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Why Do Teens use Drugs?

Being a teenager is not easy. We all remember that time in our lives when we tried to figure out exactly who we were, all while going through a wild variety of physical and mental changes. In addition, there is the fundamental human need to feel accepted and fit in, even more so for teens. Dealing with these stressors and can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. When this is coupled with peer pressure, many teenagers turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means of dealing with the underlying mental health problems and as a way to be accepted. What starts as innocent experimentation can easily turn to abuse and addiction if they do not receive the help that they need.

Most people struggling with drug addiction and/or alcoholism have mental health problems that have never been properly treated. They turn to drugs as a way of self-medicating. While some of these problems may be temporary, they will only become more serious when someone uses drugs to deal with them. Drugs and alcohol are a false short-term solution to these issues, but this will only make things worse. The problem is still there, but the use of drugs masks the symptoms. As time passes and the struggling individual doesn’t receive help their underlying mental health issues will become more and more severe. 

Many youths who are dealing with substance abuse issues begin to use it as a way to fit in. Perhaps they were uncomfortable in their own skin and they felt “normal” when they used drugs and/or alcohol. Peer pressure may also play a role in why some adolescents start drug experiments. Some may dabble with some substances a little bit, but they never develop a problem. Others then use more than their peers. This can easily lead to addiction both physically and mentally.

How Do Drugs Affect a Teenager’s Brain?

Researchers specializing in youth and wellness growth have found that dramatic physical and intellectual development spurts occur during the adolescent years. As the brain develops in young people, certain brain functions are developing at extremely fast levels. During puberty, an individual teenager undergoes biological and psychological changes and this can be negatively affected by drug use. The risk of becoming addicted is much higher for young people who use drugs. Children are much more vulnerable to the strong mood and mind-altering effects of drugs and alcohol as their brains are still developing.

For good cognitive function and growth, teenage years are important. It is essential to maintain a rigid standard of healthy behavior during our younger years. Drug abuse can have an impact on the brain’s ability to work in the short term as well as stop adequate growth and development in later life. Through disrupting links within the brain, adolescents who abuse drugs may mess with their neurotransmitters. They will also diminish their ability to experience pleasure if not under drug influence. Memory problems are quite common as well as inhibiting perceptual skills development.

The Short and Long Term Damage Caused by Drug Use

Substance abuse can affect the individual in a wide variety of ways, both physically and mentally. When a teenager abuses mood and mind-altering substances they aren’t just causing damage to themselves, but they are also going to greatly affect those closest to them. Their parents, siblings, and friends will be impacted by their use. One can easily find themselves in legal trouble as well as having problems at school, they will also face a mixture of physical and mental changes that will pose a challenge in their everyday life. Watching the person their care so deeply about change in front of their eyes while standing by hopeless can cause some serious mental damage.

For decades, adolescent drug use has remained a serious concern across the United States. Teenagers are still developing, both mentally and physically, and their lives can be greatly affected by drug abuse. They are still learning life skills that are imperative to their long-term quality of life. They are working to figure out what brings them joy and to find out exactly who they are. If someone starts using mood and mind-altering substances in this developmental stage of life, they can put themselves in a very dangerous situation. They are far more susceptible to falling victim to the addictive qualities of these substances. This is especially the case if they are using substances that are both physically and mentally addictive. It’s very important to prevent teen drug use, but it’s not always easy.

Experimenting with drugs and alcohol during high school is quite popular for teenagers. According to one of the most recent nationwide studies, about 28 percent of grade 8-12 students reported using an illicit drug in their lives at some point in 2018. That same year, the month before the study, just under 19 percent of that age group had at least one alcoholic beverage. In the past 30 days, 12% of students surveyed reported having three or more drinks in one sitting that caused them to become intoxicated.

There is no sure way to avoid abuse of adolescent drugs, but there are things that can be done to help reduce the risk. Educating teenagers about drug-related risks can help prevent some from experimenting with drugs. The main goal is to stop at a young age these kids from ever picking up drugs or excessive drinking. Although this is not always effective, some may stop making life-changing decisions.

Most high school students are able to have a drink from time to time, maybe with friends or at a party, and they will experience no serious changes in life. Others will start with some innocent alcohol and/or cannabis experimentation and end up using it more often than they should. This can result in a variety of consequences and possible legal repercussions, but it will not cause as much trouble in their lives as those who move onto harder substances. Those teens who move on to harder, more dangerous, and more addictive drugs such as cocaine, pills, and heroin are putting themselves in grave danger. These are the individuals who are at the greatest risk of becoming addicted and having serious problems in their daily lives.

Nicotine Consumption Among Teens

Over the past decade, the number of adolescents who smoke cigarettes has plummeted, but that doesn’t mean that nicotine use has fallen. Among high school students, electronic cigarettes or vapes have become extremely popular, especially smaller products like the JUUL. Nearly 20% of 8th graders, 33% of 10th graders, and 38% of 12th graders reported vaping on a daily basis. Approximately 40 percent of those students surveyed who reported past-year vaping reported having nicotine in their vapes, while the other 60 percent reported that they were only using vapes for the flavor and that their juice had no nicotine in it.

Since vaporizers are so new, the data available from the few studies done about the damage these vapes can cause is not definite. Some experts believe that even using vaporizers that do not contain nicotine can still be quite addictive and harmful. Studies on the dangers of vaping have been done, but the long-term effects are still not fully understood. Scientists agree that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than actual smoking, but that damage, particularly to the lungs, is still done. The chemicals used in vaporizers that make up different liquids can cause respiratory problems. Young people who are still developing, particularly when nicotine is involved, may cause permanent long-term damage to their lungs and heart.

Need Help or More Information?

If you would like to know more about the signs of drug abuse or need help locating a detox or treatment center for your teen, please give our toll-free line at any time. An addiction specialist is always standing by ready to help you in any way that they can. Calls and over the phone consultations are always free of charge and completely confidential.