When parents discover that their child has been experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they may find themselves asking why he or she has gone down this dangerous road.
It’s a complex question, and there’s not a simple answer. But it can be a common issue, as shown by this statistic by the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.”
Here’s a look at a few potential reasons why teens turn to drugs and alcohol.
We all see quirky beer advertisements during the Super Bowl and other sporting events. Some may think it’s a stretch to assume that a commercial will lead to substance abuse. So how much of that content is reaching teenagers?
Take a 2015 study by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, which aimed to measure the effects of “brand-specific alcohol advertising,” as reported by Science Daily. The study showed that exposure to this advertising “is a significant predictor of underage alcohol brand consumption, with youth ages 13 to 20 more than five times more likely to consume brands that advertise on national television, and 36 percent more likely to consume brands that advertise in national magazines compared to brands that don’t advertise in these media.”
David Jernigan, director of the center, said in the story: “Marketing exposure is increasingly recognized as an important factor in youth drinking, yet few studies have examined the relationship between overall advertising exposure and alcohol consumption at the brand level. These findings indicate that youth are in fact consuming the same alcohol brands that they are most heavily exposed to via advertising.”
Many teenagers will wonder what alcohol or drugs are like, perhaps after being exposed to representations in movies or television, or seeing their friends experiment. They may have also seen examples of adults using or abusing substances. As Raychelle Cassada Lohmann explores in a story for Psychology Today, “Sometimes the desire to try drugs is a satiated need to satisfy curiosity.”
“When no one is home and the liquor cabinet is unlocked, what better time to explore what it feels like to get drunk?” she says. “When your friends are sitting around getting high, what’s the big deal if you take one or two hits? These youth often convince themselves that one time won’t hurt anything, or better yet, they tell themselves, ‘Everybody else is doing it so why can’t I?’ They feed themselves lies to justify their unhealthy behavior.”
There is no question that the teenage years can be incredibly difficult. Teens may rebel against their parents, teachers, coaches, any figures of authority. And experimenting with forbidden substances can serve as a significant act of rebellion. As Lohman notes, “Rebellion can come at a high price.”
“When a teen rebels he/she feeds an internal rage; a rage that has no conscience,” she says. “It tells them to go ahead and do what they want and not even think about the consequences. Sadly, rebellious teens may gravitate toward drugs which in turn feed their aggression.”
Many teenagers struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence. Some may find that their insecurities are reduced when drinking or taking drugs, and therefore will want to chase that feeling whenever they can. As this story by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids explains, “This is part of the appeal of drugs and alcohol even for relatively self-confident teens; you have the courage to dance if you’re a bad dancer, or sing at the top of your lungs even if you have a terrible voice…”
“And alcohol and other drugs tend not only to loosen your inhibitions, but also alleviate social anxiety. Not only do you have something in common with the other people around you, but there’s the mentality that if you do anything or say anything stupid, everyone will just think you had too many drinks or smoked too much weed.”
This can be one of the most challenging aspects of adolescence to navigate, the pressure to join others in experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Conflicted teens may feel that they need to indulge to fit in, or so they can avoid being the subject of ridicule. Erica Loop explores this in a story for Livestrong.
“Some peer pressure is typically obvious — such as when a friend says, ‘You should try drinking, we are all doing it,’” she writes. “Other times, this type of influence is much more subtle. Instead of directly telling your teen what to do, his friends may make it known that he needs to conform to their rules in order to remain part of the group. For example, all of his friends may go out drinking every Friday night. Even if these friends don’t explicitly tell your teen that he must drink, he knows that not joining in will isolate him from the clique.”
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