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Published on May 17, 2018

Teen Substance Abuse: 5 Lies Adults Tell Themselves

Teen Substance Abuse: 5 Lies Adults Tell Themselves

Many teens experiment with alcohol and drugs. There are many reasons for this, including peer pressure, the need for a social lubricant, or coping with new feelings and emotions as they grow into adulthood. However, teen substance abuse poses many risks to their mental and physical health.

Fifty percent of teens admit to misusing drugs or alcohol at least once. Yet often times, adults will turn a blind eye to what the teens are doing and justify the experimentation as a rite of passage. Here are five lies that adults may tell themselves about teen alcohol and drug use.

  1. Being strict about not drinking will only make them more curious and want to experiment.

Most kids respond to defined rules with consequences for breaking them. Studies have shown that many underage youths will not drink if they think they may be caught by the police. Young people who drink little to none before they turn 21 are much less likely to have substance abuse issues later in life.

  1. Underage drinking helps kids to be responsible with alcohol as adults.

Adolescents who drink by age 15 are four times more likely to abuse alcohol than those who begin drinking at 21. By allowing alcohol use at a young age, parents increase the risk of unsupervised drinking. Some parents have a “they’re going to do it no matter what I say” mentality and provide a gathering place for teens to drink where it can be done “safely.” Not only are these adults criminally liable, but teens who go to parties where a parent supplies the alcohol have an increased risk of binge drinking, substance abuse, and drinking and driving.

  1. I used to smoke pot and some of my friends still do. If I say no, I’ll be a hypocrite. It’s much safer than alcohol.

The human brain is not fully developed until age 25. Marijuana has been proven to impair attention, learning and decision-making. Studies have found evidence of structural brain abnormalities and altered neural activity in regular adolescent marijuana users. Another issue is that the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gets you high) levels in marijuana are nearly five times greater now than they were 20 years ago.

  1. Drinking and getting high is just part of being a teenager. They will grow out of it.

High school is a stressful environment. Many addictions begin during these years. The younger a person begins using alcohol or drugs to cope with these stressors, the more likely they will develop substance abuse problems that will continue into adulthood.

  1. Teenagers don’t mess around with opioids.

Many people associate opioid drugs with heroin. Although heroin abuse has doubled among young adults in the last 10 years, prescription drug use, which includes opioids, is one of the fastest growing drug problems today. One out of 10 young people aged 12 to 17 reported regularly using prescription pain medicine to get high. These drugs include Vicodin, OxyContin and Fentanyl. These drugs are extremely dangerous. One overdose can be fatal.

Co-occurring Disorders

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, six out of every 10 people who abuse substances also have a mental disorder. As mentioned before, the brain continues to develop into the early 20s. Teens may have a hard time coping as their brain chemistry changes during this time. Most mental illness also develops during this period. This is why many teens may choose to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. It helps them cope with mood disorders, such as depression.

Common symptoms an adolescent may show when depressed:

  • Anxiousness or feeling empty
  • Irritability
  • Feeling helpless
  • Body aches and pains
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Problems sleeping
  • Always being tired

It is not easy to find out if a teen has been abusing alcohol or drugs. Regular conversations with a teen can help them make the decision not to abuse them or to stop abusing them if they have begun. If you are concerned that a teen is experimenting with or abusing drugs or alcohol, here are some signs to look for:

  • Poor performance in school.
  • Decreased interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities.
  • A new circle of friends.
  • Isolating themselves.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Low energy.
  • Slurring or becoming very talkative.
  • Paranoia.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Constipation.
  • Headaches.
  • Shaking.
  • A decrease in coordination.
  • Defiance or repeated rule breaking.

Confrontation is never comfortable, and we often don’t want to believe that it is our kids with the problem. There are countless parents who wish they had taken off their blinders and been more proactive in getting their teen help before it was too late.

If you feel that your teen is developing a substance abuse problem, contact your primary care provider who can screen for signs of substance abuse. They can then refer you to a mental health provider for treatment if necessary. There are also outpatient programs available. Cone Health operates the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program, an evidence-based substance abuse program designed to meet the unique mental health needs of at-risk adolescents with substance abuse or co-occurring disorders. The goal of the program is to reduce psychiatric symptomatology for adolescents ages 13-17 years old and to improve the young person’s ability to function successfully at home, at school and in the community. Our program operates Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:30-6:30 p.m.

About the Author

Beth Mackenzie is a Substance Abuse Counselor at Cone Behavioral Health Hospital.