Dr. Jayanta Das

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist. Psychiatrist Dr. Anweshak Das and clinical psychologist Jayashree Das also contribute. E-mail your queries to [email protected]

Drug addiction among teens is a matter of serious concern.

Q: My son is 19 years old, currently doing his graduation. Of late, he seems to have given up his daily routine and has become irregular in his studies. He has become irritable and abusive too. He shuts himself in his room. I have found that he has started smoking cannabis. Also, he has become very addicted to his mobile phone. I suspect that he is on other drugs as well. How can we be sure that he is taking drugs?

– Name withheld

Ans: Smoking cannabis can lead to all the problems that you have described in your son. To find out whether your son is on drugs, you can look for certain things in your  son, like whether there is deterioration in his studies or decreased concentration, whether his irritability has increased or whether there is any anger outburst or aggression. Does he keep on demanding money, or has he become too stubborn, of late? Whether his interpersonal relationships have changed. Has he been emotionally cold towards his family?

Keep a check on his sleep patterns too – is he awake the whole night and sleeps through the day or is drowsy throughout the day? There may be a decrease of motivation towards his daily routine activities, he may remain withdrawn. There will be decrease in appetite or abnormal increase in his appetite or at times, you will find him eating at unusual times of the day. Look for certain physical signs like loss of weight, redness in eyes, sweating, shaking or tremors in his hands, flushing of skin, punch marks on his forearms, etc. Overall, there will be a change in his personality.

One important thing is to find out his peer group, with whom he is interacting nowadays, and with whom he is spending time. Addiction is a complex brain disorder. It is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, characterised by compulsive drug use, despite harmful consequences.

Moreover, addiction is not only restricted to illicit drug use. Addiction may involve the excessive use of the internet and social media, game addiction, gambling addiction and pornography addiction. These are known as behavioural addictions. Addiction of any sort causes psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a drug or doing any activity even though it is causing psychological and physical harm. Any sort of addiction affects the same area and neuro circuits in the brain which have long-lasting negative consequences. Addiction is a serious issue and has to be handled properly.

However, shutting oneself in the room does not always indicate drug abuse. It may be a sign of other serious mental health issues like depression and other psychotic illnesses. Try to talk to your son first, find out whether he is having any difficulty in studies, in school or with his friends, or is there any other issues that may be bothering him. Treatment is definitely available and addiction is a reversible disorder. Do not hesitate to seek help. Get in touch with mental health professionals, self-help groups and social support groups or organisations.