Teen drug use has remained a serious concern throughout the United States for decades. Teenagers are still developing, both mentally and physically, and drug abuse can greatly impact their lives. They are still learning imperative life-skills, what brings them joy, and are figuring out exactly who they are. If someone in this developmental stage of life begins to use mood and mind-altering substances, they can be putting themselves in a very dangerous situation. Many drugs have a very high potential for abuse which can lead to physical and mental dependence, which can be life-threatening. Preventing teen drug use is very important, but it isn’t always easy.
Teen Drug Use
It is quite common for teenagers to experiment with drugs and alcohol while in high school. In 2018, nearly 28% of students in grades 8-12 reported having used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. That same year just under 19% of that age group had at least one alcoholic beverage the month prior to the survey. 12% of students surveyed reported that they had three or more drinks and became intoxicated within the past 30 days.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent tee drug use, but there are things that can be done to help lower the risk. Educating teenagers about the risks associated with drug use can help prevent some from experimenting with substances. The ultimate goal is to stop these young people from ever picking up drugs or drinking in excess at a young age. While this is not always successful, it may stop some from making life-altering decisions.
Many high schoolers can have an alcoholic drink every now and then and not experience any threatening life changes. There are others who will start with some innocent experimentation with alcohol and/or marijuana, and end up using more often then they should. This can lead to a variety of consequences and potential legal repercussions. There are those who will move onto harder and more dangerous drugs like cocaine, pills, and heroin. These are the individuals are at the greatest risk of becoming addicted and having serious issues arise in their daily lives.
The Effects of Drugs on a Teenager’s Brain
Scientists who specialize in youth and health development have discovered that during the adolescent years, drastic spurts of physical and intellectual development occur. Some brain functions are forming at extremely fast rates as the brain grows in young people. A teenage individual undergoes biological and psychological changes during adolescence and the use of drugs can negatively impact this. Young people who use drugs have a much higher risk of becoming addicted. Since their brains are still developing they are far more susceptible to the powerful mood and mind-altering properties of drugs and alcohol.
The teenage years are essential for good cognitive function and development. During our younger years, it is essential to keep a rigid standard of healthy conduct. Drug abuse can affect the capacity of the brain to work in the short term as well as stop adequate growth and development in subsequent life. Teens who abuse drugs will interfere with their neurotransmitters by damaging connections within the brain. They will also reduce their ability to experience pleasure when not under the influence of drugs. Memory issues are quite common as well as inhibiting the development of perceptual abilities.
The Rise of Electronic Cigarettes
The number of teenagers who smoke cigarettes has plummeted over the past ten years, but that doesn’t mean nicotine use is down. Electronic cigarettes, or vapes, have become extremely popular among high schoolers. Vaping rates are second only to alcohol among the substances surveyed last year. 17.6% of 8th graders, 32.3% of 10th graders, and 37.3% of 12th graders reporting past-year vaping, many of which report vaping on a daily basis. Around 40% of those students surveyed who reported past-year vaping stated that they had nicotine in their vapes, while the other 60% reported that they were only doing it for the flavor and that their juice had no nicotine in it.
Even vapes that contain no nicotine can be addictive and harmful. There have been studies done regarding the dangers of vaping, but the long term effects are not yet fully understood. Scientists agree that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than actual smoking, but that there is still damage being caused, especially to the lungs. The chemicals that make up various liquids used in vaporizers can cause respiratory issues. Young people who are still growing can cause long-term permanent damage to their lungs and heart, especially when nicotine is involved.
Why Do Teenagers Abuse Drugs?
Being a teenager is not easy. There is a wild variety of physical and mental changes that are occurring on an everyday basis. On top of this, there is the basic human need to feel accepted and to fit in. Dealing with these stressors can lead to depression and anxiety. Some teens will turn to mood and mind-altering substances as a way to cope with underlying mental health issues that may be present. Others will begin using substances as a way to fit in with groups. What may start as innocent experimentation can easily turn into abuse and addiction.
Most people who struggle with drug addiction and/or alcoholism have underlying mental health issues that were never treated properly. They will use substances as a way to self medicate themselves. While some of these problems may be temporary, when someone uses drugs and/or alcohol to cope with them they will only become more severe. Drugs are a false short-term solution to these problems, and in most cases, it will only make things worse. The problem is still there, but it is being buried by substance abuse.
Many teenagers who struggle with substance abuse issues began using it as a way to fit in. Maybe they were uncomfortable in their own skin and the drugs and/or alcohol made them feel “normal”. Peer pressure may also play a role in why some teenagers begin experimenting with drugs. Some may dabble a little bit with certain substances, but they never develop a problem. Then there are others who use more than their peers. This can easily lead to physical and mental dependence.
Substance abuse can have a wide variety of devastating effects on the struggling individual. The consequences of teen drug abuse can easily affect those closest to the teenager; their parents, siblings, and friends will experience some of the repercussions due to their loved one’s use. Legal trouble, behavioral changes, problems in school, and issues with their job can all easily occur.
Substance Abuse Among Teenagers
Despite the abuse of dangerous and addictive chemicals by adolescents from all backgrounds, some teens are more at risk than others of becoming addicted. Teens who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression are more likely to seek out drugs as a way to escape their problems. This is also the case for teens who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives. Those who come from broken households or who have been abused are at a much higher risk of becoming physically and mentally dependent on substances. They start using drugs as a coping mechanism and it can eventually lead to addiction.
Teens who are constantly moving or changing school districts are also at a higher risk of developing substance abuse issues. They do this to deal with the stress that comes along with these life events. They use drugs and/or alcohol as a way to distract themselves from the world that is constantly changing around them.
The earlier in one’s life that they begin using drugs/alcohol the higher their risk of developing some level of dependence is. Teens who use drugs are putting themselves in a very dangerous situation. When a teenager experiments with hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, or prescription pills, they can easily feel mentally addicted to the substance after just one use. If they continue to abuse the drug they can develop a tolerance. Their body and mind will demand the substance and if it does not receive it, and they will face withdrawals. This is when teen drug use becomes extremely dangerous.
Teenagers who abuse drugs and find themselves addicted should seek out professional help. Without the assistance of a medical detox and treatment center, it will be very difficult and potentially dangerous for them to stop using. Adolescent rehab centers will help those struggling safely and comfortably overcome their issues while in a safe and supervised environment. It is important that while in these teen drug abuse rehab centers that the underlying issues are addressed. This will greatly help reduce the chance of a relapse occurring in the future.
Signs of Teenage Substance Abuse
The most commonly abused substances for teenagers have changed quite a bit since the 1970s. While marijuana and alcohol are still the most popular, other substances have become more prevalent. MDMA (molly), prescription pills, and synthetic marijuana have become increasingly popular among young people. These drugs are all very addictive and can cause a variety of physical and mental issues to occur. While some substance are more addictive and harmful than others, there is no “safe” drug. When a teenager begins abusing drugs they will go through a series of changes in their behavior and physical state.
These signs of teenage substance abuse can make it much easier to identify when simple experimentation has become a more serious issue. If you notice a large portion of these identifiers in your teen then it is time to speak to them and offer a solution for their problem. Some of these warning signs are easier to spot than others. Keep in mind that teenagers are constantly going through changes, so some of these signs may be a false positive. If a large amount of these are noticed it is important to sit down with your teen and express your concerns. It is always better to play it safe than sorry.
- Pupils are pinned (small pupils caused by opiate use)
- Eyes are constantly red or glassy
- The forehead is sweating frequently
- Frequent runny nose or nose blowing
- Lack of coordination
- Sleep patterns change
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Grinding jaw (cocaine, amphetamines)
- Constantly itching and scratching
- Less care for personal appearance and hygiene
- Frequently missing school/work
- No longer make eye contact when speaking with you
- Different friends
- Extreme demand for privacy
- Isolating more than usual
- Grades decline in school
- Hostile or defiant
- Coming home late without a reasonable explanation
- Loss of motivation
- Slurred Speech
- Lack of communication
- Loss of interest in old hobbies
- Manipulative and deceitful behaviors
- Easily frustrated and combative
- Memory loss
- Issues concentrating
- Random and sudden changes in energy levels
- Excessively talkative
- Increased anxiety
- Confusing actions/behaviors
- Intense mood swings
If you suspect teen drug use in your home, then you may also notice that things around your home have gone missing. You may have thought you had a $20 bill in your wallet, but it somehow disappeared. Maybe a change jar seems lower than usual, but it wasn’t completely noticeable. You chalked it up and went on with your day. If you have noticed something similar along with some of the signs of teen drug abuse listed above, then it is time to speak to your teen.
How to Speak with a Teenager About Drug Abuse
It may be difficult to notice these changes and talk to your teen about their potential substance abuse issues, but it is extremely important. Prior to approaching your loved one with your concerns, we strongly suggest purchasing a urine analysis test. Walgreens, CVS, and Amazon all sell affordable and accurate drug tests. When purchasing one, always look for one that has multiple panels that test for different drugs. One that has a temperature gauge and a PH tester is always a good idea as well. This will help prevent your teen from trying to use fake urine to pass the test.
These drugs tests will give you a concrete answer about what (if anything) your teen has been putting into their body. They are extremely accurate and whatever the results are can be accepted as the truth. People who struggle with drug abuse often lie about their use, so you can never 100% trust what someone with drug addiction issues says.
Once you have a drug test it is time to plan your approach. You will want to prepare for the worst in case your teen is struggling with substance abuse. It is a good idea to have a rehab center lined up to play it safe. It typically doesn’t cost money to do this and it will help relieve some stress and will save time if the test comes up positive. You don’t want to be running around last minute trying to find a rehab for teens only to find that there is no availability.
It is strongly suggested that you get at least one other loved one to help you through this and to be there as support. You will want to ask your teen to take the drug test, if they are instantly combative then that is typically not a good sign. Do not let them leave the house after you ask for this, and if possible you will want to watch them take the test. You do not want them trying to void the test or using fake urine to pass it. Once the results from the test are visible, then you will now if you need to move forward and take action.
You will then want to express your concerns about their current situation and how their actions have affected you. Let them know about the changes you have seen in them and how this has altered your life. Try to stay calm through this, yelling and freaking out typically has an adverse effect. This is much easier to do if you write down your thoughts and feelings prior to having them take a drug test. Hopefully, you will have a treatment center lined up and you can present it as an option for them. You must not accept no as an answer, if they are using drugs, they need help.
When is the right time to approach your teen about their drug use? Young people can be very difficult to speak with, even about normal everyday stuff, let alone potential substance abuse problems. Approaching a teenager about their drug can be very challenging, but it is absolutely necessary. There are a few things you will want to have in order prior to approaching your loved one. This is not something you want to just bring up at dinner, it should be a planned event that involves at least one other person besides yourself.
Overcoming Substance Abuse Issues
No one who struggles with substance abuse disorder should have to try and overcome their issues alone. This is especially the case for teen drug use. Teenagers require a specific type of care that is quite different from the treatment that adults will receive. Teens need to not only learn how to overcome their drug abuse problems but also how to live their life without using substances. They must learn the essential life skills that many adults already understand.
Teenagers and other adolescents who find themselves in rehab centers will also have to learn how to handle any underlying issues that may have initially influenced their drug use. Learning to use coping mechanisms and getting on proper medication can truly help those struggling to find a new way of life. Without these tools, the chance of relapse will increase significantly.
If your teenager has entered a rehab center for their substance abuse issues, it is very important that you welcome them back with open arms. There is typically no need for additional punishments and your teen must feel comfortable in their own home. You do not want to treat them differently because it can push them away. This is a very fine line to walk, so we do suggest speaking with their counselor or therapist regarding the best approach to this situation.
How To Prevent Teen Drug Use
Preventing teen drug use can start at home with the help of that teen’s parents or guardians. Speaking to children before they are teenagers and explaining the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse is very important. You will want to build a level of trust where if your teen does get themselves in a bad situation they will feel comfortable talking to you about it instead of trying to hide it. Specifically speaking with kids while they’re young can generate a powerful basis for drug use consciousness. This enables parents to affect their kids favorably while teaching limits to their kids. Parents assist kids to know when denying something that can harm them while controlling the dynamics of an unhealthy request when teaching limits.
Prevention discussions also generate greater bonds between kids and parents. Parents can create communication consistency and guidelines that can be followed for years. Preventive discussions can lead adolescents to enhance their parent’s confidence and make wise choices with habits, friends, interests, and various types of influences.
Even teens who grow up in an ideal household with amazing parents can still fall victim to the highly addictive qualities of drugs and alcohol. We are products of our environment and no matter what parents will never have complete control over their son/daughter’s decision making. Friends they have and the school they attend can easily influence their life choices, both good and bad.
If you have any additional questions regarding teen drug use, please do not hesitate to contact our toll-free line at any time at: 866-666-5701. You will be connected with an addiction specialist who will be able to answer any and all questions you might have. Calls are always free of charge and completely confidential. Whether you have more questions about the warning signs of teen drug use or need help finding a rehab center near you, we can help. Please do not try to do this alone, help is available.