Experimentation with drugs and alcohol during youth is a common occurrence in our society. At this phase of our lives, we often feel invincible, and this is because our brains are not done developing.
Teens always think, “It won’t happen to me,” and this reasoning prompts them to engage in risky behavior that adults cannot fathom to place themselves.
Teenagers fail to establish the link between what their actions can cause today and the consequences of tomorrow. Their feelings of being indestructible and invincible win out more often than not.
Unfortunately, using drugs and alcohol during youth can adversely affect one’s health.
Many teens will experiment and stop or continue using without significant issues. Others, however, will develop dependency and move onto more dangerous drugs that cause harm to themselves or others.
It’s impossible to know which teens will experiment and stop, or who will develop severe problems. Few indicators can let individuals know who is more prone to developing drug or alcohol problems, which include:
Teens are vulnerable to abusing an array of different drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs, such as alcohol, prescription medications, inhalants, and over-the-counter cough medicine, are often abused.
The most commonly abused illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, LSD, PCP, opiates, heroin, and ecstasy. The use of illegal drugs, unfortunately, has been increasing rapidly over the years. The average age of marijuana use is 14, and the average age for alcohol intake is before the age of 12.
Teens often use other family members’ or friends’ medications to get high. Some adolescents will misuse their friends stimulant medications such as Adderall or Ritalin.
Teen drug use is associated with many adverse consequences, which include an increased risk of serious drug use later in life, failure in school, and poor judgment that can put teens at risk of accidents, violence, unsafe sex, or suicide.
The illicit use of drugs and alcohol by teens has been extensively documented. As we’ve described above, it’s common for teens to engage in illegal drug and alcohol use. But it is also common for them not to show signs and symptoms of drug use early on. Unsuspecting parents may be unaware of drug or alcohol use in their children.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is more widespread than parents would like to believe. Evidence points to drug use as early as sixth to eighth grade. Those who develop addictions to drugs, tobacco, or alcohol typically start using in their adolescent and young adult years.
The earliest warning sign that can reveal drug or alcohol use in teens is a change in behavior or mannerisms. The first change that can be observed is a frequent change in friends. The teen can spend time with new friends, or around people who the parents do not approve of. The teen can make excuses for the observed behavior and get angry unnecessarily when confronted about the issue.
Substance abusing teens will exhibit withdrawal from usual family bonding, routines, or activities. They will prefer to be left alone in their rooms, skip family oriented dinners, or become unresponsive to parents or siblings. Others may choose to isolate themselves from family events such as holiday trips, movies, or stop doing chores.
The teen may also start to break the rules, and they can violate their curfew restrictions. Sometimes, the behavior may be correlated with typical teenage rebellion, which can be hanging out with usual friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend, but a teen using drugs will invent stories to cover their tracks.
Teens may be drawn to substance abuse for various reasons, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), teens are more likely to use drugs because:
Alcohol use and binge drinking continued to show a significant five-year decline of as much as 58 percent when compared to peak years.
Despite the continued rise in opioid overdose and overall deaths, misuse of prescription opioids dropped significantly over the past five years among 12th-graders. Teens have the perception that drugs like Vicodin are difficult to obtain.
Unfortunately, nicotine and tobacco have risen significantly. Vaping has become extremely popular and easy to mask on campus. More 8th- and 10th-graders report that vaping is very easy to obtain. Teens admit they are aware of the risks when it comes to vaping, but still participate in using. Even though cigarette use remains at the lowest levels in history, vaping has picked up the slack.
Despite the drop in numbers, the most commonly used drugs among teens include:
Teens may not see the drugs as harmful or take it seriously because they are still developing. There are many aspects the teens may not know, and parents must talk with their kids about the dangers and severity of substance abuse. More time spent on awareness, education, and prevention can help keep these trends headed in a downward direction.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends
Ali, S., Mouton, C. P., Jabeen, S., Ofoemezie, E. K., Bailey, R. K., Shahid, M., & Zeng, Q. (n.d.). Early detection of illicit drug use in teenagers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257983/
Aacap. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Teens-Alcohol-And-Other-Drugs-003.aspx