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A Look Into Teen Drug Abuse

Today's youth face many risks. One of the most prevalent risks is substance abuse. This includes the underage use of legal drugs (tobacco or alcohol), the use of illegal drugs (marijuana or heroine, etc), the inappropriate use of legally obtained substances (inhalants), prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs. For parents, responding to these risks before they become problems can be difficult, but it is vital. Substance abuse has serious consequences in our homes, schools, and communities.

Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescents is common. Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use alcohol and drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. Unfortunately, teenagers often don't see the link between their actions today and the consequences of tomorrow. Teens also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience.

Many factors can add to a person's risk for substance abuse. Risk factors can increase a person's chances for substance abuse, while protective factors can reduce the risk. Please note that a risk factor for one person may not be for another. Risk factors can influence substance abuse in several ways. The more risks a child is exposed to, the more likely the child will abuse drugs. An important goal of prevention is to change the balance between risk and protective factors so that protective factors outweigh risk factors.

Early Aggressive BehaviorIndividualSelf-Control
Lack of Parental SupervisionFamilyParental Monitoring
Substance AbusePeerAcademic Competence
Drug AvailabilitySchoolAnti-drug Use Policies
PovertyCommunityStrong Neighborhood Attachment

The risk of becoming a substance abuser involves the relationship among the number and type or risk factors, such as deviant attitudes and behaviors and the protective factors such as parental support. The impact of specific risks and protective factors changes with age. For instance, risk factors within the family have greater impact on a younger child; while association with drug-abusing peers may be a more significant risk factor for an adolescent. Early intervention with risk factors such as aggressive behavior and poor self control often has a greater and more lasting impact than later intervention by trying to change a child's life path away from problem behaviors and towards positive ones.

On average, children are already abusing drugs at age 12 or 13, which likely means that some begin even earlier. Early abuse often includes such substances as tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana, and prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines. If substance abuse persists into later adolescence, abusers typically become more heavily involved with marijuana and then advance to other drugs. Studies have also shown that abuse of drugs in late childhood and early adolescence is associated with greater drug involvement. For teenagers, substance abuse can lead to affiliation with drug-abusing peers, which, in turn, exposes the individual to other drugs.

Prevention efforts can and should start in the family. Enhancing family bonding and relationships and strengthening parenting skills are key concepts that should be employed and practiced. Parental monitoring and supervision are critical for drug abuse prevention. Praise for appropriate behavior and moderate, consistent discipline that enforces defined family rules are also very important.

For elementary school aged children, prevention should target improving academic and social-emotional skills. Focus should also be placed on self-control, emotional awareness, communication, social problem solving and academic support (especially in reading).

Prevention efforts for middle or junior high and high school students should increase academic and social competence with the following skills: study habits and academic support, communication, peer relationships, self-efficacy and assertiveness, drug resistance skills, reinforcement of anti-drug attitudes, and strengthening of personal commitments against drug abuse.

The risks of teenage substance abuse are tremendous. But there is help. If your child or someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, call us for free information and help. We are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide a listening ear and offer valuable advice and help.