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Christina’s life started to change. Previously a straight-A student, her grades started to drop. While she used to have a sunny disposition, now she’s very moody. She doesn’t talk to her friends anymore and she has stopped showing up to music rehearsals, her violin case getting dusty in the corner of her bedroom. Christina’s friends know that she experimented with drugs to deal with the pressure of her parent’s divorce and now they’re worried that maybe a little bit of experimenting has become an addiction.
Teen substance use and abuse is difficult to define and even more challenging to handle.
What is teen substance use and abuse?
Teen substance use is when someone like Christina smoked pot a few times in the past, but doesn’t do it regularly. Christina’s behavior shows that he has used drugs but he could end up abusing them and end up addicted.
People can get addicted to all types of substances. Most people think of illegal drugs or alcohol and they think of addiction but people can have addictions to medications, medications that they found in their parents closet, cigarettes, or even simple things like glue.
Christina’s behavior becomes teen substance abuse when she no longer has control over when she smokes pot, and she feels like she can’t live her life without it.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 25% of American teens live in a house where substance abuse is present. This matters because the Current Drug Abuse Reviews found that teens whose parents or older siblings abuse drugs are twice as likely to develop an addiction.
In Louisiana, according to recent studies, 23,000 12 to 17 year old reported using drugs in a given month. A staggering eight and a half percent of adolescents in that age group said they used marijuana in the last year, and almost ten percent said the same about alcohol.
When this happens, teens:
- have lower performance in school,
- develop emotional or behavioral problems,
- contend with low self-esteem
- are at a higher risk for depression or anxiety
- have a 3 times higher risk of physical abuse, verbal abuse, or sexual abuse
- there’s even a greater chance that once teens start using drugs or alcohol, they become addicted
According to the CDC, under aged teenagers have more drinks each time they drink than adult counterparts. This means that when someone like Christina goes to a party, she is likely to have three or four drinks while her parents are likely to have just one. 19% of teenagers between the age of 12 and 20 drink alcohol regularly.
And it’s not just alcohol that can impact teenagers. Marijuana is more common among teenagers than cigarette use or other drug use. Teenagers who, like Christina, are overwhelmed with the stress of school or peer pressure are very likely to turn to marijuana use as a way to cope.
When Teenagers Abuse Drugs
When teenagers use and abuse substances it can have a direct impact on family dynamics.
- If Christina starts using marijuana regularly it can lead to strained relationships within her family. Maybe Christina was very close with her younger sister but now she is closed off. Now she doesn’t associate with family members, avoids regular family dinners, and doesn’t talk openly about how school goes.
- If someone like Christina starts using drugs regularly it will impact performance in school, leading to bad grades, failed tests, and missed classes.
- If Christina starts abusing drugs it can lead to exposure to other things, not just marijuana but prescription opioids she finds in the medicine cabinet. It can lead to use or abuse of alcohol in the kitchen, or even substances like cocaine.
- Christina might exhibit Reckless Behavior at home like stealing money from her mother’s purse in order to buy more marijuana, causing her parents a lot of grief, and eventually running away from home to try and “escape” how she feels.
If Christina’s friends or parents are concerned about her behavior, there’s nothing wrong with talking to Christina.
Many teenagers think that if they have a drug abuse problem they can just stop whenever they want but that rarely Works. Teenagers need to find someone they can trust so that they can talk to them. This might be an understanding adult who’s not your parent and it might be a friend or just someone your own age at first. If you are like Christina and you don’t think you can talk to your parents, maybe you can talk to a friendly ant, your favorite teacher in school, your local religious leader, or a doctor.
Overcoming addiction will be hard, probably one of the hardest things you will ever do or your friend will ever do. Getting help from someone professional like a therapist or a drug counselor is not a sign of weakness. Almost all people who have to get treatment for a drug or alcohol problem need some sort of specific treatment program from a professional.
After someone like Christina undergoes treatment, it takes a lot of work to stay away from drugs or alcohol. It’s a lifelong process, just like eating healthy or exercising.
Advice for Teens facing Temptation to do Drugs
1. Tell your friends that you have decided, like Christina, to stop using drugs. Good friends will respect this decision. If your friends don’t respect it and they are mean to you because of it, you should find new friends. You probably won’t be able to stop your drug use or abuse if you continue to hang out with friends who do the same drugs.
2. Ask your friends and family to be there when you need to talk to them and let them help you. After Christina got treatment for her addiction, there were nights she needed to just talk to someone and her friends were willing to answer the phone no matter how late. You will need help to keep on the road to recovery.
3. Only go to events or parties where you know drugs and alcohol won’t be involved. Start finding activities like art classes you can take with a friend, going to the movies, or even bowling. But avoid the Friday night parties that you know will be nothing but people smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol until you feel completely secure that you have overcome your addiction.
4. Have a plan for what you will do if you end up in a place where drugs and alcohol are present. Establish that plan with people like a trusted sibling, supportive friend that fun Aunt you turned it to earlier, or even your parents. Maybe your plan is to have a special code word like “bacon” and when you call or text your family and tell them that there is bacon at the party, they know to come pick you up.
5. Remember that having an addiction or substance abuse problem doesn’t make you a weak person or a bad person. Even if you fall back to your old patterns, like the one time Christina smoked marijuana after a very stressful week of tests, just get help from someone you trust so that you can get back to recovery.
Prevention plays a big role in teen drug and substance use and abuse. Teenagers still developing who they are as a person are extremely vulnerable to external influences so they are at a higher risk of repeating the behaviors they see as normal within the household.
It is up to parents to prevent or remove personal dependency or addiction to drugs and alcohol in order to prevent their children from developing the same addictions.
In order to help teenagers like Christina deal with the stress of school or peer pressure, prevention and education from Louisiana families is critical. It is up to all family members to have an open and honest discussion about what peer pressure is, and how to deal with peer pressure in a healthy fashion. It is equally important to have discussions about other ways to cope with stress. Coping strategies can be a part of weekly family meetings where everyone comes together to talk about different strategies they use or how effective they have been.
If the situation is severe, it might take help from external sources like a counselor to find coping mechanisms that people like Christina can use effectively.
If Christina’s parents have bad coping mechanisms themselves and they handle the stress of their job or their family responsibilities by smoking marijuana, it is very likely that Christina will do exactly the same thing instead of looking for other, healthier ways to cope with the stress of school responsibilities and down the line, work responsibilities.
Tangentially, education is extremely important and this doesn’t just apply to teenagers in your house but two teenagers you know and teenagers who are friends with your children. Educational programs in school or just education provided in the comfort of the kitchen while cooking dinner can go a long way toward providing things like coping strategies before there was even a need.
Casual conversations over dinner make for a great opportunity to talk about prevention, to make sure that everyone in your household understands that addiction is a serious problem and no one should be ashamed if they need to reach out and get help.