Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors has used an illicit drug in the past year? Although teen drug use has declined in recent years, many adolescents and young adults are still experimenting, still binging, and still acting out. And as a result, much of our youth are developing chronic addictions.
Of course, not every teenager today uses drugs. And with the proper education, prevention, and communication in place, your child will be much less likely to do so.
Talking to your teen – openly and honestly – about drugs will undoubtedly have great influence on his or her choices down the road. In fact, numerous studies show that parental involvement is a major factor in preventing early drug abuse. According to DrugFree.org, teens are far less likely to use substances if their parents teach them about the risks of substance abuse early on. Unfortunately, however, more than 1 in 5 teens report they have not yet learned about drugs from their parents.
As a parent, you are also an educator – especially when it comes to your child’s questions about drugs and alcohol. So as a parent, you too should be educated on the risks of teen substance abuse. By being informed, you will also be prepared to answer your teen’s questions about drugs, correctly and compassionately.
Read 9 questions about drugs that are frequently asked by teens, as well as 9 informative answers every parent should keep on hand.
Q: Why do only some people get addicted to drugs?
A: This is a great question, and unfortunately, it is not an easy one to answer. Some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others, but it’s important for you to remember that anyone, at any age, can become addicted to drugs. Because your brain is still developing as a teen, however, you are especially prone to addiction. Drugs and alcohol change the chemicals in your brain. They disrupt how you think, how you act, and how your brain works. It only takes a few hits or few pills to start this cycle. I know you may think it won’t happen to you, but sometimes you just can’t predict it.
Context: There are several risk factors that can stir an addiction, one major one being early exposure to drugs. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who have a substance addiction started using in their adolescence, before their 18th birthday. Other addiction risk factors can include genetics, the availability of drugs, economic status and community, traumatic life events, poor academic performance, and lack of adult supervision growing up.
Q: Are all drugs addictive? What makes them addictive?
A: Each drug of abuse is unique and will act on the brain in a different way. However, all drugs share a something in common – a chemical called dopamine. When a person uses a drug, their brain releases dopamine to produce the feeling of being “high.” But when a person uses drugs repeatedly, their brain adjusts to the surges of dopamine that occur. In time, their bodies get used to this chemical and demand more of it. This is where an addiction starts. The user starts to crave more drugs and less of the once pleasurable things in life, such as good food or friendships. The user also begins to lose the ability to resist these bad cravings, making it harder for him or her to quit.
Context: Different drugs have different effects on the brain and body, but in nearly all cases, repeated drug use will lead to addictive behaviors. Again, drug addiction is very likely to occur in teenagers who regularly use and abuse drugs. Learn about the different effects of substance abuse.
Q: Can I get addicted if I do it just once and a while?
A: Yes, you can. Most people your age only have the intention of using a drug once or “once in a while.” They do not intend to develop an addiction, but many do. This is because addictive drugs chemically change a person’s brain with each time of use. Progressively, your occasional use may turn into frequent use which may turn into regular use over time. This is the cycle of addiction.
Q: You drink alcohol. It can’t be that dangerous, right?
A: As a legal adult, I drink in a way that is responsible and safe for me and for those close to me. As much as I believe you are responsible, I do not feel that alcohol is safe nor healthy for you or any one your age. Drinking can lead to serious problems, problems that will not only affect you but also the people around you – especially at this time in your life.
The younger you start drinking, the more inexperienced you are in handling alcohol-related problems. Almost 2,000 teenagers under the legal drinking age die from alcohol-induced car accidents each year. On college campuses, up to 95 percent of all violent crimes and sexual assault involve alcohol. The problem is, unanticipated situations can easily get out of hand when you are under the influence and you could end up hurt. If you stay sober, you will be better able to take care of yourself and maybe even others, as well.
Q: Are prescription drugs safe? They are legal and some of my friends at school use them.
A: If your doctor prescribes you a medication, you may take it safely and legally as it is directed. However, it is important to remember that prescription drugs are still drugs, they are addictive, and they are both dangerous and illegal if used nonmedically. You can die from using a prescription drug that was not prescribed to you.
Context: 51 percent of teenagers believe that because prescription drugs are legal, they must be safe. 21 percent also assume that their parents won’t care as much if caught. In truth, the risks of prescription drug abuse are very high. Every day, nearly 7,000 people in the U.S. are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription drugs.
Q: What about marijuana? It’s a plant, it’s natural.
A: Marijuana may be a plant but there are real and concerning health risks associated with the drug. Just because it is a plant does not mean it is harmless. In fact, more adolescents are in drug treatment for marijuana addiction than any other illegal drugs combined. Approximately 1 in every 11 young adults become addicted to smoking marijuana.
Q: Is medical marijuana safer than the pot that’s on the street?
A: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the marijuana plant has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of any medical condition. While a pill form of THC (the primary chemical in marijuana) is used to alleviate certain conditions or treatments such as cancer chemotherapy, the medical benefits are still being deliberated by professional scientists. Nonetheless, smoked marijuana is not an ideal treatment because of its addictiveness and propensity to harm the lungs.
Q: How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?
A: There are many different signs of addiction, and every drug has its own, unique symptoms and side effects. If you think that someone you know has an addiction, pay attention to how he or she acts and looks. If you notice any of these behavioral or physical signs of drug addiction, it is important to talk to your friend as well as tell a trusted adult who can help.
Q: What can I do to help my friend who is addicted to drugs?
A: If you think your friend has a serious drug problem, the most immediate thing you can do is offer him or her support. Talk to your friend and let them that you are concerned, that you are there for them. Encourage them to seek help from a trusted adult, such as a school counselor, a doctor, or an addiction professional. You can also talk to me, and together we can figure out how to find professionals who can get your friend healthy again. If you feel that your friend is in danger, this is especially important. You can help save your friends’ life if you recognize there is a problem. You can be a positive influence.
For more tips on how to talk to your teen or answer your teen’s questions about drugs, please don’t hesitate to call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. For more answers to questions about drugs, you may also visit the NIDA for Teens website.