There is a common misconception that teenagers who experiment with drugs and alcohol are inherently “bad kids.” Many parents assume that teenagers experiment because they are rebellious and want to lash out. That may be the reason a small percentage of teenagers try drugs and alcohol today, but the dangerous trend is not that simple or one-sided. In order to understand us, you have to put yourself in our shoes and imagine what we are really experiencing.
Do you remember what it was like to be a teen? Understanding is the first step to helping.
One of the most common reasons that teenagers begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol is that they are simply bored and have no deeper interests. They see drugs and alcohol as a pastime to be explored. Try giving your teenager more responsibilities or extra-curricular activities to get involved with so that he or she doesn’t have the time to think about substance use.
Many teenagers, usually around freshman year in high school, are shy and have trouble making friends (especially at a new school with older students). We turn to drugs and alcohol to help us feel more confident or to bond with a social group that is known for using these substances. This isn’t the same as direct peer pressure; it stems from the need to bond and make friends. Encouraging your children to join clubs and sports can help them make friends in a healthy way.
Some teens turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism. When they are sad or depressed they see these substances as a way to forget and feel happier. It’s their attempt to self-medicate. You may see a sullen attitude as “just being a teenager,” but there may be a deeper depression within.
Curiosity is a natural part of life and teenagers are not immune to the urge. Many teens begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol simply because they are curious and want to know what it feels like. As teenagers, they have the delusion that they are invincible. Even if they know that drugs are bad, they don’t believe that anything bad can actually happen to them. Educating your child on the repercussions of drug and alcohol abuse may extinguish this curiosity.
Female teenagers often turn to harder drugs—such as cocaine—for a quick way to lose weight. During high school especially, young girls become more body-conscious and may become desperate to slim down and attract the attention of popular boys. These young ladies may also be struggling with a co-occurring eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.
During high school many teenagers are overly stressed with a packed schedule of advanced classes and extracurricular activities. A lack of coping skills can lead them to seek out an artificial method of coping with stress. They then turn to drugs such as marijuana in order to relax.
In teenagers, especially between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, low self-esteem due to physical appearance or lack of friends can lead to self-destructive behavior. The media, bullies, and often family put pressure on teenagers to act and look a certain way, and they lose confidence in themselves if they don’t meet those high standards. Drugs and alcohol seem like an easy way to escape this reality.
Drugs and alcohol are often used to enhance certain experiences. Cocaine and Adderall are commonly used to enhance energy and focus when they feel like they can’t do something on their own and need a little help. Ecstasy can be used for a lack of inhibition and enhanced sexual experience. Marijuana and alcohol are often used to relax and be more comfortable in social situations.
They all learn about it and think it won’t happen to them, but often the classic tale of peer pressure is the reason they experiment with drugs and alcohol. This peer pressure happens most often between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, when teenagers begin to think “everyone else is doing it,” so they should too. At a party, after prom, with friends or significant others—these are all common situations in which they feel like they need to join in to be able to fit in. This peer pressure is more obvious than the pressure to make friends and is sometimes instigated by older friends.
Teenagers often feel a social imperative to experiment and experience all that we can while they are still young. They feel like it is a “now or never” situation. They have to try drugs now, before they become adults and have responsibilities. They feel like if they don’t try it now, they will be missing out. They feel like it won’t be a big deal if they try everything once… or twice.
If there is a family history of drug addiction or alcoholism, teenagers may be genetically predisposed to experiment with drugs and alcohol and become addicted. Although poor choices are part of being a teenager, they can’t be blamed for their genes, especially if they haven’t been educated. If there is a family history of addiction, be honest and open a dialogue about the real risks of substance abuse.
Reprinted from DrugAbuse.com.