Drug usage and abuse among youngsters in Kuwait is rising and has become a cause of serious concern for the government, as well as for parents, school authorities, medical personnel, social activists, and law enforcement agencies. Youngsters represent the future of the country, society and their own families, as such their physical and mental health and wellbeing are of utmost importance to everyone concerned.

Drug usage is deleterious to the mental development of youngsters, as their brains are still growing and developing in a process that extends well into their mid-20s. Taking drugs when young can interfere with the developmental processes taking place in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex, the area located to the fore of the brain that is responsible for cognitive control functions, such as thinking, reasoning and decision-making. Drug usage at this early stage in life can impair among others, social and family interactions, academic performance, and decision-making abilities that could lead them to engage in risky activities, such as having unsafe sex or driving recklessly.

Taking drugs when young has also been shown to contribute to the development of adult health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep disorders. The earlier young drug users can be weaned off drugs, the easier it is to rid them of this behavior and prevent them sliding into becoming drug addicts as adults.

The drugs that are most commonly used by young people in Kuwait have been found to be tobacco, cannabis and alcohol, the last two of which are incidentally banned in the country. More recently, there have been reports of youngsters turning to the use of other more potent recreational drugs — a generic term used to describe legal and illegal drugs that are used without medical supervision, such as analgesics used to treat pain, depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Medical practitioners and sociologists point to a variety of reasons that lead youngsters to using drugs. These include:

To fit in: Young people may begin using drugs under peer pressure, as they are eager to be accepted by friends or peers who are into drugs.

To feel good: Using drugs could lead to the individual feeling ‘good’ or ‘high’ which is an intoxicating feeling of pleasure.

To feel better: Youngsters who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders, or physical pain, may seek relief from drugs.

To do better in academics or sports: Young people who are under pressure to excel or improve their performance in studies or sports may resort to drugs that are stimulants to studying or anabolic steroids that improve athletic performance.

To experiment: Young people are at an age when they are curious to know more and eager to try out new experiences, especially those which they and their peers consider exciting and audacious.

Just as there are varied reasons for youngsters turning to drugs, so too are there multiple factors that may increase a young person’s risk for drug use, including stressful early life experiences, such child abuse or other forms of trauma; lack of monitoring and proper supervision by parents and school authorities; joining groups of peers, or friends who are indulging in drugs.

According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse there are several explicit signs that parents and teachers could monitor in order to identify whether a youngster has a drug problem.

Young people involved in drug usage usually show a lack of interest in many of the things they liked to do earlier; they have personal or family relationship problems; starting to spend more time on their own; appearing tired or sad more often; eating erratically, either eating too much or too little than usual; not engaging in proper hygiene, such as taking showers or brushing teeth regularly; exhibiting rapid mood swings, going from being reticent in speech to garrulous, or from being lethargic or lazy to active and energetic; changing friends often; having problems at school in academics, or in their social interactions with classmates and others; displaying memory lapses, poor concentration, lack of coordination, slurred speech and other visible signs.

The good news is that drug use in young people can be prevented, especially if the habit is discovered early. In addition to the medical support and care provided by the ministries of health and of social affairs to drug victims, there are also several prevention programs launched by the authorities that involve families, schools, communities, and the media, which have been found to be effective in preventing or reducing drug use and addiction among youngsters. These programs include education and outreach to help people understand the risks of drug use.

On a family level, you can help prevent your child from turning to drugs by engaging in meaningful communication and spending quality time with your children that help to promote cooperation and reduce parent-child conflicts. Boost the child’s confidence and self-esteem by providing encouragement and feedback, as well as genuine praise when they do anything well. Teaching children problem-solving skills; setting limits to teach them self-control and responsibility; becoming aware of who their friends are and what they do during off school hours; providing safe boundaries within which they interact with others, and most importantly set an example by your own behavior, and showing them that you love and care them and will be there for them.

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