Children are so full of energy all the time. Their creativity, lack of inhibition and zest for life are qualities even adults would like to emulate. While on the one hand, these traits make them extremely receptive, on the other, they make them vulnerable to vices. As children are highly impressionable during their formative years, they are at a greater risk of developing harmful habits that might affect them in the long term.
Addiction is one such habit. It begins with ingesting a substance or engaging in an activity that one finds pleasurable. But this habit can quickly progress to a stage where one feels a strong compulsion to do it, to an extent where one’s health and life is affected. Addictive substances, as we know, could range from something as simple as paint thinner to serious narcotic drugs like cocaine. There are also activities–from overeating to gambling to sex–that work on the human brain the same way as these substances.
With the advent of internet and technology, today, children are exposed to things that are considered highly inappropriate for their age. There is also an alarming increase in the availability and accessibility of psychoactive substances, pornographic content and other forms of ‘adult’ indulgences. As a result, children are at risk of developing an addiction towards one or more of these substances or activities. In this article, Soulveda attempts to get to the root of addiction in children, explores its many kinds and shares experts’ insights on the subject.
What exactly happens in the brain when an individual develops an addiction? Indulging in an addictive substance or a rewarding activity triggers the pleasure centres of our brain. A chemical called dopamine floods the organ, and this incredibly good feeling is stored in our memory forever. This makes us crave it more and repeatedly, making us indulge in these substances or activities again and again.
Now, here’s the tricky part. Dopamine is a substance that the brain produces– even under normal circumstances–every time we experience pleasure. But, as the addiction progresses, the brain loses its ability to release dopamine and becomes dependent on the addictive substance or activity. This is what makes addicts desperate for their fix. They feel it is the only way they will ever feel happy again.
Addiction is an illness that wreaks havoc in people’s lives. They get hooked on to a substance or activity, and before they realise it, they are spending all their money getting their fix. It ruins their health, their relationships and ultimately, the very ability to live their lives. The effects, as we can imagine, are much, much worse in younger individuals. Their vulnerability makes children develop an addiction faster, reckons Executive Director of Abhayam Foundation PJ Albert. “When it comes to drug addiction, the early age limit has dropped to 12 in the recent years. It is easier to get people hooked when they are younger. This is why drug dealers target school children now,” he says.
Sometimes children might be overindulging in their video games or food or other substances to cope with problems like bullying at school or depression, or worse, abuse.