Sport | Columnists
Sean Van Staden
Every mom or dad’s biggest fear is finding out that your child has been called into the principal’s office for a disciplinary or expulsion after their child has tested positive for drugs.
There must be a million questions running through their minds like: “How did this happen? Who are the friends that influenced him? How can a good boy simply be so irresponsible?”
There is actually a scientific research as to why your child can’t say no, as opposed to you, as an adult declining some “magic mushroom cookies”.
During adolescence, the brain undergoes massive development changes, especially in the front part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex.
This is the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control and decision-making in comparative judgment.
It will pre-determine if the reward or risk is great enough to continue with the action.
When this part of the brain is still trying to figure itself out and develop, what often happens is that adolescent kids are more prone to risky, impulsive and erratic behaviour.
This is one of the reasons why young adolescents are more susceptible to drugs, alcohol, smoking and mixing cough syrup and Sprite for kicks.
This is just one condition, now you add in peer pressure, poor choice in friends, environmental factors and an exposure to abuse at home and then you have a recipe for disaster.
It is also important to understand that because their brains have not fully developed. Early and frequent drug usage can cause dysfunctional and irreparable damage.
Do yourself a favour and watch Dr Nora Volkow – Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH on my Facebook page on “why our brains get addicted”.
During her early years technology enabled her to map the human brain and helped her understand how drugs affect the brain.
This allowed her to scan the brain of someone who was addicted to drugs compared to someone who was not. Volkow found that people addicted to cocaine, heroin and alcohol had a decrease in dopamine D2 receptors.
Dopamine receptors are responsible for helping to regulate self-control.
Since there was a noticeable decrease in D2 receptors, even though they might not want to take drugs, the addiction is too great because their D2 receptors are not functioning as they should and hence you do it anyway.
Their self-control flies out the window, they take the drugs, have a quick fix and feel guilty afterwards. It becomes a case of “I could not control myself”.
Volkow’s research has found through mapping that it affects people who are obese in the same way.
I will cover this topic in a follow-up article.
This research means that addiction now becomes a bigger programme because of the brain not being able to function responsibly and normally.
Now, take a young developing brain that has not yet been fully developed and add experimental and recreational drugs, like smoking marijuana and you end up with potential circuitry that is dysfunctional to the extent that you have very little free will to say no.
Should you as a parent be worried about your child experimenting with drugs at school, alcohol at parties and an occasional medicinal vape?
You should be terrified about the consequences, especially if your child has a pre-disposition to addiction, depression, anxiety and stress which you as a parent won’t know off the bat.
Even if your child doesn’t have an inherited pre-disposition to addiction, the fact is that brain scans during Volkow’s research are showing that it could affect everyone but more so an adolescent.
This is an important topic to cover because lives are precious.
Next week I will cover how to social-proof your child from pressure and what you can do to limit the risk of frivolous experimentation during a critical part of their developmental years.
Sean van Staden is a sport scientist. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanVStaden or visit advancedsp.co.za.
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