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The Importance of Teen Substance Abuse Prevention

Teen substance abuse is problematic for several reasons. Teens are still developing important life skills, their identity, likes, and dislikes. If teens begin experimenting with drugs to fit in or gain friends, they can unknowingly set themselves up for a potentially life-threatening habit, making prevention critical. In 2018, 27.1% of 8th to 12th graders used an illicit drug; in the same year, 29.3% used illicit drugs and suffered a depressive episode. 18.7% of 8th to 12th graders drank alcohol in the last month of 2018, with 12% binge drinking.

Providing a firm foundation and clear ideas on the damage addiction can cause is critical to teenage substance abuse prevention efforts.  The goal of prevention is to attempt to stop someone from partaking in a harmful action that has substantial consequences before those consequences occur. In the case of teenage substance abuse, this can range from stopping them from taking drinks of alcohol, to more dangerous drugs like cocaine or fentanyl.

Harmful Consequences of Teenage Substance Abuse

Teens abusing harmful substances may decide to do so in order to cope with distressing mental and emotional conditions. Although some of these conditions may be temporary, their effects can last a lifetime. Such examples include, but are not limited to:

- Depression and anxiety

- Broken relationships (family, friends, and romantic relationships)

- Poor or declining health

- Difficulty maintaining self-esteem

- Grief, loss or trauma

- Problems making friends and feeling isolated

In addition to such experiences, teens may also use illicit substances because of peer pressure or to belong. Unfortunately, such acts of substance abuse can have devastating effects on individuals and their loved ones. Consequences of teen drug abuse can include legal trouble, like time in jail, prolonged substance abuse, poly-drug use, and unwanted pregnancy.

Which Teens Are More at Risk for Addiction?

Although teens from all backgrounds abuse harsh and addictive chemicals, some teenagers are more at risk for addiction than others. Teens who struggle with depression or anxiety are more likely to dabble to chemicals for a sense of relief. Teens who are moving or transitioning between different schools may feel stressed and isolated. In turn, he or she may turn to a substance to distract themselves from their emotions.

In cases of adolescent or teen drug abuse, the earlier they begin, the greater likelihood of them developing and maintaining a substance use disorder later in life. For example, a teen experimenting with prescription opioids at age 16 can easily develop a tolerance. A tolerance often leads to a dependency within as little as a few weeks or months. Once the teen has developed a dependence, he or she may develop a full-blown substance abuse disorder by the age of 20.

If he or she finds the prescription opioid has lost its luster, he or she may transition to a stronger, but more fatal substance like heroin. Teens who have chronic pain may also be at risk. With chronic pain, teens may have to take prescription opioids for relief, and can become addicted. Other risk factors include teens with a history of substance abuse, or teens with a family history of drug abuse.

Preventative Measures for Teenage Substance Abuse

Family Influence

Prevention of drug and alcohol abuse can start at home. Parents can talk to their children and explain the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. Specifically talking to children while they are young can create a strong foundation for awareness of drug use. This helps parents positively influence their children, while teaching their children about boundaries.

In teaching boundaries, parents help children to understand when to deny something that can hurt them, while controlling the dynamic of an unhealthy request. Prevention talks also create deeper bonds and guidance between children and parents. Parents can establish consistency in communication, as well as guidance that can be followed for years. Preventative conversations can lead the adolescent to strengthen trust with their parent, and make wise decisions with habits, friends, interests, and influences.

Educational Tools

There are governmental agencies, community leaders, and school personnel that attempt to teach children about living a drug-free life. Much of this is to prevent teen drug abuse before they reach adulthood or go into the real world. As a result of these educational tools, teen drug abuse has significantly decreased from previous decades.

Educating teens on the effects of drug abuse is important as it attempts to control possible drug use before the age of maturity. There are presently various educational programs in place for this very reason, including:

- Universal

- Selective

- Indicated

Universal programs function to teach social, personal, and drug resistance techniques on a weekly basis.

Selective programs are interventions for teens who may be more at risk and have unstable home lives, or other risk factors.

Indicated educational programs are geared to teens showing problematic behavior.

Stop Addiction Before It Gets Worse

Prevention strategies can help stop teens from developing a substance use disorder; however, treatment is best for teens who already have a problem. Treatment puts teens in the care of medical professionals with tools for recovery. For instance, teens may not realize there are underlying conditions that may encourage substance abuse, known as co-occurring disorders. These would be treated with cutting-edge medication and therapy. Detox is completed under the hand of a medical professional to ensure support. Perhaps most importantly, therapies and peer groups encourage a feeling of health and belonging.

Courtesy of Addiction Center


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