A lot of people believe that life is a game of choices. Some decisions are small and insignificant, while others leave lasting consequences. You can never predict with 100% certainty what your choice can lead to.
Such is the story of substance abuse. The choice to indulge in them can be the result of complex factors such as a need to forget traumatic memories of abuse or something as simple as “Boredom.”
Before we look at the ways you can protect your teen, it is important to understand what the term “Substance Abuse” even means. The American Psychological Association defines substance abuse as
“A pattern of compulsive substance use.” which usually involves repeated negative side effects or consequences in different areas of life, such as absences from work or school, legal issues, and marital problems.
The APA goes on to state that these substances commonly include
Statistics tell us that illicit drugs were taken by 11% of eighth graders and 32.6% of twelfth graders. Such a number implies that even if your child does not engage in substance abuse, he or she is quite likely to be friends with or hang out with someone who does.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions “Association with delinquent or substance-using peers” as one of ten risk factors for high-risk substance use.
It is imperative that, as parents, you are knowledgeable about the different aspects of substance abuse and why it occurs and be able to assess the risk factors in your child’s life and environment.
Why Are Teenagers So Prone to Getting Addicted?
Teenagers are more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing. The brain’s reward system, which is responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure and motivation, is particularly sensitive during adolescence.
This means that when teenagers use drugs or alcohol, they experience a stronger high than adults do, which can lead to a greater risk of addiction. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control, is not fully developed until a person’s mid-20s.
As a result, teenagers may be more likely to engage in risky behavior and less able to resist the urge to use drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, the stress of social pressure, academic pressure and other stressors that are specific to adolescence can also make teens more susceptible to the cycle of addiction.
How Does Substance Abuse Affect Teenagers?
Drug addiction is a serious problem among teenagers. It is a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward system, leading to compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences.
Teenagers often have access to some of the most addictive drugs in shockingly easy ways. They are most often obtained from friends and classmates who use drugs themselves or know contacts that sell them.
Teenagers are also able to obtain street drugs from dealers in their community, some of which can have serious side effects on the brain.
The internet also has made it easier for teenagers to access drugs by providing a way to purchase drugs online anonymously.
Many websites sell drugs, including illegal drugs, and they use various methods to evade law enforcement. These methods include using encrypted messaging apps, virtual currencies and shipping drugs through the mail.
Substance abuse can take a toll on the body and can either manifest through immediate side effects or show up later on in life with higher risk and susceptibility for a number of conditions.
|Short-Term Physical Consequences||Long-Term Physical Consequences|
|Slurred speech||Kidney and Liver damage|
|Dizziness or lightheadedness||Respiratory problems|
|Nausea or vomiting||Increased risk of cancer|
|Loss of coordination||Brain damage|
|Impaired judgment and reaction time||Depression and anxiety|
|Changes in mood or behavior||Increased risk of addiction|
Substance abuse can also have significant short-term and long-term psychological consequences in teenagers. Some of these effects can be extremely distressing and make it difficult for them to function in life. This leads to feelings of isolation that further send them on toward more substance abuse causing a cycle of addiction.
|Short-Term Psychological Consequences||Long-Term Psychological Consequences|
|Mood swings, irritability and aggression||Dysfunctional relationships|
|Poor judgment and decision-making||Cognitive impairment|
|Difficulty in concentrating on school or hobbies||Increased risk of suicidal behavior|
|Loss of interest in usual activities||Impaired social development|
|Disruption of sleep patterns||Increased risk of legal problems|
The Five Ways to Minimize Your Teen’s Risk of Addiction
Prevention and treatment of drug addiction in teenagers include educating them about the dangers of drug use, providing support and guidance and encouraging healthy activities or hobbies.
The feeling of not being able to protect your son or daughter can eat away at you with every passing day, but it does not have to be this way. There are several steps you can take to greatly lower the risk of substance abuse in them. Here are five of them.
1. Prioritize Educating About the Dangers as Early as Possible
The first step in reducing substance abuse risk is to connect with your teenager and educate them about the dangers of substance as early as possible. Education in this context does not mean simply telling them, “Don’t do drugs.”
That is rarely effective. Instead, you want to paint a clear picture, preferably with real-world examples such as a relative, friend or acquaintance whose life has been seriously impacted by substance abuse and where the consequences are clearly visible.
This is often far more effective than using abstract terms like “They are bad for you”.
Sharon Levy, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, mentions five useful tips to keep in mind when talking about drugs to your teen.
2. Watch Out for the Warning Signs
Even if teens are educated on the dangers of substance abuse, it is no guarantee that they will abstain. There are two main types of signs that you should watch out for.
At Risk of Substance Abuse and Engaging in Substance Abuse.
|At Risk of Substance Abuse||Engaging in Substance Abuse|
|Expressing curiosity or interest in drugs or alcohol||Drastic changes in mood or behavior|
|Changes in attitude toward drugs or alcohol||Changes in physical appearances, such as weight loss and grooming habits|
|Risk-taking behavior, such as sneaking out of the house or breaking the rules||A Sudden drop in grades or absenteeism|
|Isolation and secrecy||Possession of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers, or syringes|
|Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, or loss of interest in them||Disruption of sleep patterns, such as insomnia or staying up late|
|Finding ways to spend more time unsupervised||Change in appetite|
2. Familiarize Them With the Different Ways That Peer Pressure Occurs
Peer pressure is one of the biggest risk factors that lead to substance abuse in teenagers. Talk with your adolescent or teen about the different ways that peer pressure manifests itself. It is not always so obvious as a circle of friends shoving a beer or a joint into your teen’s hand while yelling, “Do it!, Do it!”
Peer pressure can often be subtle and invisible while still influencing your teen greatly. Here are some examples.
- Direct pressure: This is the most obvious one, of course. Peers may directly pressure a teenager to use drugs or alcohol by making offers, giving them drugs, or making fun of them for not using.
- Indirect pressure: Peers may indirectly pressure a teenager by talking about their own drug or alcohol use or by making it seem normal or acceptable.
- Social pressure: This often occurs when a group of friends exclude or isolate a person who does not use drugs or alcohol.
- Normative influence: Peers may influence a person to use drugs or alcohol by making them believe that it is the norm or expected of them to do so. That not engaging in it is outdated and uncool.
- Social learning: Peers may influence a teenager to use drugs or alcohol by teaching them how to obtain and use drugs.
- Social identity: Peers may influence a teenager to use drugs or alcohol by aligning drug use with social identities, like being part of a cool group.
- Online pressure: With the rise of social media, teenagers may be exposed to peer pressure through online platforms, where people may post about their drug use or make it seem glamorous.
3. Don’t Be a Helicopter Parent
This is a term used to describe a parent who is overly involved in their child’s life and constantly monitoring and controlling their behavior. Such a parenting style can feel suffocating and claustrophobic and even cause the teen to engage in substance abuse in an act of rebellion.
This type of parenting can also create a sense of dependency and can make it difficult for your teen to develop the skills and confidence needed to make positive decisions and resist peer pressure.
It also leads to a lack of trust, which may cause them to seek other people to confide in and seek advice from.
4. Be a Good Role Model for Them and Set a Good Example
As a parent, you are often the first role model in your child’s life. Their actions and attitudes toward drugs and alcohol can have a significant impact on a teenager.
By setting a good example and fostering a positive environment during childhood, parents can play a key role in preventing the risk of substance abuse later on in the teenage years.
Being a good role model can be difficult. This is especially true when you have emotional baggage that you are still dealing with. However, as a parent, you want to ensure that your number one priority is being a person that your kids are able to look up to you.
For parents, this means maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding drugs and alcohol themselves. Parents who wax endlessly about their dangers while also living lives of poor self-control create an air of hypocrisy that teens will pick up on and resent, undoing much of the effort they have put in.
5. Pay Attention and Listen Actively
Lastly, but most importantly, parents can build trust and establish open communication, which is vital to preventing substance abuse by actively listening to their teenager and taking their thoughts and feelings into consideration.
When teenagers feel heard and understood, they are more likely to open up and share their thoughts and feelings with their parents. This open communication can help parents to understand the reasons why their child may be at risk of substance abuse and find ways to address the underlying issues.
Being a supportive figure can be one of the most cathartic experiences for your son or daughter. If they express that they have been feeling depressed, try to learn more about how you can support or help them in their recovery from their depression. This could involve something as simple as listening or also involve arranging for therapy.
Listening to your teenager can help you to understand the pressures and influences they may be facing, such as peer pressure. By understanding these pressures, parents can better equip their children with the tools and skills they need to resist them and make positive decisions.
To sum it up, substance abuse among teenagers is a serious issue that can have significant consequences on their physical, mental and psychological well-being.
Parents, teachers and other adults play an important role in reducing the risks of substance abuse by being aware of the warning signs, providing education and setting a good example.
Conveying the serious consequences that drugs and other substances create, both in the short-term and long-term, is crucial, as early intervention is often the most effective way to minimize substance abuse risks.
This is achieved through constant vigilance and watching for any warning signs, all without being domineering and suffocating.
As you can imagine, these aspects make the period of substance abuse risk prevention one of the most challenging periods that parents can go through. If you ever feel overwhelmed, consider seeking help and advice from professional sources or joining parent communities online that can help guide you when you feel at a loss.