Youth drug abuse is a public health concern, with at least 1-in-8 teenagers abusing an illicit substance in the last year. Although most youth are in good health, some youth are at an increased risk for behaviors that can lead to poor health outcomes, such as high-risk substance use. The majority of adults who meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder started using substances during their teen and young adult years.
Alcohol is by far the most commonly abused substance among teens and young adults.
Youth drug abuse trends may provide clues about the future public health as well as the efficacy of educational initiatives.
Risk factors for teen substance use include low levels of parental supervision and/or communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or severe parental discipline, and a family history of substance use disorder (SUD). Individual risk factors include difficulties handling impulses, emotional instability, thrill-seeking behaviors, and underestimating the consequences of using. Risk of SUD also increases during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or parent divorce. Societal risk factors for teenagers include peer pressure and the portrayal of teenage drinking in the media, including social media and advertising which promotes drinking behaviors in teenagers.
Teen drug abuse can have a major impact on a child's life. The teen brain is in the process of maturing. In general, it's more focused on rewards and taking risks than the adult brain. At the same time, teenagers push parents for greater freedom as teens begin to explore their personality. That can be a challenging tightrope for parents. Teens who experiment with drugs and other substances put their health and safety at risk. The teen brain is particularly vulnerable to being rewired by substances that overload the reward circuits in the brain. Help prevent teen drug abuse by talking to your teen about the consequences of using drugs and the importance of making healthy choices.
Many factors can feed into teen drug use and misuse. Your teen's personality, your family's interactions and your teen's comfort with peers are some factors linked to teen drug use.
Common risk factors for teen drug abuse include:
Teens may be more likely to try substances for the first time when hanging out in a social setting.
Alcohol and nicotine or tobacco may be some of the first, easier-to-get substances for teens. Because alcohol and nicotine or tobacco are legal for adults, these can seem safer to try even though they aren't safe for teens.
Teens generally want to fit in with peers. So if their friends use substances, your teen might feel like they need to as well. Teens also may also use substances to feel more confident with peers.
If those friends are older, teens can find themselves in situations that are riskier than they're used to. For example, they may not have adults present or younger teens may be relying on peers for transportation.
And if they are lonely or dealing with stress, teens may use substances to distract from these feelings.
Also, teens may try substances because they are curious. They may try a substance as a way to rebel or challenge family rules.
Some teens may feel like nothing bad could happen to them, and may not be able to understand the consequences of their actions.
Negative consequences of teen drug abuse might include:
Substances that teens may use include those that are legal for adults, such as alcohol or tobacco. They may also use medicines prescribed to other people, such as opioids.
Or teens may order substances online that promise to help in sports competition, or promote weight loss.
In some cases products common in homes and that have certain chemicals are inhaled for intoxication. And teens may also use illicit drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
Drug use can result in drug addiction, serious impairment, illness and death. Health risks of commonly used drugs include the following:
By the time a parent suspects their teen has a drug problem, he may have a serious problem.
Trust Your Instincts: If you have been carrying around the nagging feeling that your teen may be doing drugs, don't ignore it. Talk to your child and explain your concerns in detail. Be prepared -- your child may open up about his or her drug use and ask for help. Be strong and reassuring. Your teen may have made a mistake, but now is the time to correct it. Get your child into treatment with a mental health or addiction counselor. Your pediatrician can help guide you if you don't know where to start.
Monitor the Situation: If your child denies substance use, don't write it off. Monitor closely. Having physical evidence -- like finding drugs or paraphernalia in your child's bedroom, pictures on Facebook or text messages about buying, selling or using drugs -- can help to force the issue, which raises the question: Is it ethical to search your teen's room or invade his privacy?
Privacy: If you do not have particular concerns about your child's behavior, it is reasonable to allow teens a degree of privacy, which increases as they mature. However, when signs point to substance use, a parent has every right to violate a kid's privacy and look for drugs. Teenagers are not autonomous adults living in their parents' houses. Sometimes, in order to protect them, this is what is necessary.
Talk to Your Pediatrician: Follow up on your concerns about your child's behavior even if you do not find physical evidence. Speak to your child's pediatrician and be explicit about the details. Your child may have a medical or mental health problem presenting with behavior changes. Whatever the source of the problem, your pediatrician can help you figure out what is wrong. Tips for Discussing Substance Abuse with your Teen