Drug Abuse Among Youth

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Teens and drugs

Drug abuse among youth is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with by parents, teachers and other influential adults. Teens who use drugs put themselves at increased risk for drug abuse later in life, so it's important to teach them about the risks associated with drugs.

Statistics of Teen Drug Use

The prevalence of drug use among youth may be much higher than you expect.

Drug Use During the Past 12 Months

The University of Michigan conducted a study in 2008 on drug use among high school students and found that 65.5 percent of students have used alcohol and 32.4 percent used marijuana during the past 12 months of the survey date. While these were the two most popular substances, other drugs listed in the survey included:

  • Other opiates
  • Stimulants
  • Tranquilizers
  • Hallucinogens
  • Sedatives
  • Cocaine
  • Inhalants
  • Steroids
  • heroin

Overall Drug Use

The same study also reported on the percentages of teens who tried each drug. Approximately 42.6 percent have tried marijuana, 7.2 percent tried cocaine and 1.3 percent have used heroin at least once.

Availability of Drugs

In a press release from the University of Michigan on the gradual decline of stimulant drug use but steady illicit drug use, 83.9 percent of high school seniors reported that they could obtain marijuana the easiest. The results also included the order in which each of the following drugs were most easily obtained:

  1. Amphetamines
  2. Cocaine
  3. Barbiturates
  4. Crack
  5. LSD
  6. Heroin
  7. Crystal methamphetamine
  8. Tranquilizers
  9. PCP
  10. Amyl/butyl nitrites

Adolescents, Peer Pressure and Drugs

Many parents don't believe that their teenager will ever use drugs. While in a perfect world, this may be true, in this day and age with bullying and peer pressure, most teens are feeling the push to try drugs. Since drugs are easily acquired in most high schools, it's not difficult for students to use them as bartering agents to persuade their peers to try drugs and join in the "fun". Many times, students may not want to use drugs, but they will do it just for acceptance into the group. Establishing autonomy and being accepted by others are two of the biggest developmental stages of adolescences; however, drugs don't have to be involved.

Drugs and the Rebellious Teenager

Teenagers are often considered rebellious because they tend to go against their parents and other authority figures. Drugs lower inhibitions and drive teens to do things they normally wouldn't do even though they know it's morally and ethically wrong. This intensifies deviant and dangerous behavior such as driving under the influence, stealing and other criminal activity. Furthermore, feelings of invincibility and lack of rational decision-making can lead to juvenile detention or even death.

Signs of Drug Abuse Among Teens

While not all teens who use drugs become addicted, many will. It's important for parents to watch for signs of drug abuse among teens so they can step in and help as soon as possible.

Physical Signs

  • Anxious behavior
  • Confusion
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Drastic weight gain or loss
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Watery, red or glassy eyes
  • Large pupils
  • Nose bleeds, runny nose, sniffing often without a cold
  • Shaking, twitches, tremors
  • Feeling ill often (nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness)
  • Impaired motor coordination

Emotional Signs

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Mood swings
  • Unusual behavior
  • Feeling unhappy
  • Paranoid
  • Argumentative
  • Uncontrollable crying

Behavioral Signs

  • Decline in grades
  • Skipping school
  • Stealing
  • Cheating
  • Being secretive
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disrespectful

Preventing Drug Abuse Among Youth

While it may be difficult to prevent drug abuse among all teens, parents can do things to help their teenager understand the risks. The best prevention for drug abuse among youth is to talk about this topic as early as possible. Middle school is a great time to begin the discussion about what they can expect for the coming years. If your teen is in high school already, discussing what is going on at school and what role drugs play among his/her friends are good topics for conversation. If you are having a difficult time getting your teenager to open up to you, understand that this is normal behavior for adolescents. Continue to initiate conversation, but don't push it or he/she will pull away from you even more. Just be supportive and open to discussion when your teen needs to talk.

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Drug Abuse Among Youth