I’m worried about a child?

Advice for parents and caregivers.


What are the early signs of risk that may predict later substance abuse?

Some signs of risk can be seen as early as infancy. Children’s personality traits or temperament can place them at increased risk for later substance abuse. Withdrawn and aggressive boys, for example, often exhibit problem behaviours in interactions with their families, peers, and others they encounter in social settings.If these behaviours continue, they will likely lead to other risks. These risks can include academic failure, early peer rejection, and later affiliation with deviant peers, often the most immediate risk for substance abuse in adolescence. Studies have shown that children with poor academic performance and inappropriate social behaviour at ages 7 to 9 are more likely to be involved with substance abuse by age 14 or 15.


What Are The Signs of Risk In the Family

Children’s earliest interactions occur within the family and can be positive or negative. For this reason, factors that affect early development in the family are probably the most crucial. Children are more likely to experience risk when there is:

  • lack of mutual attachment and nurturing by parents or caregivers;
  • ineffective parenting;
  • a chaotic home environment;
  • lack of a significant relationship with a caring adult; and
  • a caregiver  who abuses substances, suffers from mental illness, or engages in criminal behaviour.


These experiences, especially the abuse of drugs and other substances by parents and other caregivers, can impede bonding to the family and threaten feelings of security that children need for healthy development. On the other hand, families can serve a protective function when there is:

  • a strong bond between children and their families;
  • parental involvement in a child’s life;
  • supportive parenting that meets financial, emotional, cognitive, and social needs; and
  • clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline.

Finally, critical or sensitive periods in development may heighten the importance of risk or protective factors. For example, mutual attachment and bonding between parents and children usually occurs during those developmental stages, it is unlikely that a strong positive attachment will develop later in the child’s life.


What Are The Signs of Risk Outside the Family

Other risk factors relate to the quality of children’s relationships in settings outside the family, such as in their schools, with their peers, teachers, and in the community. Difficulties in these settings can be crucial to a child’s emotional, cognitive, and social development. Some of these risk factors are:

  • inappropriate classroom behaviour, such as aggression and impulsive;
  • academic failure;
  • poor social coping skills; and
  • association with peers with problem behaviours, including substance abuse.


Association with substance-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk for exposing adolescents to substance abuse and delinquent behaviour.

Family has an important role in providing protection for children when they are involved in activities outside the family. When children are outside the family setting, the most salient protective factors are:

  • age-appropriate parental monitoring of social behaviour, including establishing curfews, ensuring adult supervision of activities outside the home, knowing the child’s friends, and enforcing household rules;
  • success in academics and involvement in extracurricular activities; and
  • strong bonds with pro social institutions, such as school and religious institutions.


Why do young people abuse drugs or inhalants?

There are many reasons why people abuse drugs. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Curiosity
    Young people have a deeply curious nature and this fuels an eagerness to seek new experiences. Some may find substances an interesting topic to talk about and to fascinate other people with. However, this curiosity may in turn cause them to venture into the unknown and experiment with substances for “kicks”.
  • Enjoyment
    Some young people abuse substances because they enjoy the “high” and “rush” that accompanies it. They may have the misconception that using substances at a party or club is a social activity with friends and substance use makes things more interesting or fun.
  • Poor Coping Skills
    Young people may experience negative emotions like frustration and hopelessness arising from unhappy life events. They may also find it stressful trying to keep up with the rapid pace of life in a fast changing society. The inability to cope with these emotions constructively may lead the way to substance use as a means to escape from reality.
  • Lack of Direction
    Young people with no goal or ambition in life tend to find themselves moving around with friends and peer groups aimlessly. Their lack of direction makes them highly prone to being lured into abusing substances.
  • Peer Group Influence
    Peer influence amongst young people is powerful and will affect the way they feel, dress and behave. They do not want to be seen as misfits among their friends and there is a strong desire to be accepted. This influence can help them do many useful and healthy things. Negative peer influence, however, may lead them to antisocial behaviour or involvement.