habit should they become dependent. If you suspect a teen in your home may have developed a drug problem, be on the lookout for theft of cash and valuables around the home.
Secretive behavior is often a tell-tale sign that a teen or young person is using drugs. They may suddenly start lying to cover their tracks or be vague about who they are associating with.
There are also a number of tell-tale physical signs that may indicate drug use. These include sudden weight loss or gain, poor hygiene, shakes or tremors, red eyes, and dilated or pin-point pupils.
Confronting a Young Person About Their Drug Use
One of the greatest challenges faced by family and loved ones of a young person who is abusing drugs is facing the issue head-on. While there may be some fear and mistrust on both sides, the importance of clear, open and positive communication cannot be overstated.
How you will approach the problem will depend very much on your relationship with the person who is at risk. Helping a friend or partner will, of course, be very different to helping a teenage son or daughter who is in danger of injecting drugs. Whatever your relationship, helping them get the right treatment and supporting them in recovery can drastically reduce the risk of intravenous drug use and the associated dangers.
Getting a young person into rehab does not only significantly reduce the chance of them injecting drugs, it provides the treatment they need to deal with dependencies that will be much more difficult to treat in later life.
Treatment programs tailored towards young people give them the very best chance of a complete and successful recovery through a holistic approach using the latest methods from medicine, counselling and peer involvement. Very often a few weeks in rehab can nip a potentially life-threatening addiction in the bud, helping young people go on to be productive and responsible members of society.
The teenage years and young adulthood can be a trying time and our loved ones will inevitably make some poor decisions as they find their place in the world. Supporting them through these turbulent times and helping them get the treatment they need can truly change their lives for the better.