Adolescence can be a time of making irrational, impulsive decisions. It can be a time of living in the now, without consideration for the consequences that may follow. As a result, it is a time in which many teens try drugs and alcohol for the first-time. The average age of substance use initiation is between 13 and 14 years old, in seventh and eighth grade, before one even enters high school.
This is a harrowing reality to face. It is difficult to believe that our youth are developing dangerous, addictive habits at such an early age, especially right under our nose. We want to believe it is just a phase. We want to blame experimentation, or the other kids at school for our children’s early drug use. The last thing we want to uncover is that our children are in danger, or that this substance use is something our sons and daughters have brought upon themselves.
Sometimes, though, it is. As parents and educators, it is crucial that we uncover the root of drug use in teens and young adults as soon as it starts to grow. In order to prevent deep-seated drug habits later on in our children’s lives, we have to take action now. We have to ask questions. We have to understand the problem at hand. We have to have some insight into if, and how badly, this problem could progress.
If you have just discovered your teen may have a drug problem, the first thing you should do is step back and analyze the situation. Have you found contraband in his or her room? Have you learned that your teen is coming home past curfew, skipping school, or ignoring previous priorities? While these are all apparent signs of drug addiction, they do not reveal the bigger picture of your teen’s drug problem. You must now ask questions. In order to find a solution to your teen’s drug use, you must grasp the feelings, pressures, and dynamics that lay beneath it.
There are many reasons that teens and young adults get involved with drugs, and unfortunately, there are many instances in which the root of substance use goes much deeper than “experimentation.” Consider the following reasons that adolescents and young adults use drugs.
- In attempt to fit in: Making friends and establishing oneself at school can be difficult for adolescents. The teenage years often come with many insecurities, low self-esteem, and fear of not being accepted. In order to fit in, to feel “cool,” or join an older, more seductive social circle, many teens will start buying and using drugs.
- To feel good: Many adolescents abuse drugs or alcohol to get high. They are looking for a thrill, an intensified feeling that they cannot obtain through simple pleasures like food or exercise. This is where the addiction cycle starts to kick in. Drugs interact with the way our brain produces, and the way our body experiences, pleasure. When drugs are used, the brain creates up to ten times the normal amount of dopamine and euphoria a person should experience. It is unnatural chemistry that takes place, but our brain remembers it. It craves it.
- To feel better: There is the desire to feel good and there is the need to feel better. These are two very distinct entities when evaluating teen drug use. Teens looking to “feel better” are in truth, self-medicating. They are battling something deeper than peer pressure or a failed homework assignment. Some adolescents are suffering from deep-seated conditions like depression, social anxiety, and stress-related disorders. They use drugs to forget or replace their negative feelings with substance-induced pleasure.
- Experimentation: The brain does not finish developing until the age of 25. The last part of the brain to develop is the one that controls rational decision making, self-control, and judgment, making adolescents more prone to trying risky and daring activities. Drugs and alcohol are often easy, accessible outlets for experimentation that can severely impact the developing teenage brain.
- Competition: The need to perform, to impress, and to make proud is a great pressure for adolescents and young adults. Whether in school or on the field, young people consistently want to prove they are the best to their peers and parents. The competition to be outstanding, however, can be intense. In academics, for example, teens and young adults often rely on the misuse of prescription stimulants as “smart drugs” or study aids to improve academic performance.
- Attention: Teens often experience a lack of purpose or talent. They feel like they are not good enough to shine or are lacking something to make them special. These feelings may drive them toward substance abuse. Some youth do not know how to become the best, so they choose to become the worst in hopes of getting their parents’ and teachers’ undivided attention.
- Lack of education: Some adolescents and young adults grow up thinking drug and alcohol use is normal. Their favorite musicians are singing about it, the movies are glamorizing it, the TV ads are selling it. Whether you are sad, can’t sleep, or have a headache, there is a drug for you. Our culture has adopted the “pill cures all” mentality, leading our youth to feel the same about drugs. Many do not understand the consequences of drug use. Many teens do not know how it can harm their minds, bodies, and relationships. They need proper education. They need someone to tell them the truth about drugs and alcohol.
- Addiction: Some teens and young adults are stuck amongst the cycle. At such a young age, they are more vulnerable to developing dependence and addiction. They get in over their heads at an early age and do not know how to get out. They need you to extend a hand. They need us.
For more on teen drug prevention, or to understand the cause of your teen’s drug use, call Turnbridge today at 877-581-1793.