Life for a teenager can be extremely stressful. Teens have to balance the demands of school and home life, the constant influence of the Internet and social media, and worries about their future. Under all of this stress, the risk of developing ineffective coping styles is high. Research indicates that over half of all mental health disorders are developed during this period of life.
Teen substance abuse shows a similar statistic, with up to half of all high school students reporting that they have used drugs, and over 65% admitting to using alcohol. While substance use is often excused as being fun or relaxing, addictions formed and the poor choices made while under the influence can end up sabotaging a bright future.
Risk Factors for Teen Substance Abuse
In order to protect yourself or a loved one from the temptation to self-sabotage through teen substance abuse, it is important to be informed about circumstances which can put a teen more at risk of giving in to addiction. A teen’s own mental health, the habits of parents, and the friends around can all play a role in moving a teenager into a vulnerable spot for using drugs or alcohol.
Underlying Mental Health Issues
As our knowledge of mental health problems and the effect on human behavior grows, it has become increasingly clear that those who struggle with diagnosable mental health disorders are at a higher risk of engaging in substance abuse behaviors. The explanation for why this is the case typically points to the substance abuse as an attempt by someone with a mental disorder to self-medicate. Instead of seeking lasting treatment through therapy, counseling, and prescribed medication support, a teen suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental illness will turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to experience short-term relief.
Family Substance Abuse
Studies have shown that children and teens are more at risk of engaging in substance abuse when their caretakers are also abusing substances. Family systems are very interconnected and dependent on one another. A teen who observes parental figures as avoiding reality through getting drunk or high will be simultaneously learning that such avoidance is the way to handle things. A teen is likely to have more access to these substances in a home where the parent is abusing, and is likely to be more willing to experiment with it.
A parent doesn’t have to be using substances in order to play a role in the risk of teen substance abuse. Parents who are too busy with their own lives to take an active role in the experiences of their teens, or parents who are overly controlling, are often unwittingly playing a part in the development of substance abuse disorders. Just as healthy parenting styles can help a teen to succeed in life, ineffective parenting styles can work to frustrate and sabotage that healthy mental and emotional growth.
Substance Abuse by Peers
Even though parental influence plays a large role in how a teen approaches use of drugs and alcohol, peers play a significant part. Studies have shown that having as few as four or more friends who use substances can influence a teen toward using. Having friends who condone substance abuse also negatively affects how well likely a teen is to seek out and succeed in substance abuse treatment programs.
Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
While some people can secretly get away with using substances, it is inevitable that many will end up showing signs that something in their life is not quite right. Apart from being caught with the drugs or alcohol, directly, there are some other tells which are often involved in the behaviors of someone who is on the dangerous path of teen substance abuse.
Hanging Out With a Different Set of Friends
As previously mentioned, the friends that a teenager chooses to spend time with have a large influence on behavior. The teen years are designed as a period of self-discovery, and is the point in time where children begin to separate from the idea of relying on parents. The influence of friends take on much greater importance, and popular opinion is often what a teenager uses to gauge success. If a teenager begins swapping out old, reliable, friends for a new, questionable, circle, he or she may be heading down the spiral of addiction.
Isolating From Friends and Family
Another sign of potential risk of substance abuse is the tendency to isolate from those who care about you. Most people who care about us do not want to see us damaging our lives through using drugs or alcohol. For a teen determined to continue using, deceiving others about it can become a daily ritual. It is easier to hide away from those who might notice than to keep up the lying. The trap in doing this is that isolation also increases the risk of substance abuse.
There is a reason that substance abuse and addiction often results in a downward spiral of an array problems. Countless people have already experimented with trying to maintain control over the substances, only to have the substances win the game. As the focus on using substances increases, other priorities in life fade to the background. A teen who is involved in substance abuse may begin to experience problems in school, may stop participating in chores at home, and may even end up having run-ins with the law.
How to Seek Help for Teen Substance Abuse
There has been a lot of progress made toward acknowledging both the existence of mental health problems, and the reality of teen substance abuse. Most communities provide multiple low-cost and non-profit treatment programs for teens struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. The Internet is valuable resource for finding the type of treatment that is right for you or a friend who is going down this dangerous road. If you need help finding where to start, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).