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Addiction is a condition where a pleasant experience resulting in certain activities becomes a definite binding need for a person. Sooner or later a person develops addiction to substances, including drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but it could also manifest itself in the form of addiction to gambling or excessive Internet use. Time it takes to develop an addiction depends on a number of different factors. Personal qualities, properties of the substance or activity, intensity of the misuse and other factors play their role in it. There are different types of addictions – psychological, physical, social, sexual, economic.

Smoking is extremely common among both adolescents as well as adults, but many people do not recognise that tobacco is nevertheless an addictive substance. Although legal, tobacco causes strong addiction that one understands only after they are hooked. Tobacco contains nicotine, a powerful nerve poison, which leads to addiction and changes how our body functions in the same way as other narcotic substances. Therefore it is much easier to prevent smoking than to get rid of the habit later. Consuming tobacco products could often feel safe, because health hazards are not immediately detectable, but could develop years later. However, in reality it has a number of very different [consequences].

The word often used when talking about illegal addictive substances is “drugs”. Drugs are substances that affect a person’s emotions, behaviour and perception of the world. Every drug has side effects, which are often hazardous and irreversible. Drug abuse can cause serious health damages. A number of health problems could manifest themselves years later after drug abuse has stopped. All narcotic substances can cause addiction, i.e. a wish and need to use it over and over again. A situation where a person cannot cope without the drug any more is a sign that they have developed drug addiction.

A narcotic drug is a substance that affects consciousness, easily creates a habit and a pathological urge to use the substance habitually. Drugs affect a person’s general feeling, perception of the surrounding world, and behaviour. All narcotic drugs create addiction, i.e. the craving to get the drug over and over again. Addiction can be either psychological or physical. Psychological addiction means that after the effects of the drug have worn off, the person sooner or later will feel an urge to take it again. Most of the time the person cannot resist this urge and gets another dose. Physical addiction means that the person’s body has become used to drugs, and needs it constantly to function. If for any reason such person misses their regular dose of drugs, they fall ill: develop withdrawal symptoms. For example, heroin users develop runny nose and eyes, stomach cramps, joint pains and several other ailments. Different drugs can have different withdrawal symptoms.

Narcotic drugs can either be of natural origin (e.g. cannabis) or chemically made (e.g. LSD).

In addition to ruining a person’s life, drugs can cause many other bad things. Substance abuse and recovering from the high take a lot of time and money, therefore causing work and school to suffer. Many problems arise – neglected obligations, debts, depression and lying, loss of friends, problems with the police. Many former drug addicts have admitted later that they regret the years that they wasted on drugs. Under the influence of drugs a person loses self-control and their behaviour changes. People have committed heinous crimes while being under the influence of drugs, have lost their best friends and done unbelievably stupid things. Risks associated with any drug: you can never be absolutely sure what exactly you are using; purchased drugs are never completely pure and you will never know with what substance it has been cut; the real potency of the drug is unknown and poses the risk of accidental overdose; you can never be completely sure of the effects of the drug, even if you have tried it before; mixing drugs can be extremely dangerous, it also applies when drugs are taken with alcohol. Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting gear involves a significant risk of infection with e.g. HIV, hepatitis B and C or jaundice, etc. Injection causes serious damages to veins. Moreover, owning drugs is a criminal offence. Such irresponsible behaviour in a young age could turn out to be a serious stumbling block when travelling, because many countries refuse to grant visa to such persons. Drug related criminal punishments can also become an impediment to finding employment.

Medicinal products, sedatives, sleeping drugs – Sedatives make a person relaxed and calm, cause euphoria and relieve tension. Consuming of sedatives in large quantities can cause addiction: a person cannot give them up and need ever increasing doses to feel good; they can develop serious sleep disorders and without the pills the abuser cannot fall asleep at all; sedatives can often cause headaches and vomiting; the abuser often loses interest in life, becomes dazed and sluggish.

Glues, varnishes – Toxic household chemicals, which are extremely dangerous. Each household chemical has its own name. People abuse glues, solvents and gases. It is harmful, because glues and varnishes are very toxic; inhaling them is extremely harmful for the body. People often die as a result of abusing noxious household chemicals; many get nauseous, develop severe headaches and can become aggressive; abusers feel strong wooziness, can fall unexpectedly, stagger in front of a car or hurt themselves in some other way; regular abusers can suffer irreversible brain damage; some abusers suffocate in a plastic bag they use to inhale glue; some have passed out and ended up drowning in their own vomit.

People start abusing narcotic substances for very different reasons: curiosity, peer pressure, to make communication easier, to relieve stress, to fight boredom, to forget troubles. In Estonia using, holding and selling of illegal drugs is prohibited by law. Drug related offences are divided into misdemeanours and criminal offences. If you know someone who abuses, sells or deals with illegal drugs, you need to contact the police, a special youth worker or a specialist who can provide you information and assistance needed to resolve the problem.  If you feel that you need advice, please do not hesitate the Child Helpline Service 116 111.

If you suspect that someone you could be a sufferer of addiction, your role in helping that person could be a complicated one. Addicts cannot be helped if they do not wish to help themselves. The key to handling the problem is for the addict to admit that they have such problem, and only after that you can attempt to tackle it together. If your friend has admitted to having a problem assure them that addiction is a disease and it is possible to be cured of it. There is medical help, counselling and therapy available for nearly every form of dependency. And they work! Suggest to your friend to consult a doctor or a counsellor. Go with them and tell them that you are prepared to support them, should such need arise. If you feel that your friend could be life-threatening for themselves or someone else, you must contact a specialist even if they have asked you not to do this. If you feel that you need advice, please do not hesitate the Child Helpline Service 116 111.

The most common recommendation for overcoming Internet addiction is to limit the use of the Internet. Set up a precise schedule – for instance, limit your computer use to one hour a day. As opposed to most of the other addictions, it is not advisable to completely give up the Internet. It is important to find something that you can do away from the computer and beyond the Internet and that computers are used only for specific purposes.

Children aged 7 to 10 should use the computer 45 minutes a day.

Children aged 11 to 13 – twice a day, 45 minutes at a time.

Children aged 13+ should use computers three times a day, 45 minutes at a time.

There is no point in disregarding the possibilities offered by computers, but computers should be used as needed. Children should spend more time outdoors, away from gadgets (TV, tablets, smartphones, etc).

A definite warning sign is when homework is regularly disregarded because the child spends all their time in front of the computer screen. Signs pointing to excessive computer use include: becoming withdrawn, unwillingness to stop working or playing computer games; failure to notice or ignoring external events; getting agitated when forced to move away from the computer; constant desire to stay by a computer; neglecting chores, school work and playing computer games instead; neglecting one’s health, hygiene and sleep due to extended use of the computer; losing interest to anything except being on the computer.

It is essential to remember that if you cannot handle the situation yourself, you should see a specialist and address the problem AT ONCE, do not postpone anything.