The statistics about the use of drugs and alcohol by our nation’s teens are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control reports that by 12th grade about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, about half of high schoolers have used marijuana, and 20% of 12th graders have used prescription medicine without a prescription. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics says drug use among 8th graders increased 61% between 2016 and 2020 and overdose deaths due to opioids have increased 500% among 15- to 24-year-olds since 1999.
Unfortunately, in the modern world, drugs are readily available to adolescents. Many teens say the easiest place to access drugs is school, as students sell and trade substances. Some raid their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets for opiates or benzodiazepines. And, of course, drugs are easy to find on local streets, ranging from Percocet to adult cough medicine to psychedelics.
Risks of Substance Abuse Among Teens
There are numerous negative consequences when teens abuse alcohol and/or drugs, including
- Damage to the growth and development of teens, especially brain development.
- Encouragement of other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and dangerous driving.
- Increase in the risk of health problems in adulthood, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.
One of the biggest risks is that this early use of substances can turn into an addiction that follows them into their adult years, wreaking havoc on their health, relationships, and employment.
Cases of Substance Abuse Among Teens
Paris Brown, a recovery partner at Axial-Healthcare, says there are several factors that can lead teens to begin using drugs or alcohol.
“I would say mostly what I see as main stressors is peer pressure. If their peers use, they want to try it,” says Brown. “Also, family stressors. If their parents used, the kids were more likely to use.”
Often, girls who struggle with anxiety, depression, and childhood trauma, use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. These girls deal with a co-occuring disorder – substance abuse combined with a mental health condition.
“I see girls using super early and trying a wide assortment of things, wanting to numb themselves and not feel some of the things they are feeling,” says Brown.
The rise in social media activity has greatly impacted teens’ likelihood to experiment with new substances. Different type of drugs are readily available for sale through social media, and when celebrities and influencers talk about the substances they use, it lends a “cool” factor.
“I had a teen client that saw and heard his favorite musician use a specific drug and decided to try it,” says Brown. “However, for this teen, that experimentation became a full-blown addiction.”
Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse
How do you know if your teen might be experimenting or abusing drugs and alcohol? Experts say there are some common signs:
- Increased isolation. The teen may begin to spend more time in his room alone.
- A marked development in mood, poor hygiene, lack of interest in prior hobbies.
- Behavioral problems at home and school.
- School performance. The teen may have a drop in grades or a drop in attendance.
Brown adds another sign to this list. “ I see a number of teenage girls who are influenced by an older boyfriend. This type of relationship is connected to an onset of addiction and relapses. I would consider a 15-year-old girl dating an 18- or 19-year-old man a considerable risk factor.”
How to Get Help for Your Teen
Unfortunately, there is a service gap for addiction treatment centers for adolescents in the Nashville area, with the nearest inpatient facility being in Jackson, Tennessee.
However, there are some options for outpatient services, including Meharry Medical College, Stars Nashville, and Bradford Health Services.
For more information on Addiction in Adolescence, watch The Next Door’s production on Addiction and the Seasons of A Woman’s Life at https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/478669812.