What is teen substance abuse?
While many teens try alcohol or drugs, using these substances is neither safe nor legal. Some teens experiment with drugs or alcohol only a few times, but experimentation can become substance abuse and lead to serious problems, such as poor school performance, loss of friends, problems at home, and even lasting legal consequences.
Why do teens abuse drugs and alcohol?
Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons. They may do it because they want to fit in socially, they like the way drugs or alcohol makes them feel, or they want to feel more grown up. Teens tend to be risk-takers, and they may take drugs or drink because it seems exciting. Teens who are at the biggest risk for developing serious alcohol or drug problems include those with family members who have problems with alcohol or other drugs. Also, teens who feel that they are not connected to or valued by their parents or who have poor self-esteem or emotional or mental health problems (such as depression) are at increased risk.
What substances do teens abuse?
Teens may try a variety of substances, including cigarettes, alcohol, household chemicals (inhalants), prescription and nonprescription medications, and illegal drugs (most commonly marijuana).
What are the consequences of teen substance abuse?
Substance abuse can increase risk-taking behaviors, which can have serious consequences. Alcohol and drug abuse is a leading cause of teen death or injury related to car accidents, suicides, violence, and drowning. Substance abuse can increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases resulting from unprotected sexual activity.
Teen substance abuse can have a negative impact on self-esteem, relationship skills, physical and emotional independence, and future plans. As a result, teen drug or alcohol problems may lead to difficulty building meaningful personal relationships or holding a job.
Some drugs produced today are extremely potent, and even casual use of certain substances such as heroin or cocaine can cause severe medical problems, such as overdose or brain damage. Teens who try highly addictive drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin run an increased risk of becoming dependent (addicted). In addition, many illegal drugs today are made in backyard labs, so they can vary greatly in potency and can easily become contaminated with bacteria, dangerous chemicals, and other unsafe substances.
What are the signs of substance abuse?
If your teen is using alcohol or drugs, you may notice changes in behavior and mood at home, in grades and attitude toward school, and in friends and leisure activities. You may also find evidence such as cigarettes or drugs in your teen's possession, chemical-soaked rags or papers in the trash, or paint or other stains on his or her clothing, hands, or face. The smell of smoke or alcohol on your teen's clothing or breath may also indicate a substance abuse problem.
Can teen substance abuse be prevented?
Teen substance abuse may be prevented through strong family connections, healthy friendships, and supportive schools and communities. Social support can help build the confidence to resist peer pressure to try drugs. Good communication and a healthy home life may prevent your teen from self-medicating with harmful and often illegal substances.
* You can help prevent substance use by talking to your child early in life about drugs, encouraging healthy behaviors, providing appropriate discipline and supervision, and establishing good family communication. Your attitude toward and beliefs about alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs are also very important. If your teen thinks that you will allow substance use, he or she is more likely to try drugs or alcohol.
* Peers have the greatest influence on whether a teen will use substances. Most often, the first time a teen uses a substance is in a social setting with friends. Friends who avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs are probably your teen's best protection from substance abuse.
* Teens who feel connected to their school are less likely to use alcohol or other substances.
* Communities in which it is more difficult for teens to get alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs provide some protection against teen substance abuse.
* Involvement in church activities, YMCA programs, or youth organizations helps young people feel connected and engaged in activities and social circles that are drug- and alcohol-free.
* Community prevention programs for high-risk teens may be effective in decreasing the rate of alcohol, cigarette, and drug use.
What should I do if I discover my teen is using alcohol or drugs?
Any use of a substance by your teen should be taken seriously. If you believe your teen is abusing one or more substances, perhaps the most important thing you can do is encourage open communication with him or her. Try to be nonjudgmental and emotionally supportive during this time. In most cases, aggressive confrontation only serves to further isolate the teen from the family.
The type of treatment your teen needs depends on his or her level of substance abuse. For example, if a teen is experimenting with substances, open communication may be all that is needed for the teen to stop. However, if your teen has developed a serious addiction to a drug or alcohol, he or she may need to undergo detoxification treatment
If your teen is abusing or dependent on a substance, seek appropriate treatment. The most effective treatment programs will help your teen learn how to deal with drug cravings and high-risk situations and will help him or her discover alternative, healthy ways of meeting personal and social needs instead of using harmful substances.
As a parent, it is important to provide support and encouragement before, during, and after treatment. Since addiction is a disease that affects every member of the household, support groups or counseling for your family may be helpful in preventing your teen from returning to drug use after treatment.
However, it is important to remember that returning to substance abuse (relapse) is common after treatment and should not be considered a failure on the part of your teen or the treatment program. Recovery from addiction can be a difficult process, with setbacks that are overcome one step at a time.