Teen Substance Use Addiction
Here are some quick facts from the CDC about teen drug and alcohol use:
- By senior year of high school, around two-thirds of students have tried alcohol.
- About half of ninth through 12th-grade students reported having at least tried marijuana.
- Among high school seniors, close to two in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.
Teen substance use addiction is a real problem. An astonishing 11 percent of American alcohol is consumed by teenagers, even though the drinking age is 21. What’s more, half of all new drug users are under the age of 18. But, what leads these young people down a path of drugs and alcohol? It’s simple: wanting to fit in, curiosity and experimentation. Here are some common reasons teens start using drugs and alcohol:
- They want to fit in.
- They are peer pressured.
- They like the way it makes them feel, i.e., more confident, less anxious, etc.
- They think it makes them feel and appear more grown-up.
- They are seeking a thrill.
- They are generally curious about what it feels like to be drunk or high.
- They have poor impulse control.
- They have a genetic predisposition to drug use.
According to researchers at the University of Michigan, teens with family members who have substance problems are more likely to have serious substance use problems themselves. Other risk factors include teens who don’t feel connected or valued at home and having poor self-esteem and emotional or mental health problems, like depression.
Signs of Teen Drug and Alcohol Use
Common signs of teen drug and alcohol use include:
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- Suddenly going through abnormal amounts of mouthwash and body spray/perfume.
- Always chewing gum or breath mints.
- Bad grades.
- Missing curfew repeatedly
- Skipping school and work.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- New friends who never hang out at your house.
- Poor hygiene.
- Diminished personal appearance.
- Laughing bursts for no apparent reason.
- Loss of interest in activities, hobbies or old friends.
- Avoiding eye contact with you.
- Changes to hunger levels and how much they eat.
- The smell of smoke on their breath or clothing.
- Secretive behavior.
- Unusual fatigue.
- Appearing ‘spaced out.’
- Periods of increased energy, mood or nervousness.
What Should I Do If I Think My Teen Is Using Drugs and/or Alcohol?
If your teen starts displaying the behaviors mentioned above consistently or any behaviors that are unusual for their daily habits, routine, and demeanor, it’s important to start a conversation with them. We understand that even knowing what to say to your child that you suspect of drug or alcohol use can be a terrifying and overly emotional thought. But, you’re not alone. Check out Cardinal Recovery’s Guide for Parents. This guide goes in-depth about teen drug and alcohol use and provides resources and tips for how to get your teen the help they need.
It’s important that you approach the subject with compassion instead of anger. If you start by yelling or throwing accusations, your teen will immediately go into defense mode and shut down. You want to foster an open conversation so that you can understand what’s going on and let your teen know they don’t have to keep living like this. Start with straightforward questions like “have you been using drugs or alcohol?” or even “have your friends been using drugs or alcohol? Do they offer it to you?” — this can be enough to get the conversation going.
Can Teen Substance Use Be Prevented?
Parents can play a role in preventing teen substance use by:
- Talking to their children about behavior expectations for drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. If your teen thinks you won’t care or notice, they are much more likely to try drugs and alcohol.
- Set reasonable consequences for unacceptable behavior, and if your teen engages, enforce the consequences immediately.
- Keep your teen engaged with healthy, meaningful activities like sports, church groups, clubs, and so forth.
- Have age-appropriate monitoring of their social behavior — ensure there’s adult supervision at social events they attend, get to know your teens’ friends, and set and enforce curfews.
- Keep the conversation open with your teen. Praise them for little things they do well and ask questions about school and their friends regularly.
Common Drugs Used by Teens
The drugs commonly used by teenagers are not much different from those used by adults, including:
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance by teens. Research shows that teens are more likely to binge drink, likely because their impulse control has not fully developed. In 2019, 4.2 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the past month; 825,000 reported binge drinking on five or more days over the past month.
Lifelong, regular marijuana users commonly start while they are teens. A new survey found that nearly one in 10 teenagers smoke marijuana at least 20 or more times a month.
Ecstasy is a drug that causes feelings of euphoria and hallucinations. Ecstasy is also referred to as “Molly.” Teen ecstasy use has been on the rise for years in the United States. One of the most significant risk factors of teen ecstasy use is misinformation. Friends may push the drug as a ‘party drug’ or ‘rave drug’. Ecstasy is a dangerous drug that can lead to fatal overdoses and addiction. If you discuss these realities with your teen, they will be less likely to fall into peer pressure or ignorance surrounding the dangers of the drug.
Prescriptions and Over-the-Counter Medications
Prescription drug use is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.A lot of prescription drugs have intoxicating effects, and many teens have easy access to these drugs via their parents’ medicine cabinets. In fact, nearly 40 percent of teens who used prescription pills got them from their parent’s medicine cabinet.
Teens use the ADHD drug Adderall to help them cram for exams, get schoolwork done and even suppress their appetites to lose weight.
They also take Xanax, Vicodin and oxycodone, among other prescriptions that sometimes they don’t even know what side effects or feelings will manifest.
Teens may also use OTC medications, including Dextromethorphan (DXM), which is a cough medicine found in common cold and flu medicines over the counter.
The substance can cause intoxicating effects and was catapulted into the spotlight in the early 2000s when rappers started mixing DXM with soda, calling it ‘lean’ or ‘purple drank’ or ‘sizzurp.’
Teenage Drug Use Patterns
Many people are concerned with teenagers using illegal drugs. While this is certainly a problem, the use of alcohol and tobacco during adolescence can be just as much of an issue. The drug use patterns among teenagers also sometimes change from generation to generation. Experts who were worried about teenagers using heroin or cocaine a generation or two ago may worry more about prescription drugs, behavioral medications and other drugs today.
- The number of teenage boys who have used illegal drugs is more than six times higher than the number of teenage girls who have tried them. Adolescent boys are also more likely to engage in other riskier behaviors, such as aggressive driving. As a result, are more likely to die for reasons that are connected to drugs.
- Despite the efforts of schools to monitor and control the use of illegal drugs, the teenagers who have witnessed the illegal use of drugs take place still primarily saw it happen at school. Teenagers are more heavily supervised by adults today than they were in the past, which has had an impact on teenage drug use. Sometimes, this has just changed the location of teenage drug use without stopping it altogether.
- Prescription drug use among teenagers is also going up, including among conscientious teenagers who are trying to succeed academically. These students are more likely to take Ritalin that was not prescribed to them, and around 10 percent of seniors at the high school level have now used these sorts of drugs. An additional 10 percent of people in this age group have become reliant on tranquilizers and sedatives.
Effects of Teen Drug and Alcohol Use
Unsurprisingly, teen drug and alcohol use comes with some detrimental side effects, including:
- Arrest and juvenile detention.
- Birth defects in pregnant teens.
- Being fired from work or kicked out of school or sports teams and other organizations.
- Health effects.
- Losing friendships or relationships with family members.
- Participating in risky sexual behavior can lead to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
- Serious illness and/or injury
Teen Drug Use and Neurological Development
While drug use is always worrying, adolescents and adults who develop substance use problems will still face different consequences. The brains of adults have already finished developing, especially in adults who are over the age of 25. Neuroscientists still are not exactly certain when brain development stops, especially since the brains of adults are constantly changing.
However, a substantial amount of brain development occurs in early adolescence. People under the age of 18 who take drugs are much more likely to become dependent on those drugs. Every single year makes a difference. An estimated 70 percent of people who use illegal drugs before they turn 13 become addicted to those drugs. If it happens after the age of 17, the percentage drops significantly, with 27 percent of adolescents in that age range developing drug use problems.
Some of the brain damage that teenagers sustain if they use drugs too early can be permanent. Brain development will not start again after these people have used drugs. The drugs can also influence how the brain develops, which can cause cognitive dysfunction in many adolescents and which might make them much more likely to develop other addictive patterns of behavior in the future.
Teen Addiction Resources
Fortunately, there are many forms of social support available today for teenagers who are struggling with drug addictions. Modern teenagers have always had internet access, which they can reach with their phones. They can learn more about drug use and they can find their way out of it more easily than the adolescents of the past.
The modern Partnership for Drug-Free Kids organization has a helpline that is available every day. People can also text or email the specialists who work there.
Younger teenagers might want to go to the Cool Spot website, which is more geared towards people in their age range.
Are you concerned about teen substance use addiction? We are here for you.
Help Is Available
Having your child struggle with something as serious as a drug or alcohol addiction is every parent’s worst nightmare. But, help and hope are available. The compassionate staff at Cardinal Recovery understands the pain that you and your child are going through, and we are here to help. We offer many approaches to addiction treatment and therapy and work individually with each patient to find the treatment plan that works best for them. Help is available 24/7. Reach out to us at (855) 928-1987, and let’s get started treating and healing your family.