Bindu Thomas RN BSN CPN
There is a common misconception that teenagers who experiment with drugs and alcohol are inherently “bad kids.” Many parents assume that teenagers experiment because they are rebellious and want to lash out. That may be the reason a small percentage of teenagers try drugs and alcohol today, but the dangerous trend is not that simple or one-sided. In order to understand them, you have to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they are really experiencing.
My 20 years of experience in pediatric nursing and dealing with teenagers and adolescents gives me the following insights into why they indulge in drugs and alcoholism.
One of the most common reasons that teenagers begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol is that they are simply bored and have no deeper interests. They see drugs and alcohol as a pastime to be explored. Parents and elders should be able to take the teenagers into confidence and entrust them with more responsibilities so that they would get involved in productive activities for their own betterment as well as the betterment of the community at large. Catering to their creative interests through engaging them in co-curricular activities is yet another way to deter them from even thinking about substance abuse.
2. A Bonding Experience
Most often the children feel isolated among the crowd; they might identify themselves as being different due to various reasons such as race and culture. Many teenagers, usually around freshman year in high school, are shy and have trouble making friends (especially at a new school with older students).They turn to drugs and alcohol to help them feel more confident or to bond with a social group that is known for using these substances. This isn’t the same as direct peer pressure; it stems from the need to bond and make friends. Encouraging your children to join clubs and sports can help them make friends in a healthy way.
Our children undergo tremendous pressure due to various reasons like keeping up grades, parents’ expectations of them on what their career should be, and their body image. Teens turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism. When they are sad or depressed, they see these substances as a way to forget and feel happier. It’s their attempt to self-medicate. You may see a sullen attitude as “just being a teenager,” but the reason could be that they are in depression.
Curiosity is a natural part of life and teenagers are not immune to the urge. Many teens begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol simply because they are curious and want to know what it feels like. As teenagers, they have the delusion that they are invincible. Even if they know that drugs are bad, they don’t believe that anything bad can actually happen to them. Educating your children on the repercussions of drug and alcohol abuse may extinguish this curiosity.
5. Weight Loss
Often in our society, we do see parents comparing their children with their friends or relatives with respect to their body images and academic performances. Female teenagers often turn to harder drugs— such as cocaine—for a quick way to lose weight. During high school, especially young girls, become more body-conscious and may become desperate to slim down and attract the attention of popular boys. These young ladies may also be struggling with a co-occurring eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.
During high school, many teenagers are overly stressed with a packed schedule of advanced classes and extracurricular activities. A lack of coping skills can lead them to seek out an artificial method of dealing with stress. They, then, turn to drugs, such as marijuana in order to relax.
Teenagers, especially between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, tend to have low self-esteem due to physical appearance or having a lack of friends, which can lead to self-destructive behavior. The media, bullies, and often their own family put pressure on teenagers to act and look a certain way, and they lose confidence in themselves, if they don’t meet those high standards. Drugs and alcohol seem like an easy way to escape this reality.
Drugs and alcohol are often used to enhance certain experiences. Cocaine and Adderall are commonly used to enhance energy and focus, when they feel like they can’t do something on their own and need a little help. Ecstasy can be used for a lack of inhibition and enhanced sexual experience. Marijuana and alcohol are often used to relax and be more comfortable in social situations.
They all learn about it and think it won’t happen to them, but often the classic tale of peer pressure is the reason why they experiment with drugs and alcohol. This peer pressure happens most often between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, when teenagers begin to think “everyone else is doing it,” so they should too. At a party, after prom, with friends or significant others—these are all common situations in which they feel like they need to join in to be able to fit in. This peer pressure is more obvious than the pressure to make friends and is sometimes instigated by older friends.
10.Now or Never
Teenagers often feel a social imperative to experiment and experience all that they can while they are still young. They feel like it is a “now or never” situation. They have to try drugs now before they become adults and have responsibilities. They feel like if they don’t try it now, they will be missing out. They feel like it won’t be a big deal if they try everything once… or twice.
If there is a family history of drug addiction or alcoholism, teenagers may be genetically predisposed to experiment with drugs and alcohol and become addicted. Although poor choices are part of being a teenager, they can’t be blamed for their genes, especially if they haven’t been educated. If there is a family history of addiction, it is advisable to be honest, and open a dialogue about the real risks of substance abuse.
To sum up, teens do drugs to fit in, to feel good, to feel better, to do better, and also to experiment.
Talking to Your Teenager About Drug Use
Often parents are shocked and in turmoil, when they find out that their teen is into drugs. The goal of every parent is to help prevent them from experimenting with drugs later in life. When you talk to your teen about drugs, be sure that you explain the potential dangers of drugs, including the physical and social dangers that drugs can create. Be sure that they understand that their peers who use drugs most likely do not understand the long-term dangers that are associated with drug use and will only share one perspective about drug use.
When talking to your teens, make sure to explore the reasons why they indulge in drugs. Then, address them and help them plan ways to avoid situations that could lead to drug use. Developing a plan before these situations are encountered will help your teens better deal with them when they arise. Be sure to let your teens know that you are there to help them, not judge them.
Preventing drug use in teenagers
There are no parenting skills or behaviors that guarantee your child will never touch drugs. However, there are ways you can reduce the possibility of them experiencing drug problems. The following suggestions would be helpful.
- Develop a close and trusting relationship with your child from an early age, and support and encourage positive behavior.
- Children look up to their parents as role models. Show appropriate behavior yourself, such as drinking moderately, not smoking, and not using illicit drugs.
- Establish agreements and set rules about what is acceptable behavior around alcohol and drugs.
- Encourage a healthy approach to life, including good foods, regular exercise, and sports.
- Encourage your child to have more than one group of friends.
- Allow your child to practice responsibility and develop good decision-making skills from an early age.
- Keep yourself informed about drugs and educate your child on the dangers of drug use. Do not exaggerate or make information up.
- Have open and honest discussions about drugs with your teens.
What to do If you suspect your child is taking drugs
There are no specific signs or behaviors that can tell you a young person is definitely using drugs. Uncharacteristic behaviors such as mood swings, a drop in grades or performance at school, different friends, and a changed appearance may indicate drug use – but they could also indicate other issues that are not drug-related.
How to help your teens if they are taking drugs:
- Don’t react on your first impulse – give yourself time to think.
- Resist the urge to search your child’s room or belongings for evidence.
- Research and get more knowledge about drugs so that you have the facts.
- Raise your concerns calmly with your child when you both feel relaxed.
- Try not to issue ultimatums, if your child is on drugs.
- Try to educate your child on the health and lifestyle risks.
- You may have to accept that older teenagers will not stop taking their drug, you may want to give them time and get the help they need.
Does religion play any role in controlling the Teen’s behaviors on drugs and alcoholism?
Research shows that young people who regularly attend religious services are less likely to use illegal drugs, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol. Young people who get drunk at least once a month are twice as likely to say religion is not important in their lives than those who do not get drunk. Young people who smoke marijuana at least once a month are twice as likely to say religion is not important in their lives than those who do not smoke marijuana.
“Religion — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim — is a key factor in giving our children the moral values, skill and will to say ‘no’ to illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes,” said Joseph Califano, former secretary of Health and Education Carter Welfare Centre.
“Religion — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim — is a key factor in giving our children the moral values, skill and will to say ‘no’ to illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes,”
I wish to end the article with a piece of advice to parents and teens to uphold their values and morals. Continue healthy lifestyles towards being productive and give back to the communities with a strong belief that “Our family is a circle of faith, joined in love, and kept by God.”
Sources: American Addiction Centre.org.