One of the greatest joys for a parent is watching their young child slowly transition as a person and start making their mark on the world. All of the morals and values instilled within them are ready to shine and make a difference in this vast world. However, in that same breath, it’s also one of the most fearful times for a parent. With their guidance, it was easy to raise this young child, but as they start spreading their wings and going on alone, you can’t make their decisions anymore.
Teenagers are exposed to adult-like situations while only having the ability to process it through a child-like brain. Science has proven that the frontal cortex in our brain doesn’t fully develop until we’re about 25 years of age, meaning teens are likely to make poor decisions. A young mind is easily influenced by their peers, and they’re willing to do or try anything “to look cool.”
It’s no secret that the teen brain and adult brain work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s ability to rationalize. It allows you to respond with sound judgment and an awareness of the consequences that could occur as a result of your actions. Teens process information with the amygdala, the emotional part.
When your teen is confronted with drugs, it’s hard for them to consider what their actions could lead to. Peer pressure is real, and during your teen years, it’s common to look for your place in the world and fit in. For some, it means hanging out with the wrong crowd and making poor choices and giving in to peer pressure. Teens can’t explain what they were thinking because of their overwhelming emotional input because they weren’t thinking; they were feeling.
Unfortunately, this inability to process real-life consequences can lead to drug experimentation that could soon become an addiction. At first, it may not seem like a big deal. They feel that smoking marijuana on occasion hasn’t affected their school work, but it could slowly turn into harder drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, or prescription opioids. Experimentation will slowly turn into teen drug abuse, and over time, become a full-blown addiction.
As a parent, your beautiful angel has become a person you hardly recognize. You’re fighting all the time; they’re breaking the rules, stealing money, or becoming truant from school. You might be asking yourself, “What can I do?” You’re the most important role model your children have. While their friends are important to them, the way you behave and fulfill these responsibilities will ultimately shape their behaviors and have a long-lasting effect.
How Can You Prevent Teenage Drug Abuse?
As a parent, there are ways to you prevent your child from abusing drugs, including the following:
- Try to sit them down and discuss the consequences of their actions. This can help your teen link impulsive thinking with facts and help the brain make these connections. It’ll help wire their brain to make these links more frequently.
- Remind your teen of their resiliency and competence. As a parent, you need to remind yourself of their focus on the moment. Your teen may have trouble seeing they can play a part in changing a bad situation, so remind them of times in the past when they thought it would be bad, and everything turned out fine.
- Try to become familiar with things your teen loves and what’s important to them. You don’t necessarily have to be into the same things, but showing an interest and becoming involved in what they’re doing will help them trust you and come to you when they might be faced with drug use.
- Ask your teen if they want you to respond if they come to you with their problems or if they’d prefer that you listen.
- Young brains need more sleep than adult brains. Help them achieve healthy sleeping habits.
Unfortunately, you can win the Parent of the Year Award, and your teen still might act out for one reason or another. Teens who abuse drugs have a much greater risk of becoming addicts when they’re adults, so if your teen starts experimenting even while you’re doing your best, you need to learn more about the differences between drug abuse and addiction. Many teens experiment with drugs and won’t become addicted, but knowing the difference is crucial.
Teen Drug Experimentation
Experimentation plays a significant role in teenage drug use, and nearly half of all new drug users are under age 18. Trying drugs and alcohol with their friends is an unfortunate part of adolescent life, but as we mentioned above, this doesn’t necessarily translate to them becoming an addict. It’s vital to understand why some teens are tempted to experiment, whether it be peer pressure or something else.
The most common reasons for drug abuse include the following:
- A desire to escape their worlds
- Struggling emotionally
- Peer pressure
- Curiosity to see what their friends are doing
- A family history of substance abuse
- A mental or behavioral health condition, including anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Low self-esteem or feelings of rejection
- Impulsive or risk-taking behavior
Many adults experimented with drugs before they turned 21 years old. Fortunately, teenage drug use has been on the decline, but that shouldn’t keep you from being vigilant. An involved parent makes a world of difference, especially when a teen is on the fence about trying drugs. However, if you believe your teen has been using drugs, various treatment options are available.
Is My Teen Using Drugs?
Your teen may exhibit signs you can pick up on if they’re using drugs. However, it may be a challenge to determine if it’s normal teenage problems or actual drug use, but parents must be proactive in determining what’s going on with their teen.
Here are some common signs your teen is using drugs or alcohol:
- Bloodshot eyes or pinned pupils
- Bad grades
- Appearing tired or “out of it”
- Laughing for no apparent reason
- Poor hygiene
- Losing interest in activities or sports they once enjoyed
- Secretive behavior – not telling you where they’re going or talking to on the phone
- Avoiding eye contact
- Frequent hunger or “munchies”
- Diminished personal appearance
- Spending a lot of time alone
- Being in a bad mood
- Missing school
- Poor concentration, memory lapses, slurred speech
- Quickly changing between feeling bad and good
- Being very energetic or saying things that don’t make sense
- Lying and stealing
- Unusual tiredness at random times
- Smelling like smoke on their breath or clothes
- Coming home late
As a parent, it’s your job to initiate a conversation with your teen if you suspect they’re using drugs. You must ask straightforward questions in the right tone. By asking if they’ve been using drugs or alcohol or has anyone offered your drugs is enough to get the conversation going. Responding to them admitting or denying drug use in the right way is also as crucial as asking the questions.
If Your Teen Admits to Using Drugs
If your teen admits to using drugs, you must not overreact. They won’t trust you if you do, and your teen will be reluctant to open up about their experience. Getting your teen to talk is vital to determine if their drug use was merely experimentation or if it’s turning into an addiction.
Parents must explain how much they care about their teens and what the future holds if they continue using drugs. A teen who feels supported will respond better and is much more likely to stop experimenting with drugs or seek help if they’ve become addicted. Depending on what they’ve been abusing, the emergence of counterfeit drugs laced with fentanyl has become a serious problem in the United States. You must also explain to your teen that a small amount of fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, can kill them instantly.
If Your Teen Denies Using Drugs
Unfortunately, no matter how accepting and welcoming you are with your teen, there’s a possibility they’ll deny or lie about their drug use. You must reassure your child they aren’t in trouble, that you’re concerned about their well-being, and you’re here to help. However, if they continue denying drug use and you suspect they’re untruthful, you might have to bring it to another level and purchase a home drug test. Professional help can also uncover a teen’s drug problem. You might have to reach out to a pediatrician, therapist, or addiction specialist to diagnose a teenage drug problem.
Consequences Of Teen Drug Abuse
Unfortunately, drug use can affect your teens’ entire life if they were to get arrested or hurt themselves in the process. There are adverse consequences involved when a teen abuses drugs, especially when you remember their prefrontal cortex is not developed and that drugs lower their inhibitions, leading to even worse decision-making. The following are potential consequences of their actions:
- Sexual activity: Drug use in teens and adults is linked to high-risk sexual activity, meaning unsafe sex can occur and cause unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- Poor judgment: Teens are prone to making poor decisions without being under the influence of drugs. Teenage drug use will cause poor judgment in personal and social interactions.
- Drug dependence: Teens who misuse drugs are more likely to become addicts later on in life.
- Mental health disorders: Teen drug use will complicate or increase mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. Prolonged drug use might also worsen these conditions and make them become suicidal.
- Changes in school performance: When teens become more involved in using drugs, their focus will be directed toward getting drugs and nothing else. This can directly influence their academic performance and cause them to get poor grades, miss school, or get suspended.
- Impaired driving: When teens’ inhibitions are lowered, they’re prone to making even worse decisions. When high, they could get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and drive under the influence, putting themselves, their passengers, and others on the road at risk of an accident or fatality.
As a parent, it’s important to find out the most common drugs that teens abuse. They aren’t all that much different from adults’ abuse, but the reasons for abuse are different and will be around accessibility rather than desire. A teen is also more likely to consume excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol because of the lowered perceived risk of danger.
The following are among the most commonly abused drugs by teens:
Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by teens. One such reason is the social acceptance of alcohol among those of the legal drinking age, which may lead teens to view alcohol as harmless. With all of the commercials glamorizing the drug, it’s hard not to be influenced by it. With that said, teens are more likely to binge drink because their ability to control impulses is not developed.
Binge drinking increases the chances of becoming addicted to alcohol at any age. Unfortunately, the teenage brain is more susceptible to addiction, so speaking with your teen about these risks will hopefully curb underage drinking.
Marijuana use is extremely common with teens, and regular marijuana use is common in those who began smoking in their teens. The perception teens hold about marijuana is changing, and most high-school seniors don’t feel that occasional marijuana use carries any risk. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 48 million Americans over age 12 used marijuana in the previous year, making it the most common illicit drug used in the United States.
The same study shows that one-third of 8th-graders said it was fairly easy to get marijuana, and 60 percent of 10th-graders and over three-quarters of 12th-graders said the same. Some of this has to do with the legality changes over the years, but marijuana use has also been an issue among teens.
One thing that teens may not know about marijuana is that its smoke contains 50 to 75 percent more of certain cancer-causing substances than cigarettes. Heavy marijuana use can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
Prescriptions and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Prescription drugs like opioids have been at the forefront of the opioid crisis affecting adults. It’s easy for a teen to go into their parents’ medicine cabinet and find some old pills, experiment, and become dependent on the feelings they produce. Narcotic painkillers like Norco or OxyContin and benzodiazepines like Xanax produce pleasant effects that a teen may continue seeking out after trying it. Unfortunately, the substances have a high addictive potential and serious risk of overdose.
Teens might also experiment with over-the-counter drugs, if available. For example, substances like dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant found in many common cold and flu medicines, can cause intoxicating effects in high doses. However, the amounts needed to produce these effects can lead to fatal overdoses as well.
If a teen wants to experiment with drugs, they’ll find a way to do so. Unfortunately, inhalants like dust-off, gasoline, or other common house cleaners can also produce severe effects and even become addictive. These are extremely dangerous and can cause a teen to lose consciousness due to a lack of oxygen to their brain.
Health Effects of Drugs
Other than drug addiction, abusing drugs can cause severe health effects, such as severe impairment, illness, and death. Other health risks that are caused by drugs include the following:
- Cocaine: Although it’s less commonly abused by teens, prolonged use can lead to the risk of heart attack, stroke, or seizures.
- Ecstasy: Ecstasy use has increased among teens and young adults, and the consequences of doing so can lead to liver failure or heart failure.
- Inhalants: Inhalants carry the risk of heart, lung, liver, and kidney damage from long-term use.
- Marijuana: Marijuana smoke has been shown to potentially cause lung cancer. Marijuana can also cause impairment in memory, problem-solving, learning, and concentration. It also increases the chances of psychosis, such as hallucinations or paranoia, and schizophrenia later in life.
- Opioids: High doses of opioids may cause respiratory distress or death from overdose.
Seeking Help For Drug Abuse
If you’ve established that your teen is abusing drugs, it’s time to take action. It could mean addiction treatment. However, you might want to exhaust all other resources before the final measure. Here are some strategies to help your teen if they’re abusing drugs:
- Talk to your teen: There is no such thing as intervening too early. Casual drug use has the potential to explode and turn into an addiction, leading to accidents, health problems, or legal trouble.
- Encourage honesty: When discussing this with your teen, be calm and rational and express that you’re coming from a place of concern. Share specific details of your suspicions and verify any claims your teen makes.
- Focus on their behavior, not the person: You must emphasize the dangers of drug use but not that your teen is a bad person for using drugs. Empathize with them and tell them you understand what they’re going through because you’ve been there, too.
- Check in with them regularly: Try spending more time with your teen. Don’t feel bad if they push you away, as this is typical teen behavior. However, make sure to designate a time together, whether it be getting ice cream, watching movies, or playing sports. You should always know where they are and ask them questions when they come home.
- Professional help: Unfortunately, you can be the trophy parent, and your teen can become addicted to drugs. It might be time to seek professional addiction treatment or help when it falls outside the scope of your ability.
Addiction Treatment For Teens
Many teens admit to their trouble dealing with the sadness and other stress that’s normal during adolescence. It’s understandable that they feel drinking or smoking a bit of marijuana can take the edge off of what they’re going through. However, the best way to deal with stress is to seek emotional support and find someone to confide in. If your teen has tried quitting or reducing their use but failed, it’s time to take the crucial next steps and get them help as soon as possible.
Fortunately, there are treatment centers specifically designed to target the emotional and social issues that cause teenage drug use. Most teen treatment centers will also offer educational support for a teen during their recovery so that they don’t get behind in school. The earlier addiction is recognized, the easier it is to treat.
Teens are less likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, meaning they have less difficulty stopping a substance. Age-specific and specialty programs that cater to your teen will be extremely beneficial in reducing problematic drug or alcohol use while enhancing addiction recovery.
Your teen won’t be able to recognize they’ve developed a problem, so it’s your job as a parent to identify their symptoms and get them the help they need. Don’t wait another second.