Please welcome Gordon Dickler who shares his tips on why teens will drink or use drugs.
The teenage years are often thought of as a time of impulse, a period of “living in the now” and not thinking before we act.
It is, above any other point in our lives, the time in which we are most likely to make irrational and irresponsible decisions.
It is no wonder, then, why adolescence is also the period in which most teens will drink or try drugs for the first time. Today, the average age of experimentation is a mere 13 to 14 years old – just before a teen enters high school, and well before his or her brain fully develops.
As a parent, it is a hard reality to find out that your son or daughter is using drugs. It is difficult to believe that your child could develop such dangerous and addictive habits so young, especially right under your nose.
If you have just discovered your teen is involved with drugs, you may be in great shock or disbelief. And like many parents, you may choose to see your child’s drug use as a phase. Teens are young, they act out, they experiment. You may want to blame the other kids at school, or the fact that your teen got in with a “bad crowd.” You may even blame yourself for your son or daughter’s choice, without truly asking why he or she turned to drugs in the first place.
Maybe it is time to ask ourselves this very question: Why are teenagers taking drugs so early on in their lives? Why is it that adolescence has become the most common, but also the most vulnerable, time to initiate drinking and drug use? What are the reasons that led our sons and daughters to make this choice?
As parents and mentors, it is extremely important to uncover the root of substance abuse in our children before the problem grows. Today, about 90 percent of drug addictions start in the teen years. To prevent our teens from developing deep-seated, dangerous drug habits down the road, we need to ask questions now. We need answers.
As a young adult drug rehab, Turnbridge has done great research around substance abuse and addiction in teens. It is our hope that this article helps parents like you understand why your teen may choose to initiate drugs, and what actions you can take to prevent it. The truth is, teen drug use is not always a matter of experimentation; there could be several other reasons behind it.
Teens are naturally prone to taking risks.
Drug use typically begins in the teenage years because the brain is not yet fully mature, and the part that is last to develop is the one that controls decision-making, self-control, and judgement. This means that teens’ brains are not wired to rationalize and think before they act. They are therefore more prone to taking risks, as their brains have not yet developed the “stop” messages that say when to hit the brakes.
The problem is, the brain does not fully develop until one’s mid-twenties. Until a person hits 25, he or she may still have a greater likelihood to engage in drug activity as well as risky behaviors like drunk driving. And until the brain matures, it is especially malleable. Early drug use, therefore, can have a lasting imprint on the adolescent brain.
Most teenagers prioritize their social status.
Time and time again, experts reveal that adolescents will prioritize social relationships above their own safety or health. Especially in the teenage years, when many are struggling with growing insecurities and low self-esteem, being accepted and fitting in among peers feels like the most important thing. Teens would rather impress and mold into a friend group than follow the rules or the morals they were taught.
As a result, many will drink or use drugs as a gateway to connect with others. Teenagers may try drugs to establish themselves. They may want to look “cool,” or to join an older, more seductive social circle. They may see alcohol as a means to break the ice in new or uncomfortable situations. Drug use may be viewed as a means to get skinny and therefore be accepted by the popular kids at school.
Many teens struggle with underlying mental disorders.
Approximately 1 in 5 teens and young adults live with a mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, or stress-related disorders). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, half develop the condition by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Conflicted with pain or sadness, some teens will use drugs in efforts to feel better.
This is called self-medication, and is an ongoing cycle that many teens struggle with today. They use drugs to temporarily relieve negative feelings, yet also negatively reinforce this habit with the continuous use of drugs. This stirs physical problems, longer-term mental issues, as well as substance dependence.
Teens may try drugs to get attention.
The teenage years are a great period of transition – moving into high school, establishing friend circles, planning for the future and striving to stand out. Many adolescents, as a result, feel a lack of purpose or confidence during these transitional years. They may want to stand out to teachers, friends, and parents, but do not necessarily know how.
Some teens will stand out by obtaining good grades or doing well in sports. Others may do this by being the class clown or the rebellious one in school. Not knowing how to become the best, some teens will resort to becoming the worst – the one who does drugs, who fails tests, who skips class, and who parties at night. They do this for undivided attention from their peers and superiors alike.
Drug use in teens may also be a matter of competition.
In the same token, adolescents often feel a great pressure to perform well, impress others, and make their families proud. Whether in school or on the field, they consistently try to prove they are the best. While this inherent competitiveness helps some teens excel, it can also lead to intense and stressful situations for others. In some cases, competitive teens may resort to using drugs.
In academics, for example, students may rely on the use of prescription stimulants or “study aids” to enhance their performance. College students are especially known for using drugs like Adderall to keep focus on assignments. What they may not realize, however, is even the seemingly “safe” prescription drugs are addictive.
A lot of young people lack proper drug education.
Many adolescents and young adults grow up thinking that drug and alcohol use is normal. The movies constantly glamorize it, their favorite musicians sing about it, not to mention it’s all over the Internet. Many teens do not know or think about the consequences of drug abuse, nor how it can affect our brains, bodies, and relationships.
Parents are some of the greatest influences in a growing teen’s life. Unfortunately, however, more than 1 in 5 teens report their parents have not taught them about drugs. Yet teenagers whose parents educate them about the risks of substance abuse are far less likely to use illicit drugs. As a parent, you have the ability to make a difference by teaching your son or daughter about the dangers of drug abuse and addiction.
Many teens experience an early onset of addiction.
Today, about 10 million teenagers and young adults are already caught amidst the addiction cycle. This is because young people, due to their stage of brain development, are most vulnerable to addiction. A recent New York Times article states that those who first drink alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to become addicted at some point in their lives than those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. About 70 percent of those who try an illicit drug before age 13 develop a substance use disorder within seven years.
To protect our teens from developing lasting and severe substance use disorders, we must educate them about the consequences of drug abuse. We must ask them questions to find out why they are using drugs, and address the root of it before it worsens. Most of all, we must take our teens and their problems seriously.
These are the years that matter. These are the years that will shape who teens are and what they do down the road. Every day, teens are being influenced by their peers, their environment, as well as their own thoughts and feelings. It is up to us, as parents, educators, and treatment professionals, to influence them for the better.
Gordon Dickler is the Director of Admissions at Turnbridge, a young adult drug treatment center located in New Haven, Connecticut. Here, his chief role is to help families in crisis find hope and help for their loved ones in need. As both a Turnbridge graduate and a board-certified substance abuse counselor, Gordon has an intimate understanding of Turnbridge’s powerful ability to help young men and women overcome addiction and mental health disorders. This unique perspective allows him to relate deeply to clients and families struggling with addiction, and to explain at a foundational level the many aspects of Turnbridge’s Preparative Care Program. Gordon can be reached at 314-471-1931.