Vigorous physical activity predisposes adolescents to substance use disorders

Regular physical activity is important for everyone, as it boosts self-esteem, keeps you active and energetic, and reduces susceptibility to serious illness. For teenagers, who go through many hormonal changes and therefore problems related to mood and emotions, regular exercise helps them deal with the physical and emotional challenges of everyday life. However, according to a new study, adolescents who engage in regular and vigorous physical activity are likely to develop substance abuse problems.

Members of the Royal Australian and New Zealand School of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) conducted a survey of nearly 3,500 adolescents and concluded that those who exercised for more than four days a week were likely to develop a substance abuse problem. The researchers analyzed the physical activity of 14-year-old adolescents and then assessed their mental health outcomes at age 21.

Lead author Dr. Shuichi Suetani said that adolescents who engaged in high-intensity exercise were susceptible to drinking alcohol as young adults. This was found to be true especially for girls.

different opinions

Dr. Matthew Dunn, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Deakin University, and Dr. Mark Hutchinson, Professor at the University of Adelaide Medical School, found that exposure to alcohol and drugs is also due to environmental and social pressures.

Dr. Dunn said that there is nothing new when it comes to sports and the resulting exposure to harmful substances. He said multiple sociocultural things could lead a teen to drug or alcohol abuse. According to him, if a teenager is part of a club or team that receives sponsorship from an alcoholic beverage company, there is discreet pressure to drink.

According to him, when a person is surrounded by athletes and peers who abuse alcohol and other substances, one is inevitably drawn to try these addictive substances. However, when children are supervised, they are less likely to go astray.

Dr. Hutchinson said that exclusive sports clubs and competitive settings could be the gateway to substance abuse. He is of the opinion that teenagers who follow the group mentality by imitating other people’s unhealthy behavior could be harming their future.

Children are impressionable and do not know how to say no to such advances or make sensible decisions. In addition, their brains are still in a developing stage, so they can suffer the consequences more seriously than adults. Ultimately, affected teens may require affordable drug and alcohol treatment at good addiction centers.

The RANZCP research also established that serotonin release during intense training might be responsible for driving adolescents toward alcohol and other substances, but Dr. Hutchinson refuted the finding due to a paucity of data to support the view.

Talking to teens about substance abuse

Adolescence is a vulnerable time when many boys and girls are not yet capable of making informed decisions and are likely to feel disoriented later on. Parents can play a critical role in educating their children about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse. It is important to talk and keep communication channels open.

Some ways parents can address this problem are:

  • Get involved in the child’s life without being intrusive. Set rules for parties, homecoming, friends time, game time and other activities. When children know they are being closely monitored, they are less likely to indulge in substance abuse.
  • Parents should remind teens of the harmful effects of alcohol and substances on physical health, academic and athletic performance, social interactions, and family and romantic relationships.
  • Parents should encourage their teens and show appreciation even when the achievement is small. Positive reinforcements can go a long way in keeping them away from negative influences.
  • Children should be encouraged to pick up a hobby, try a new activity, and volunteer. Their screen time should be kept to a minimum and parents should know all the friends and acquaintances their child associates with.

The road to recovery

The consumption of alcohol and other substances can be detrimental to the functional and structural capacities of the brain, especially during adolescence. It is a phase full of emotional upheavals and physical transformations that increase the probability of falling into bad habits. Substance abuse can lead to legal problems, financial problems, poor grades, unsafe sexual practices, and much more. Therefore, it is prudent to stay away from substances and seek immediate help when needed.

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