Reviewed On April 8 , 2019

Teen Drug Abuse and Addiction

The teenage years have long been recognized as a time of rebellion when older kids are pushing hard to prove their independence. While parents tend to learn how to accept their teens’ preferences for clothing or music, there is one area where you must stand your ground. Teen addiction rates still continue to rise in many communities, and the truth is that most kids are exposed to drugs or alcohol at some point during their middle and high school years.

Sadly, all it takes is experimenting with a substance one time for a teen to develop an addiction to certain types of drugs. Your teen may also be tempted to use drugs to cope with stress in their life or to fit in with a certain peer group. It is also possible that your teen could be dealing with a serious addiction without you even knowing. Since parental awareness is critical for the prevention and treatment of teen addiction, you can use this guide to make sure that your teenager understands the dangers of using drugs.

At What Age Do Teens Start Using Drugs?

Parents often wonder when drug use actually starts for kids, and the truth is that teens start using at a much younger age than one would expect. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a 2018 study revealed that 6.1 percent of eighth graders reported using an illicit drug that was not marijuana. The same study goes on to reveal that 12.4 percent of 12th graders revealed the same history of drug abuse in the past year.

Since many kids begin to experiment with drugs in the middle school years, it is important to begin establishing communication about the dangers of drug abuse with your teen at a young age. Keep in mind, however, that the risk for drug use tends to increase as your teen matures. Therefore, your discussions about the risks involved with drugs need to continue throughout their teen years.

How Do Adults Influence Teen Drug Use?

Naturally, you play a big role in your teen’s decisions. Your teen relies on you to help set the standards for what is considered to be acceptable behavior, and a simple choice made by you could easily influence your teen’s mindset regarding drug use. For instance, even giving your child a prescription medication such as an antibiotic that is meant for someone else could cause your teen to think that there are gray areas regarding drug use. Always be aware that your teen is watching, and be sure that your actions do not cause them to think that using illicit drugs is OK.

Is Peer Pressure Still a Concern?

Teenagers have an innate desire to fit in with their peers. With the current anti-drug campaigns, it is common for many teens to experience positive types of peer pressure from friends who encourage each other not to do drugs. However, there is also a new type of peer pressure that can be stronger than any other type.

According to the DEA, teens are now being influenced to try drugs through social media. Your teen may be exposed to online advertisements for prescription medications that have addictive qualities. Teen addiction is also sometimes glorified through things such as music videos, which may show your kid’s favorite musicians engaging in drug use such as vaping marijuana.

Teenagers can also interact with people online without you being aware. In fact, they may use special code words and abbreviations to discuss drugs without their parents being able to detect what is being said. For instance, marijuana is often referred to as “420,” and prescription painkillers mixed with soda might be called “lean.”

When your teen goes online, they are essentially venturing into uncharted territory where you may not always be able to control what they are exposed to. Set limits for your teen’s online activities, and monitor the websites that they view. You should also make it clear that your teen can come to you with any questions that arise after they spend time browsing the internet.

What Drugs Are Teens Using Now?

Every generation seems to have their drug of choice. For instance, people often associate the ’60s with LSD. While teens these days are using psychedelics less often, they are using other drugs more heavily. Marijuana still remains a common drug used by teens, and teens also use synthetic forms of this drug.

Heroin, prescription painkillers, and other opiates are also commonly used among teenagers. Party drugs, such as ecstasy, are often involved in teens’ music scenes, and many teenagers experiment with inhalants due to their easy availability.

Are Prescription Medications a Worry?

One of the biggest worries for parents is that teen addiction could literally start in their medicine cabinet. Many people take prescription medications that have addictive qualities to treat diagnosed health conditions. Sadly, many teens fail to realize that taking these drugs improperly can have consequences just as serious as abusing illicit drugs from the street.

According to SAMHSA, two-thirds of teens who tried using prescription medications during the past year claimed that they got them from either their home or a medicine cabinet at their friend’s house. Talking to your teen about the risks involved with prescription medications is critical to ensure that they do not fall for myths that they hear from their peers or other adults.

If you or your child takes prescription medications that are tempting to misuse, then you may want to take further steps to prevent addiction. For instance, you can keep all medications in a locked cabinet that only you and other trusted adults can access. You should also know how to watch for the signs of addiction in your teen.

To further safeguard your teen from developing an addiction to medications in your house, keep a count on the pills. If you go through them faster than normal or notice that a bottle seems to have been tampered with, then your teen may already be engaging in drug use.

What Would Make a Teen Use Drugs?

Naturally, the best way to prevent teen addiction is to understand why they use drugs in the first place. For many kids, drug abuse begins with simple curiosity. Teens may also try drugs out of boredom or to emulate someone they admire. In many cases, there are also serious underlying reasons for why a teen continues to use drugs. For instance, the drug use may be the result of teen’s need to cope with the symptoms of depression or anxiety.

How Do Kids Use Drugs?

Drugs come in many forms, and some of the ways teens use them are hard to detect. Although teens still take pills and smoke drugs, one of the biggest concerns today is with vaping. Many vape products can be used to consume drugs such as marijuana, and the vapor they emit is often unscented and dissipates quickly. For this reason, parents should discourage the practice of vaping and be willing to explore what types of substances are in any vape products that are found in their child’s possession.

Your child may also use household products as drugs. For example, many cleaning agents and adhesives contain chemicals that generate a brief feeling of euphoria when they are inhaled. Be alert for signs of addiction to inhalants in your teen such as finding empty containers in their room that have no purpose being there.

What Are the Signs of Addiction in Teenagers?

Hearing about the prevalence and easy access to drugs for teens is disheartening for parents. Yet, there are so many things that you can do to stop teen addiction in its tracks. Being able to recognize the signs of addiction in teens gives you the perfect starting point for getting your teen help.

When a teenager starts using drugs, it is common to see physical signs of their addiction. For instance, you might smell the drug on their body, breath or clothing. You may also notice that they have red eyes or an inability to focus their vision correctly. A teen who is using certain drugs may also sweat or shake uncontrollably. Burn marks on your teen’s clothing is a sign that they may be smoking certain drugs, or you may notice injection marks in their skin if they are using drugs that require injecting them into their bloodstream.

Most often, it is behavioral changes that first show up as signs of addiction in teens. However, keep in mind that drugs can make your teenager seem more lethargic or more energetic than usual, and this can sometimes seem like a good thing initially. For instance, a teenager who is high on amphetamines may suddenly clean their room or decide to finish all of their homework in one night. Extreme bursts of energy without an explanation are a sign that something else may be inspiring your teenager to get moving.

Once addiction takes hold, teens also tend to begin to struggle academically and socially. Your teen may suddenly have a drop in their grades without an obvious reason. A teenager who works may also lose their job or struggle with getting to their job on time. Many teenagers also change their group of friends so that they can use drugs without feeling judged. Watch out for any major changes in your teen’s life so that you can find out the true cause of what is driving their behavior.

What Does Withdrawal Look Like?

Teenagers are more likely to go through withdrawal than many adult drug users due to the increased possibility of being cut off from their drug supply or not having money to procure more drugs before the effects of an initial dose wear off. Unfortunately, the withdrawal symptoms from certain types of drugs can be just as dangerous as continuing to use them. For instance, opiates often require medical supervision during the detox process to prevent seizures and severe vomiting from occurring.

Withdrawal symptoms may involve mild changes in your teen’s mood such as an increase in crankiness or depression. Your teen may also exhibit more extreme symptoms such as heart palpitations, nausea or severe headaches. If your teen suddenly does not feel well without being sick, then they could be going through withdrawal.

How Does Drug Use Affect a Teen’s Brain?

A teenager’s brain is still developing, which makes them more prone to acquiring an addiction than older adults. Your teen’s young brain is also more susceptible to long-term damage.

When a teen uses drugs, it can alter the pathways between neural connections. For example, opiates actually change how the brain perceives pain and processes endorphins. Once these changes occur, it takes time and professional treatment to help the brain heal.

Is Drug Addiction in Teens Treatable?

The good news is that drug addiction in teens is absolutely treatable. In fact, teens who get help as early as possible tend to have the best prognosis for a long-term recovery. Treating addiction in teens can be done through residential or outpatient facilities that provide professional counseling that is tailored to fit the needs of people their age.

Professional treatment typically involves family counseling as well as individual therapy to help your teen treat the underlying causes of their addiction. Teenagers are also shown how to rebuild their life by developing healthier interests that do not revolve around drugs or alcohol.

The risks associated with teen addiction are too big to ignore. While it is best to prevent teens from experimenting with drugs in the first place, it is also important to know what to do if they develop an addiction. Be sure to keep communication open with your child, and always have a plan in mind for how to get them to help if they do develop a drug use disorder.