Being a teenager in the United States is difficult these days. Growing up in the digital era, they are exposed to a whole new set of problems that many parents, teachers, and other adults have difficulty understanding or relating to.
This can cause teenagers to experience intense feelings of isolation, loneliness, and confusion. These are just some of the many reasons teens use alcohol and other drugs. Others include:
Nearly half of all high schoolers have tried marijuana, and approximately two-thirds have consumed alcohol by the time they graduate.
Some teenagers are more at risk of developing an alcohol or drug problem than others. Common risk factors that can lead to alcoholism include:
The effects of teen drug use range from short term to long term and from mild to deadly. In many cases, it is difficult for teenagers to understand the consequences of their actions. That’s why education, from parents, teachers, and older friends is crucial to keeping the next generation safe.
Some effects of teen drug use include:
Drug and alcohol abuse disrupts the development of the brain. It impairs memory and teenagers’ abilities to respond to emotional and stressful situations. Therefore, substance abuse increases the chances that a young person will develop a mental health disorder.
While it’s difficult for scientists to prove that substance use disorder (SUD) causes mental health problems, the two have been linked in many studies.
Teenagers who abuse substances are more likely to have mental health issues, and teenagers with mental health issues are more likely to lean on substances as a way to cope with their problems. This is a recurring process that makes it very difficult for teenagers to develop a healthy lifestyle without early intervention.
The majority of teens who experiment with alcohol in high school will not develop an addiction or try illicit drugs. While recent research shows that alcohol use among high schoolers is declining, it is still important to continue preventative and educational efforts.
Binge drinking, which is when someone drinks five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting, is down 10 to 30 percent among high schoolers. However, high schoolers who do binge drink often are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction later on. This is because the teenage brain is still developing, making it more susceptible to addiction.
Alcohol is the most frequently abused substance among teenagers. Alcohol abuse has been proven to be extremely dangerous in many situations. Drunk driving accidents kill thousands of teens each year.
Short-term effects of teen alcohol abuse include:
Underage drinking during the teenage years can also lead to serious long-term effects, such as:
After alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances among teens. When abused, they can become addictive and cause numerous short term and long term health problems.
Nearly 17 percent of high school students have taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.
Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include:
Using prescription drugs inconsistently to a doctor’s instructions creates several risks, including adverse drug interactions, seizures, drug addiction, overdose, and death. From 2014 to 2015, the number of overdose deaths increased by 19 percent to 770 teens, many of them from prescription medications.
Many teens that experiment with drugs and alcohol will turn out fine and live healthy lives. However, others will go on to develop long term addictions and other serious health issues.
If you suspect that a teenager is abusing drugs or alcohol frequently, look for the following signs:
The majority of substance use disorders (SUD) begin in the teenage years and continue into adulthood. It can be very difficult for teens to overcome addiction. Seeking help is the best way to increase the likelihood of recovery.
The best type of treatment for teen drug use and abuse is prevention. Education and honest communication go a long way in helping teenagers learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol. It’s important to teach them the power of saying no and how to enjoy life without relying on substances.
There are a variety of treatment facilities and options available for teenagers suffering from substance abuse problems. Your school counselor is a great place to start looking for professional help.
There are also addiction treatment centers that focus specifically on helping teens. Teen-Anon, Alateen, and other communities provide support groups for teens.
Some of the most effective treatment types for SUD and AUD include:
The most important thing to remember is that teens need support before, during, and after substance or alcohol abuse treatment.
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NIDA. "Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 18 Dec. 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends.
Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine. Drug Enforcement Administration, 2018, https://www.dea.gov/documents/2018/10/18/prescription-disaster.
“Brain and Addiction.” NIDA for Teens, National Institutes of Health, 1 June 2019, teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/brain-and-addiction.
“Alcohol.” NIDA for Teens, National Institutes of Health, 1 Jan. 2019, teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/alcohol.
“Teen Substance Use & Risks.” CDC 24/7, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/features/teen-substance-use.html.