Why teenagers are at risk of becoming addicted to drugs. The Ajungem MARI campaign: “Drugs promise them happiness. But steal it from them!”

Institutionalized children and youth are at greater risk of coming into contact with drugs to cope with emotional trauma. Ajungem MARI, the largest national program in support of institutionalized children in Romania, in partnership with the Preventis Association, specialized in addiction prevention and counseling programs, are launching a campaign to combat drug use among young people in the protection system and are launching a call: “Drugs promise happiness. But he steals it!”.

For 6 months, 250 young people (12-18 years old) from Bucharest and the counties of Arad, Botoșani, Cluj, Constanța, Galați, Iași, Mureș, Sibiu and Timiș will receive educational, moral and emotional support aimed at preventing drug use. 69 Ajungem MARI volunteers and employees of the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection (DGASPC) will be trained to prevent addictive behaviors, but also to recognize and provide help to young addicts, in addiction training courses.

In search of happiness, methods that restore their self-confidence and heal their traumas, institutionalized children represent one of the categories with an extremely high risk of turning to prohibited substances. Life in the community for a young person in the care system can be very stressful, especially if they are the victim of bullying. Drugs can seem like a way to relax and take refuge in an imaginary world where there is no pain, where no one rejects him and he is happy.

“There is a need more than ever for such a campaign, for institutionalized children and young people who are on the verge of becoming victims of drug use. We have joined forces with Preventis, with 18 years of experience in addiction prevention and counseling programs, because the solution is not just to explain to them the impact these substances have on their health. They must have learned at school, read on the Internet or talked to friends and DGASPC staff. We want to discover the reasons why they turn to drugs, despite knowing that they are harmful, and solve that problem through discussions with our volunteers or, in more advanced cases, through specialized psychotherapy services” – Vivianda Nicolae, Vice President Ajungem MARI.

“Nobody wants to get into trouble because of drug use. I don't know anyone who chose to use drugs to harm themselves, to experience the negative effects. Not. All people want to be happy and avoid what causes them suffering. It is part of the normality of life. But seeking happiness or escape from problems through drugs can be very dangerous, and children and youth in centers are even closer to consumption and addiction. We want to be close to them and we are happy that together with Ajungem MARI we will offer an extra chance for them to be well and we will be able to give them hope for a happier and healthier life” – Viorelia Bîrlădeanu, Coordinator of prevention programs, Preventis.

Teenagers do not feel loved and accepted enough and feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. There is a need to escape from reality and escape from problems or to become more energetic to finish all projects, to receive validation. In the long term, these needs become increasingly difficult to satisfy without drugs.

Teens get addicted faster than adults

In Romania, there is a trend of increasing drug consumption in the last decade, according to the National Report on the Drug Situation (2022). 16.9% of people between the ages of 15 and 34 have experienced at least one type of drug at a given time, 10% have used it in the last year, and 6.6% – in the last month, 1.4 times higher than the previous study (4.5%). The lowest age of onset in the consumption of psychoactive substances is 13 years.

Illicit substance use can be addictive at any age, but teenagers are much more vulnerable. The reason is related to the stage of maturation of some centers in the brain responsible for self-control, decision-making and long-term thinking.

During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is in full development. The consumption of prohibited substances at this age prevents the development of the most efficient centers of the brain (brain maturation occurs around the age of 25). That's why teenagers tend to be more impulsive, not analyzing the risks and looking for experiences that bring adrenaline.

You don't need drugs for happiness, you need to be good with yourself

Within the project “Be good to yourself! Education & Prevention NOT addiction”, 250 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 in risky situations and environments will receive educational, moral and emotional support aimed at keeping them away from drug use. Also, 21 institutionalized young people will benefit from psychotherapy: 5 of them will participate in individual sessions, and 16 will be integrated into support groups in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca, to make them aware of what drug use entails and what its effects are.

69 Ajungem MARI volunteers and DGASPC employees will attend basic training courses in addictions, supported by the trainers of the Preventis association. They will learn how to recognize direct and indirect signs of use and what are the solutions to convince young people not to use substances.

The project “Be good to yourself! “Education & Prevention NU addiction” is carried out between January 15 and June 14, 2024 by the Lindenfeld association in partnership with the Preventis association and financed by the program In Stare de Bine (www.instaredebine.ro), supported by Kaufland Romania and implemented by the Foundation for Development Civil Society.

The project has a budget of 153,650 lei.

About Ajungem MARI: Ajungem MARI is the largest national program that long-term supports institutionalized children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to become responsible, independent and happy adults. Over 3,000 children are supported educationally, morally and emotionally by the organization's volunteers, in Bucharest and 24 counties in the country. You can find out more at: www.ajungemmari.ro.

About Preventis: The Preventis Association based in Cluj Napoca has been carrying out activities for 18 years at the local and national level, in the field of prevention and intervention in substance consumption and addiction. More at www.preventis.ro.

About the In Good Condition program: In Good Condition is an annual funding program that offers non-refundable grants totaling 1 million euros per year to non-governmental organizations in Romania. The program is implemented by the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, with the financial support of Kaufland Romania. The objective of the program is to increase the quality of life of the inhabitants of rural and urban communities by supporting initiatives that have a positive impact in three essential areas – culture, sports and healthy living – and that address vulnerable groups and the communities they belong to. This year, exceptionally, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine led to a partial reorientation of the program to support migrants and refugees displaced by the war in the neighboring country. For more information, go to www.instaredebine.ro.