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Substance Abuse and Teenagers

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Entering high school and your teenage years are among the most challenging to cope with. During this span in our lives, we are looking to fit in and find ourselves while dealing with an influx of hormones taking over our bodies. While most teenagers can get through this stage of life without using drugs, others seek the comfort of drugs or alcohol to cope with the growing pains. Substance abuse and teenagers are well documented in movies and television shows, but is that for dramatic purposes? Or is the trend prevalent in our society?

Parents play a vital role in their children’s lives, and as they grow into teenagers, there’s a host of new worries to consider. Access to marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs like opioids rise considerably once they enter high school, but parents can help by talking with their teens about the risks or having their pediatricians monitor them for substance use.

Abusing substances at a young age can have a significant impact on a teen’s health and well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have partnered and developed a guide on how to use screening in pediatric practices. The AAP suggests screening for substance use in children as young as nine. 

Substance Abuse and Teenagers – The Statistics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the most commonly used substances and the issues they cause. The following are findings released by the CDC underscoring the prevalence of use among this demographic. 

  • By senior year, an estimated two-thirds of students have experimented with alcohol.
  • Tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol are the most commonly abused substances by teenagers.
  • An estimated four in 10 9th through 12th-grade students report trying cigarettes.
  • An estimated 50 percent of 9th through 12th-grade students report trying marijuana.
  • Twenty percent of 12th graders reported experimenting with prescription drugs without a prescription. 
Many people

Despite its legality for young adults under the age of 21, nearly one-tenth of the alcohol consumed in the United States was by those 12 to 20 years old. Underage drinkers consume more drinks than adult drinkers per drinking occasion. In 2013, there were an estimated 119,000 emergency room visits for young adults aged 12 to 21 for injuries and other problems caused by alcohol. 

A 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 30 percent of high school students drank some amount of alcohol in the past 30 days, while another 14 percent admitted to binge drinking. Even more sobering, six percent admitted to driving after their alcohol consumption, and 17 percent rode with an intoxicated driver. 

Consequences of Underage Drinking

Drinking causes an array of issues for adults. For teenagers, their brains haven’t fully developed, causing them to experience a slew of problems that could ruin their life before it begins. Youth who consume alcohol are more likely to experience the following:

  • Social problems, including fighting or a lack of participation in youth activities designed to keep them out of trouble.
  • School problems, including poor or failing grades and higher absence.
  • Legal issues, including arrests for stealing, drunk driving, or causing physical harm to someone while drunk.
  • Physical issues, including illnesses or hangovers.
  • Disrupting their growth and sexual development.
  • Unplanned, unwanted, or unprotected sexual activity.
  • Sexual or physical assault. 
  • Alcohol-related injuries, such as falls, burns, or drowning.
  • Problems with short-term memory.
  • Increased risk of committing homicide or suicide.
  • Abusing other drugs.
  • Damage to brain development that may have lasting effects.
  • Death from an alcohol overdose/alcohol poisoning.

Teenagers who binge drink are more prone to experiencing these problems than teens who don’t binge drink. Early initiation of alcohol is associated with developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life, and teens should steer clear of alcohol altogether. 

Causes of Underage Drinking

There isn’t a specific reason why teenagers turn to drugs or alcohol, but some core issues influence the behavior of teens and why they start drinking or using drugs. As a parent, it’s crucial to understand these reasons and have open conversations about the dangers of drug and alcohol consumption during their youth. 

Influential Peers

Your teen will witness a variety of other people consuming substances. If you drink alcohol as a parent, your teen sees that, and they might feel it’s not dangerous because their parents do it. Their social scene may revolve around smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, and it may be a friend who urges them to experiment with alcohol or pot. It’s extremely common for a teen to try a substance because it’s readily available, and their friends indulge. They might see drug and alcohol use as a regular part of their teenage years.

The Media

It’s no secret that movies and music play a role in teen drug use. When a teenager sees their idol smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol on TV, or hears about their favorite musician discussing drug use in their lyrics, it normalizes this behavior, making them believe it’s ok. As a parent, you should monitor what your children consume and talk to them about it. 

Escaping and Self-Medicating

As discussed above, a teenager experiences raging hormones and may not have an outlet to deal with how they feel. If a teen is unhappy and can’t find a healthy way to cope with their stress, they might turn to chemical relief. Depending on the substance they seek, it can make them escape their reality and feel confident, energized, or happy. Those struggling with depression or anxiety may view drugs as the “relief they’ve always needed.” Others might abuse prescription stimulants to provide a boost of energy so they can focus while studying. 

Boredom

A teenager unable to be alone and keep themselves occupied is a prime candidate for substance abuse. Not only do marijuana and alcohol provide them with excitement and something to do, but these drugs could fill a void they feel. Alcohol and marijuana also provide a bridge for interacting with other teens and a way to instantly bond. 

Rebellion

Depending on their personality, teens might choose different substances to abuse. Alcohol is the most common drug of choice because it allows an angry teen to behave aggressively. Other teens may abuse prescription medication solely to get intoxicated, while others may use hallucinogens like LSD or mushrooms to escape. Teens who use hallucinogens often feel misunderstood and want to escape to a more kind world. Cigarettes also act as a form of rebellion because teens want to flaunt their independence and anger their parents. 

Instant Gratification

Teens who seek a “dopamine rush” use drugs because simply put, they feel good. Teenagers may use drugs because it’s viewed as a short-term path to happiness. Unfortunately, they don’t understand that short-term use can lead to a lifetime of addiction and potential death.

Teenagers Lack Confidence

It’s no secret that teens are finding themselves. Many of them might feel too short, too tall, overweight, or embarrassed about their acne. No matter the reason, they’re constantly comparing themselves to other friends or popular influences in the media. As we’ve discussed, drugs and alcohol make teens feel good. For example, alcohol boosts confidence and might wash away the insecurities a teen might feel, providing them with the courage to talk with their crush. Social anxiety is a serious issue, and drugs help it to melt away. Unfortunately, these are short-term solutions to long-term problems. Drugs and alcohol can intensify the severity of these problems later in life.

Sources

NIDA (September 2020) What is Marijuana? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

CDC (September 2020) Teen Substance Use & Risks. from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/features/teen-substance-use.html

CDC (September 2020) Underage Drinking. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm

CDC (September 2020) Alcohol and Public Health. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#alcoholismAbuse

CDC (September 2020) Adolescent and School Health. from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/index.htm

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