Substance Abuse in Teens
By: Fauzia Haque, Contributing Writer
It is advised that readers proceed with caution as a trigger warning is placed for those who may be affected. This article heavily mentions alcoholism and substance abuse.
Many teenagers suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse throughout their adolescence. Some may indulge because they are curious or have succumbed to peer pressure; for others, it may be a way to forget current struggles and worries in their personal lives. The cautionary tales of alcohol and drug addiction all begin somewhere with some rooted cause, but with the rise of substance abuse within teenagers globally, it is important to note how such substances can affect a teenager and how societal standards may lead them astray.
What are alcoholism and drug abuse?
Alcoholism is the uncontrollable dependency of regularly consuming alcohol, or the inability to control one’s actions or mental state due to the constant clouded judgment caused by an addiction to drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol is the most widely consumed substance that is frequently abused amongst teenagers. The NIAAA reports that at least 58 percent of teens have at least one drink by 18; people within the age cohort 12 through 20 have consumed approximately 11 percent of the total alcohol stocked in the United States alone, oftentimes due to binge drinking. Alcoholism amongst adolescents is a heavily prevalent issue that affects teenagers across and nation, and even across the globe.
Drug abuse is a consistent reliance on drugs that can cause addictions and further neurological and mental issues. The increased dependency on drugs can inflict users to even resort to illegal drug dealing as the action becomes more and more habitual and intensifies into a growing need to consume. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 13 percent of eighth-graders alone have tried a drug whilst the numbers continue to increase as adolescents get older. Some of the most common drugs consumed by teenagers include marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and opioids; most of the drugs mentioned have to be acquired illegally due to their illegality.
Why do teenagers resort to consuming alcohol and drugs?
There are various reasons why adolescents resort to consuming substances that could severely harm their bodies. Some may feel that they need to in order to “look cool” or fit in with the crowd of people they hang out with, while others may drink or consume drugs to feel an increased amount of autonomy from their parents and finally feel more like an adult. Stress also plays a key factor in substance abuse as it can envelop a teenager so tightly that they may suffocate because of all the added tension and worry. Personal events, academic performance, expectations from others, mental illnesses, and life overall can disappoint a person, especially adolescents at this prime age of development, that they may feel the need to find an escape; many believe that the easy way out is through alcohol and drugs. Whatever the cause may be, it is inherently clear that an adolescent’s parents need to keep a lookout for their teenagers and make sure that they check in from time-to-time to increase their awareness of their child’s health physically, mentally, and emotionally.
How do they affect a teenager’s body?
Drinking underage can be extremely harmful to teenagers and their developing brains and bodies. One drink can already affect a teen’s brain within that short-term period, but binge drinking can negatively harm the brain for a longer period as teenagers become more vulnerable to developing an alcohol dependency. In the short-term, alcohol can impair one’s judgment and motor coordination. The hindrance to these skills can lead someone, especially a vulnerable adolescent, to participate in unsafe and risky behavior and activities. According to the NIAAA, alcohol consumption has been a factor in 4,358 unfortunate deaths within those under 21, has caused 188,000 young adults to get checked out for alcohol-related injuries, increases the risk for unsafe behavior, such as assault, can cause involvement with criminality, and can potentially alter the brain in the long run. In the long run, alcohol consumption can potentially alter the developing brain adversely. It can be a massive obstacle in the brain’s processing center and can increase an adolescent’s risk of obtaining an alcohol use disorder in the future. According to the Drug-Free World, adolescents who drink before the age of 15 have four times the increased likelihood to develop some kind of alcohol dependency when they become the lawful drinking age.
As for drug abuse, different types of drugs can cause harm to adolescents in different ways. Cocaine, an addictive illegal stimulant, can increase the possibility of heart attacks, seizures, and strokes. Marijuana can cause cognitive deficiency while also leading to users developing psychotic disorders, similar to methamphetamine (meth). Ecstasy and inhalants can lead to severe organ damage and failure. Opioids, tobacco, nicotine, and vaping can cause respiratory harm, nicotine dependency, and even lung cancer or death. Drugs mainly cause an influx of dopamine to enter the body‘s system when consuming that tricks the brain into wanting to consume more because of the perceived feeling of pleasure, which can put an adolescent at a high risk of addiction, malnutrition, and severe weight loss. The added “feel-good” stimulation turns out to not be worth it in the long run once the brain and the body fully develops.
What can be done to help?
There are preventative methods to help an adolescent stay healthy and not develop an addictive dependency. Teaching adolescents the dangers of alcohol and drugs is vital for them to acknowledge the consequences of engaging in these hazardous activities. Sudden habit changes, aggressive behavior, and the presence of empty bottles without a prescription or without reason can all be signs of substance abuse within adolescents. It is critical that parents maintain a healthy and thriving relationship with their teenagers to foster a safe and disciplined learning environment where their adolescents can learn to get better if they ever fall victim to substance abuse. Seeking professional help through therapy or rehabilitation should never be taboo or something to be ashamed of. Getting better is the ultimate goal to staying safe and maintaining a healthy life.