Teenagers are in a stage in their lives when they are testing boundaries, gaining some independence and learning more about the world around them beyond the watchful eyes of their parents. Social circles may have expanded outside of immediate neighborhoods, and teens could be influenced by new factors.
The teenage years also may be a time of experimentation. While changes in dress, entertainment and appearance may be normal, teens also may experiment with different substances and risky behaviors.
A 2015 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicated that more than 58 percent of 12th graders had consumed alcohol and nearly 24 percent had used illicit drugs in the past year. Teens may be drawn to alcohol and drugs for reasons like thrill-seeking, peer pressure, curiosity, and even acceptance from others. Still, defiance or boredom may be other motivating factors.
While some teenagers who experiment with drugs may try them a few times and move on, others may become addicted. Certain drugs can chemically overwhelm developing bodies, causing brain cells to shut down or perish. Physiological effects may result.
Parents can be more aware of teen’s activities and the propensity for use of both legal and illegal substances. By educating oneself about the drugs teens most often try, parents may be in better position to recognize and/or discourage drug use in their children.
• Marijuana: The drug rehabilitation program Treatment Solutions says that marijuana is the most commonly used drug today. Teens may justify use because they’ve heard about parents’ past experiences with pot. Legalization of marijuana in some areas may have made the drug seem less harmful. However, today’s marijuana is much more potent than the pot of the past.
• Alcohol: Studies repeatedly show that teenagers have high rates of alcohol use. The group Best Drug Rehabilitation says research shows kids who started drinking early are four times as likely to grow up to be alcoholics than those who started drinking at legal age. Alcohol can get teens in trouble with the law and lead to unintentional injuries. Data from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking found approximately 70 percent of television programming has references to alcohol use. This may make alcohol seem acceptable to teens.
• Prescription drugs: Many teens have easy access to prescription drugs in their own homes or the homes of their friends. Some teens even hold “pharming parties,” where they bring prescriptions they can find to share with the group.
• Heroin: Highly addictive, heroin may be a go-to drug for people who can no longer get access to prescription opioid pain relievers. Heroin abuse among first-time users continues to rise, offers the Teen Addiction Center, and many heroin batches are mixed with fentanyl, a substance that is more potent than heroin and extremely toxic. With such a low price point, heroin is relatively easy for teens to acquire and it’s very addictive as well.
Parents who educate themselves about teens and drug use can be in better position to help their children should kids begin experimenting with drugs.