Title:   Drug Proofing the Family
 Authors:   Erica Wittenberg & Jim Parker

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:


..Patterns of Use

Not only do kids use drugs and alcohol for different reasons, but they also use them in different ways. And while most parents see any use as dangerous or just plain wrong, it can still be useful to consider what different levels of involvement with drugs can mean.

Looking at things from this perspective can help a parent better "read" a specific situation, preserve their credibility with an involved child, and generate an appropriate (and effective) response.

  • Experimental use. This is square one in the use-abuse matrix. Here, kids are basically curious about drugs and their effects, just like their first kiss or first car. They may look for a chance to experiment, or just take advantage of one that presents itself. For most kids, chemical use stops or stays at this level. It isn't inevitable that use must continue or increase. Whether or not it does depends on specific reasons for experimenting, on personal values and resources, and on how parents respond.
  • Integrated use. If involvement does move beyond experimentation, the next level involves more frequent use and greater risk. Still, use tends to be casual (and mainly social), and everyday functioning isn't necessarily impaired. This level of use is comparable to alcohol use by a social drinker. About 90 percent of the substance-using population falls into the "experimental use" or "integrated use" categories.
  • Excessive use. Here, use often becomes obvious, as does impairment. Day-to-day functioning can become difficult, as responsibilities are blown off and relationships become strained. Family members may find themselves making excuses for the user, or taking over his/her tasks and obligations.
  • Psychological/physical dependence. Impairment is self-evident at this stage, and use becomes an end in itself. A user's behavior is clearly affected, and performance in school or work usually declines. Few friends remain who aren't heavy users, and run-ins with police and the courts become likely -- if they haven't already happened.

We need to emphasize that many other factors -- social, economic, psychological, physiological -- also enter into the equation which complicate a true reading of a person's chemical involvement. Still, just because the equation is complicated doesn't mean it's indecipherable -- or unfixable.

Since all patterns of chemical use have common elements, appropriate actions can be taken at any stage to reduce the risk of greater involvement. And understanding those factors and applying those options before they're necessary can reduce the risk of high-risk use ever taking place.

Continue with Chapter 4: Family Values
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This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org.