Substance Use & Abuse

There are many pressures on teens to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, the strongest of which comes from the adolescent's peer group. Besides the knowledge of drug use among their friends and celebrities, youths are bombarded daily by television and other media messages promoting adventure and fun associated with the use of alcohol and tobacco. What is most important though is that adolescents tend to mimic the behavior of parents and other adults. Be aware that your child is at higher risk if there is a history of substance abuse in the family, as research has confirmed that there is a genetic determinant in substance abuse. Finally, remember that due to the critical development of the brain and body and the increased negative effects of alcohol and other drugs on children and adolescents; any youth use is considered abuse.

Why Alcohol & Other Drugs

Pre-teens and teens may try alcohol and other drugs for the same reasons they experiment with other behaviors. Here is a list of possible motivations:

  • Curiosity - desire to seek out new experiences
  • Peer Group Pressure - security that comes from being like others
  • Insecurity - desire for affection, identity, and respect
  • Boredom - lack of excitement, zest or challenge
  • Escape - refuge from problems, loneliness, or failure
  • Defiance of Authority - rebellion against parents, school, or society in general
  • Standards - lack of appropriate values for maintaining health and well-being
  • Ignorance - lack of actual information about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse
  • Physical and Emotional Problems - overcome pain, stress, and strain
  • Stimulation - obtain increased physical and/or mental energy quickly and seemingly effortlessly

Substance Use - Warning Signs

There are many signs and symptoms that go along with substance use and abuse. The following lists describe some of the changes that you may see taking place in your teen, at home, or at school. Keep in mind that the majority of these behaviors and signs begin to show up after 6 to 9 months of frequent substance abuse and do not show up immediately after a teen has begun to use drugs/alcohol.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Acting intoxicated
  • Bloodshot, red, or glossy eyes; droopy eyelids
  • Imprecise eye movement
  • Repressed physical development
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained, significant weight loss (10 to 15 pounds in one month)
  • Abnormally pale complexion
  • Wearing sunglasses at inappropriate times
  • Neglect of appearance, dress, and personal hygiene
  • Having the munchies
  • Slurring speech and changes in vocabulary patterns

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms can include:

  • Unexplained periods of moodiness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Depression, anxiety, or irritability
  • Erratic levels of energy or fatigue
  • Conflict within the family: extreme anger or withdrawal
  • Strongly inappropriate overreaction to mild criticism or simple requests
  • Loss of ability to assume responsibility
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Decreased interaction and communication with others
  • Change in values, ideas, beliefs
  • Changes in friends, unwillingness to introduce friends to family
  • Preoccupation with self, less concern for feelings of others
  • Illegal behavior: shoplifting, curfew violation, possession of drugs/paraphernalia
  • Loss of interest in previously important things such as hobbies and sports
  • Noticeable increase or decrease in monetary status
  • Lying, denying, secretiveness

School Changes

School Changes can include:

  • Steady decline in academic performance; drop in grades
  • Sleeping in class
  • Poor short-term memory; decreased concentration or attention span
  • Slow to respond, forgetful, apathetic
  • Increased disciplinary or behavioral problems
  • Loss of motivation, interest, energy, participation in school activities and classes

Physical Evidence

Physical Evidence can include:

  • Odor of marijuana in-room or on clothing
  • Bongs (water pipes, usually glass or plastic)
  • Pipes, pipe filters, screens, strainer
  • Cigarette rolling papers
  • Powders, seeds, leaves, marijuana plants, mushrooms
  • Small spoons, straws, razor blades
  • Eye drops, mouth wash
  • Incense or room deodorizers
  • Empty alcohol bottles or cans
  • Stash cans (soft drink, beer, deodorant, and other cans that unscrew at the top or bottom)
  • Capsules or tablets
  • Plastic baggies or small glass vials
  • Drug-related books, magazines, comics

By themselves, some of the symptoms may be typical of an adolescent growing and changing, however, if several symptoms are noticed with increased frequency, you may wish to seek further help from a trained professional. This professional will determine if education, counseling, or possible inpatient treatment is needed to stabilize your child.

Gateway Drugs

The first drugs to which people are exposed and with which they experiment are known as the gateway drugs, as they can open the gate to increase use and participation in more dangerous drug use. Traditional gateway drugs are tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education

According to Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), most drug-dependent people began their cycle of addiction experimenting with gateway drugs.

Our kids are not immune to exposure to these drugs. Alcohol is the most popular drug among youths and adults in our country, and studies of school-aged children indicate that initiation of daily cigarette smoking (not occasional use) is highest among 12 to 14-year-old students.

Not a Gateway

It's important to note that some drugs aren't considered Gateway. For example, Heroin is on the rise and in most cases, once it's used, the user is addicted.

The best time to not use drugs and alcohol is the first time. Babe Ruth

Remember, the way parents model the use of alcohol and tobacco influences children and teens. Children look to their parents for an understanding of how adults should behave. Parents should not use or condone the use of legal or illegal drugs.