Substance abuse in teens can range from drugs to alcohol.
Common signs of substance abuse in teens are academic decline and lack of social interaction.

Substance Abuse in Teens

People are quick to point out the serious and shocking issue of substance abuse in teens in the U.S. They are able to cite the statistics that illustrate just how many teenagers are using alcohol and other drugs on a regular basis, but do they really know the impact of teen drug addiction?

Though knowing the rates of use are interesting, it does not help people fully understand the risks linked to substance addiction in America. To build a complete understanding, people should learn about why teens use drugs and the warning signs that typically accompany use early in the progression.

4 Motivators for Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Teens

Whether the person is 14 or 44, there are several primary issues that motivate them to try and continue using substances. Experimentation is a major force, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people take drugs to:

Fit In

Being a teenager is a complicated and challenging time filled with enormous pressures and expectations. Many teenagers just want to fit in and be like everyone else because the idea of standing out is too much to bear.

When a teenager goes to school, Friday night football games, or parties, they are surrounded by classmates and friends who are experimenting with alcohol and drugs. This exposure creates the faulty belief that many people are using substances, so the teen feels pressure to fit in.

Feel Good

In the majority of cases, drugs and alcohol create a feeling of euphoria triggered by the substance releasing chemicals in the brain. This pleasant high is rewarding on a number of different levels and becomes something the person wants to repeat.

They may seek out this good feeling when they are preparing to party with their friends or when staying in on a Saturday night. Either way, the high associated with drug use is enough to get people curious about the experience.

Feel Better

Teens who want to feel good are interested in the high while those who use it to feel better are likely self-medicating to manage an undiagnosed or under-treated condition. Often, these conditions are mental health disorders, like depression or anxiety.

By using these substances, the person will begin to feel better. It will seem as if they had no condition at all, but only for a short amount of time.

As time continues, they will need to maintain a certain level of use. If they stop using the alcohol or other drugs, the symptoms linked to their mental health condition will return and worsen, so this form of self-medication can last for many years.

To Perform Better

Some teens are not looking to fit in, feel better, or feel good from using substance. They are more interested in modifying their performance.

Teenagers hoping to increase performance levels academically, physically, or athletically may turn to specific drugs to boost their performance. A teen may use stimulant medications like those used to treat ADHD to help improve their test scores or to sharpen their focus on the field of play, while others may abuse steroids to increase their strength and recovery.

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What Parents Can Do to Reduce the Risk of Substance Abuse in Teens

Suspecting substance abuse from your child can be a frightening experience as a parent. No one wants to imagine that their child is beginning to experiment with drugs or is heading down the path of addiction.

The occurrence is common, though, so no parent should be ignorant to the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. A teen who is using alcohol or other drugs will often show a series of behavioral, emotional and social differences that include:

  • Changes to their eating, sleeping and activity patterns
  • Investing time and energy to new people and interests
  • Withdrawing socially and preferring to be alone
  • Seeming suspicious or secretive
  • Displaying a decline in academic performance
  • Poor judgment and decision-making skills
  • Decreased self-care with poor hygiene
  • Frequent bumps and bruises from use or falling while intoxicated
  • Paraphernalia in their rooms like pill bottles, lighters, syringes, plastic bags, pipes and bongs

If a parent begins to see some of these warning signs, it is a great idea to act as quickly as possible. Substance abuse and addiction do not simply get better on their own. They need professional assistance to improve.

The job of the parent is not to resolve their child’s addiction. Their job is to notice the changes their teen is displaying and begin a conversation with them. They should let their teen know they can see what is happening and that they want to help their child through the process. When the parent approaches the situation with love and compassion, there is a better chance for a positive outcome.

Things to Keep in Mind

Many teens with substance use problems will need professional mental health treatment at the inpatient or outpatient level to appropriately manage the condition. Parents should consider treatment to help them address their teen’s situation, learn communication skills and minimize the impact of their substance use on their own life.

Just as substance abuse and recovery are long-term processes, a parent’s reaction to these situations are lifelong as well. Parents who understand the core of addiction and substance abuse are in a better position to positively help their child.