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Why are so many young people turning to drugs?
As news that the child star Corey Haim has sadly died from a drugs overdose reaches us, we are forced to question why so many young stars (including Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro) are dying from drug or medication abuse.
And is what's happening in the celebrity world a reflection of a growing trend among young people generally? It would seem so, as increasing numbers of young people are finding themselves using drugs socially at weekends with their friends.
Why are so many young people using drugs?
There are many reasons why drug use is more prevalent than ever: drugs are relatively easy to get hold of, and today it appears there's very little social stigma about being seen to take them while out clubbing or partying with friends.
Add this easygoing attitude towards the use of illegal and prescription drugs with the pressures young people often find themselves under and you have a recipe for potential problems.
In the celebrity world, the enormous pressure some stars are under to keep their profiles high cannot be underestimated, as so many celebrities find themselves competing for the relatively few jobs and column inches.
For young people generally, the pressure to interact on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can mean that they are spending more time interacting with a computer than with their family and friends. I strongly feel that while these sites are fantastic and fun, the time and energy that goes into maintaining them can be detrimental to a person's social life and possibly make them more isolated, as they find themselves interacting with real people less and less.
The increasing problem of family breakdown in society can also mean young people feel they don't have a loving, family structure to back them up. Add to this the various economic and job pressures in society right now, with many young people not getting the sort of jobs they feel equipped for, and you can see why some might feel the need for escapism.
It becomes a question of burning off steam
To burn off steam, it becomes an easy option to head for a boozy or drug-fuelled night out. 'Drugs are cheap and they make you feel good' is the message some young people seem to be getting. And who wouldn't want to feel 'good', when they're under a load of pressure and feeling detached from the people who really care?
When people see their friends doing the same things they are - downing booze and taking drugs - it becomes a 'normal' part of life. And that's where so much of the danger lies. When these things become 'normalised', people tend to use them increasingly. It doesn't matter if they are one of the lucky ones with a loving family and friends, it's simply part of the wallpaper of life.
But what if you have an addictive nature?
Many young people will emerge from a period of too much boozing and drug-taking relatively unscathed. It'll have been a phase, or something they did only periodically. For them, they can take it or leave it. And often they leave these potentially damaging activities behind as they mature.
But the big problem is that it's difficult to predict if someone is the sort of person with an addictive nature, who finds they can't give up the party lifestyle. Instead, booze and drugs become a necessity and they can end up addicted.
What if you notice a problem in a friend or family member?
The problem with booze and/or drug-taking getting out of control, for any given person, can be extremely hard to identify. Your friend or family member may still be getting on with their job and relating to you while covering up their developing problem.
You might ask them - even repeatedly question them - if they're 'okay' but unless they're ready to admit they've developed a problem, you won't get an honest answer. In this case, keep listening to your suspicions and intuition - and hang in there for them. Let them know they're loved and cared for and hopefully at some point they'll open up.
Are there non-damaging and natural highs to turn to?
Once someone has identified the problem and started to deal with it, perhaps by seeing their doctor, getting counselling, and/or going to an appropriate service like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, it can be helpful to find other ways to get a natural buzz.
Although anyone with an addictive nature has to ensure they don't get addicted to something else - even something supposedly healthy like going to the gym - there are many ways they can get a natural high, depending on where their interests lie.
It might be taking up an action sport - like skydiving or martial arts - that gives a person that occasional rush and sense of doing something exciting which they crave. Or it could be that taking up amateur dramatics, with all the challenges that come with being onstage (or helping backstage) provides a real buzz. Equally, learning a challenging skill, like horse riding or surfing, could satisfy someone's need to test themselves.
Encourage the person who has got into trouble with drugs or alcohol to look for these types of challenges, while learning to live an honest, clean and happier life, is definitely worth it.