The younger someone begins use of an addictive substance, the more likely they are to become addicted. This very real danger is present for many American teenagers, as they are exposed to and begin to misuse and abuse drugs. However, there are warning signs parents and teachers should be aware of as they interact with teenagers that may help them identify teen drug use. Through awareness and proper education, many teens can be assisted to stop their use and develop healthier coping habits.
Current Teen Drug Use Statistics
Overall, the use of drugs among teens seems to be decreasing in the United States. There has been a decrease in the use of the following substances:
- Alcohol – differences can be seen from 2009 to 2014 numbers, respectively:
- 8th graders – down from 14.9% to 9%
- 10th graders – down from 30.4% to 23.5%
- 12th graders – down from 43.5% to 37.4%
- Cigarettes (the lowest level of teen use in reported history)
- Prescription pain relievers
- Inhalants and synthetic drugs
- Illicit drugs
While there is has not been a change in the use of marijuana, there has been a decrease in the perceived harm of the drug and in the disapproval of it. 6% of high school seniors reported using it daily while 81% reported the drug would be easy to obtain. This mentality and ease of accessibility may cause an increase of use in the future.
Even though the use of cigarettes is down, the use of e-cigarettes (where the nicotine is inhaled through vapors rather than smoke) has increased among teenagers. Currently, about 8.7% of 8th graders, 16.2% of 10th graders, and 17.1% of 12th graders reported using an e-cigarette. This is dangerous as the FDA has not yet approved e-cigarettes as their long term effects are not yet known. There is also no evidence that the e-cigarette is a viable way to quit smoking altogether. You can learn more about e-cigarettes and teens here.
There has also been an increase in the use of Hookah, as 22.9% of 12th graders reported that they have smoked this form of tobacco.
Factors in Teen Drug Use
Even with most teenage drug use declining, there are still many teens using drugs and there are a variety of factors involved in why a teen may begin using drugs. These reasons may include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of communication between parent and child (children are more likely to pick up a drug habit if they think parents don’t care)
- Social pressures to fit in
- Unsupervised accessibility to substances
- Too much freedom to come and go as they please – this makes teens much more likely to be exposed
- Living in poverty
- Homes disrupted by divorce and/or mental illness
- Thrill seeking tendencies (they may turn to drugs for the rush)
- Low self worth
Signs to Watch For
As a parent, guardian, teacher, or any other influential adult in a teenager’s life, there are signs you can watch for that may indicate involvement with drugs. Here are some common warning signs associated with drug use:
- Early aggressive behavior
- Poor classroom behavior or social skills
- Academic failure
- Association with a bad crowd
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
How Can Parents Help?
As a parent, there are many things you can do to help your teenager to avoid drug use. Start by educating them and showing them the hard facts and accompanying realities of substance abuse. Next, be sure to set clear boundaries for your teenager. Follow up with them and ask them to check in with you when they are not home. If they make choices that are outside the boundaries you set, be sure and follow up with disciplinary actions. Finally, be involved in your child’s life. Develop strong family bonds and open lines of communication.
Help for Teens
If you are a teen using drugs and realize you need to stop, go to a parent, teacher, school counselor, or other trusted adult. These individuals will be able to guide you to those who can help you safely stop using the drug.
If you are the parent of a teen using drugs, your first step may be to take them to a physician who can screen them for signs of drug use. They will be able to determine the extent of the drug use and refer you to a proper treatment center if necessary. An addiction specialist and a counselor can also be helpful in safely weaning your teenager off of drugs.
The trend for American teenage drug use is on the downward slide and with more parental involvement, teen education on drugs, and other adults being on the lookout for warning signs, we can help this number to continue to decrease.