Substance Abuse and Addiction in Teenagers
Between 2016 and 2020, drug use among 8th graders increased by 61%. Overall, at least 1 in every 8 teenagers misuses an illicit substance each year. While not everyone gets addicted, substance abuse can have devastating effects on a young person’s life.
Substance abuse and addiction in teenagers can have long-term cognitive and behavioral consequences that can impact their lives for years to come, so it’s important to be able to spot the signs of teen substance abuse as well as when it’s time to get help.
How Common is Teenage Substance Abuse?
Addiction is often thought of as a young adult problem, but substance abuse often starts during the teenage years.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 50% of teenagers have abused a drug at least once, and 62% of teenagers in 12th grade have abused alcohol. The actual numbers may be higher because much of this data is self-reported and relies on the honesty of teens, who may be afraid of telling the truth about their substance use.
California teens especially have high rates of drug abuse. Teenagers in California are 24.46% more likely to have used drugs in the last month than the average American teen but are less likely to abuse alcohol.
Unfortunately, early drug abuse is directly correlated with substance abuse and addiction problems later in life. Teenage substance abuse not only increases the risk of addiction but also comes with dire consequences. In 2020, 4,777 Americans aged 15 to 24 years old died of a drug overdose and 11.2% of all overdose deaths are among people ages 15 to 24 years.
With fentanyl becoming such a problem and being found in all types of drugs, including counterfeit pills and marijuana, the risk of overdose in young people has never been higher.
Most Popular Drugs Among Teenagers
Some substances are more popular among teenagers than others. Teenagers are more likely to use drugs that they perceive as safe, such as alcohol, marijuana, or prescriptions. They are also likely to experiment with substances that are easy to obtain, such as those found in their parent’s medicine cabinets or given away by friends at school.
Some of the most widely used substances among teens include:
- Alcohol – Alcohol is the most popular substance of abuse among teenagers. 1.19 million teenagers ages 12 to 17 binge drink each month and more than a quarter of 8th graders have abused alcohol at least once. Up to 2.7% of 12th graders drink alcohol daily.
- Marijuana – After alcohol, marijuana is one of the most widely abused substances among teens. Out of the 2.08 million 12-to-17-year-olds who reported using drugs in the month prior to a 2020 study, nearly 84% of them reported using marijuana. Overall, about half of 9th to 12th graders have used marijuana.
- Hallucinogens – 7.5% of teenagers have abused hallucinogens such as LSD, Psilocybin mushrooms, Ecstasy, and others.
- Prescription pain relievers – Opioid abuse is a huge problem across all populations, but teens are more likely to abuse prescription opioids. 5.3% of 12th graders have abused opioids other than heroin at least once. Since 2010, opioid-related overdose deaths have increased among teenagers by more than 30%.
- Stimulants – 1.6% of 12th graders have used crack cocaine at least once. 5.0% of 12- to 17-year-olds report using cocaine in the last year. 4.4% of 12th graders have used Adderall while 4.3% have used amphetamine and 1.1% have tried methamphetamine.
Why Do Teenagers Use Drugs and Alcohol?
Experimentation is responsible for much of teen drug and alcohol abuse. Teens are naturally curious, so when their friends experiment with drugs or alcohol, they often feel inclined to, as well. Some also experience peer pressure, or pressure from their friends to use substances to fit in. Other factors that contribute to teen substance abuse are stress or a desire to escape.
Some young people are more susceptible to substance abuse and addiction than others. Risk factors include:
- Having parents who struggle with addiction
- Growing up in a home where drugs and alcohol are abused
- Having a mental health condition
- Childhood trauma
- Being friends with people who abuse drugs or alcohol
- Problems making friends or social isolation
- Grief and loss
- Low self-esteem
Risks of Teen Substance Abuse
Teenagers are still in their developmental years, so they are easily influenced by the decisions they make and their surroundings. The decisions they make as teens, the relationships they foster, and the events of their youth all shape their future development.
Teenage substance abuse not only increases the risk of addiction later in life, but it can also affect brain development, encourage other risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or intoxicated driving, and contribute to the development of health problems later in life such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and mental health disorders.
There are serious long-term consequences of teenage substance abuse and addiction, but there are devastating short-term consequences, too. Drug and alcohol abuse can:
- Lead to academic decline and lower grades
- Contribute to more school absences and truancy problems
- Cause behavioral problems at school
- Lead to the development of mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Result in law enforcement intervention and criminal charges
- Encourage unsafe sex, teen pregnancy, and STDs
Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction in Teenagers
In 2020, 407,000 teenagers met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 788,000 teenagers met the criteria for Illicit Drug Use Disorder (IDUD). Early intervention and treatment can put an end to substance abuse and prevent addiction from happening later in life, but parents don’t always know the signs of substance abuse and addiction to look for.
Since the majority of adults who struggle with addiction first use drugs before the age of 21, it’s important to recognize substance abuse and addiction early on so people can receive the treatment they need.
Common signs of teen drug abuse include:
- Poor academic performance
- Bloodshot or glossy eyes
- Random outbursts of laughter
- Memory loss
- Poor hygiene
- Avoiding direct eye contact
- Secretive behavior
- Coming home late for curfew
- Smelling of smoke
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Unusual tiredness or excess energy
Many teens will experiment with drugs, but not all will become addicted. At the same time, not everyone who abuses drugs or alcohol is struggling with an addiction.
Signs of addiction include:
- Isolating from loved ones or changing friend groups
- Loss of interest in after-school activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
- Becoming sick with withdrawal symptoms when drugs aren’t being used
- Breaking rules or engaging in risk-taking or illegal behaviors
- Changes in appearance such as lack of hygiene or weight loss
- Changes in behavior such as mood swings
- Trying to stay sober but being unable to do so
- Having cravings for drugs and alcohol
- Continuing to use drugs and alcohol despite the consequences or detriment to one’s health
How to Talk to Your Teenager About Substance Abuse and Addiction
Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol is the best way to prevent them from abusing substances, and prevention is key. It is best to maintain an open, honest, and understanding conversation with your teen or have multiple conversations with them about substance abuse.
When talking to your teenager:
- Avoid lecturing them. Instead, ask them about their views, what they already know, and if they have any questions.
- Don’t judge them. If you are judgmental, your teen will be less receptive to what you have to say and less likely to confide in you if they or their friends are using drugs or alcohol.
- Discuss the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Avoid scare tactics, but do emphasize reasons why they shouldn’t use drugs and alcohol. Share your own experiences, if applicable.
- Talk about peer pressure. Almost all teens experience peer pressure at one point or another, so it’s important that your teen understands peer pressure and how to deal with it.
If you don’t talk to your kids about drugs and addiction, they are likely to find out the realities for themselves–whether that happens in a good or a bad way. Not maintaining an open discussion will also make your teen more likely to deny their substance abuse if you ever confront them about it in the future.
Other preventative strategies include staying aware of who your kids are talking to online, monitoring their activities and whereabouts, establishing rules and consequences, keeping track of prescription drugs, setting a good example, and providing emotional support in times of crisis.
Finding Treatment for Teenagers Struggling With Addiction
Seeking treatment sooner rather than later can prevent long-term consequences and stop addiction before it progresses further. However, most addiction treatment centers are geared towards adults and only admit people who are 18+. As a result, teens will need to attend a specialized program for teenagers.
Teenage rehab centers are designed to help teens target the underlying emotional and psychiatric issues that lead to their substance abuse. They also provide educational support about the disease of addiction, facilitate relapse prevention therapy to help teens stay sober, and offer group support sessions so patients can make other sober friends. With comprehensive, individualized care, recovery is possible.
Find Help Now
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please don’t hesitate to speak with an admissions counselor at ARISE Treatment Center. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you find the treatment you need. Call now to get started.