Bringing home a newborn baby from the hospital is an exciting and sometimes scary time. As that baby grows, parents wrestle with sleepless nights, toddler tantrums, and other childhood dramas. They look forward to a time when life becomes simpler, when their child is older and less complicated. I was one of these parents-until my child became a teenager, and I realized that it often gets harder before it gets easier.
When kids are very young, parents have a great deal of control over their child’s life and take responsibility for making decisions that are in the child’s best interests. But as children grow older, they become more independent and want to make their own decisions, requiring parents to relinquish some control and pray that their teenagers will make good choices.
It’s during this time that teens are often exposed to a wide range of things that can be dangerous for their wellbeing and health. One of those dangers involves an introduction to drugs and alcohol.
What makes a teen less likely to use drugs and alcohol?
A study found that teenagers with happy childhood memories were likely to consume less alcohol or drugs and have more positive attitudes towards learning.
The authors of this study state that in the current COVID-19 climate, many teens are feeling isolated and having a hard time with online learning expectations. They stress the importance of helping these teens develop more positive mindsets because while they are feeling isolated and suffering mentally, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope.
Factors that could lead to teenage substance abuse
As the teen brain is still maturing, its pleasure centers develop much faster than the decision-making and risk analysis parts. This means that teenagers aren’t the best at recognizing the consequences of their actions.
Additionally, teenagers tend to focus on the perceived social benefits of engaging in alcohol and drug consumption and will do it to be accepted by their peers and feel a sense of inclusion.
There are 11 key reasons why teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol, according to American Addiction Centers. These are:
- Boredom: Teenagers who lack interests can see drugs and alcohol as a way to pass the time.
- A bonding experience: Many teens will turn to drugs and alcohol to help them feel more confident within a social group.
- Depression: Some teens self-medicate with drugs and alcohol when they are feeling sad or depressed.
- Curiosity: Experimenting with drugs and alcohol can feel very enticing for some teenagers.
- Weight loss: Many adolescent girls use drugs as a way to quickly lose weight when they become body-conscious and wish to measure up to certain social ideals.
- Stress: High school and university can be stressful times for teenagers, and some turn to drugs and alcohol to manage their stress levels.
- Low self-esteem: When a teenager doesn’t feel particularly good about themselves, they are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, including drug and alcohol use.
- Enhanced experiences: Some drugs are used to lower inhibitions and increase a person’s comfort level in social situations.
- Peer pressure: It can be extremely hard for a teenager to say “no” to something that their friends are engaging in.
- A now-or-never mentality: Many teens feel that experimentation is an important part of being young.
- Genetics: A family history of drug and alcohol addiction can mean that some teenagers are more likely to experiment and become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Knowing and understanding these reasons can help us take a proactive approach in educating teens about drugs and alcohol, hopefully preventing any kind of unsafe behavior or addictions from occurring.
What are the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on teenagers?
Through the adolescent years, some major changes occur within the brain, which makes the introduction of any kind of addictive substance particularly problematic. Taking drugs and alcohol during this time can interfere with a teenager’s development; it also significantly increases the possibility that they will become an adult with a lifetime addiction.
Drugs and alcohol use will impact the areas of the brain that control memory, learning, judgment, and emotions. In effect, these substances can ruin connections within the still-developing teenage brain and lead to long-term damage.
When speaking about drug and alcohol use in teens, one cannot overlook the fact that using substances that impair judgment and lower inhibitions can create situations where young men and women may find themselves in danger. I recall a great many circumstances in my own teenage years where my peers were hurt amid drug and alcohol-fueled experiences, including significant injuries and regretful sexual experiences. These events can have a long-lasting impact on the remainder of a teen’s life.
In addition to the effects mentioned above, teenagers who use drugs and alcohol are far more like to have:
- Criminal records
- Car accidents
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Unplanned pregnancies
- Damaged relationships with family and friends
- Future regret at missed academic opportunities
It’s easy to see how risky using drugs and alcohol can be, but since our teenagers aren’t the best at understanding the consequences of their actions, there is the potential for devastating consequences during these experimental teen years.
How can we help our teenagers avoid drug and alcohol abuse?
The single best thing a parent can do to keep their teenager safe is to develop and maintain a strong and open relationship with their child. During the adolescent years, it is not uncommon for teens to prefer the company of their friends, and they often begin to push their parents away. Ensuring that you make time to regularly connect with your teen is vital and will allow for you to have open and honest conversations about what is happening in your teenager’s world.
When speaking with adolescents about drugs and alcohol, experts suggest that parents avoid using any kind of scare tactics as these just don’t seem to be effective. Instead, parents should talk openly with their teens about drugs and alcohol use to help them understand the dangers and potential impact of ingesting these substances.
Most schools now have good drug and alcohol education programs as part of their curriculum, but this alone is not enough. Parents must be available for conversations with their teenagers and be prepared to discuss their own experiences, especially those they regret. It’s also important for parents to have clear expectations and consequences for their teen and to keep track of their activities.
It is also beneficial for parents to understand the warning signs of potential drug or alcohol abuse. The most common indicators include:
- A sudden change in behavior
- Rule-breaking or risk-taking
- Withdrawal from the family
- Appearing secretive or less communicative
- Becoming hostile, angry, or uncooperative
- Going out often
- Changes in hygiene
If you’re concerned about your teenager, there are places to go for additional information and support. Contacting a doctor, a counselor, or a healthcare provider can be a good starting point. There is also plenty of information and advice available on the drugfree.org website to help you take action if you suspect your teen or young adult of using drugs.
Being the parent of a teen is no easy task. Keeping a solid relational foundation will help you support your adolescent child in navigating the trials and risks they will face through their teenage years. Don’t forget to hold on-parenting teenagers can certainly be one wild ride.