For parents, relatives or friends, the suspicion of teen drug abuse can be shattering. In the 21st century, drug use has become more normal, and more potent, than even a single generation before.
The access to illegal drugs has become increasingly easy, with school friends being a good source. On top of that, drug gangs use young people, who can directly sell drugs within schools, or around them.
And it’s not just illegal drugs. Latest statistics suggest that 20% of parents had given their teenager a prescription drug in the past 12 months. And not just any prescription drug, but a prescription drug they weren’t actually prescribed for.
So whether it’s a problem with peer pressure, or temptation, or the availability of substances that have been normalized by friends and family, teen drug abuse is a growing issue. So what are the facts, how big a problem is it, and if you suspect it’s happening to someone you care for, what should you look out for, and what can you ultimately do to stop it?
The Most Common Drugs Teens Use
Unfortunately, the days of just smoking a bit of marijuana are long gone. It’s a simple fact that any young person with a bit of money has access to almost any type of drug, whether illegal, or prescribed, to be used for recreational purposes.
There are even synthetic forms of marijuana, as well as other modern synthetic drugs, which have an incredible variation in effects, and some of which are incredibly dangerous.
The most common drugs teens tend to use are:
- Marijuana (natural and synthetic)
- Magic mushrooms
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
There are also prescription medications that teams can also become involved with. These have effects which can both be pleasurable and addictive, which is why they are increasingly being used:
So the bottom line here is that drug use is starting earlier in life, and the list of possible substances being abused is large, even when compared to a decade ago. This is borne out by statistics which suggest that up to 35% of 12th grade students have tried marijuana, and 7% have taken the prescription medication Adderall.
Don’t Be Blind To Prescription Meds
The increase in Adderall use is particularly concerning, and it highlights another problem. This prescription drug is amphetamine-based. At low doses, it is known to improve memory and cognition. This is why it is being used by students to improve academic performance, so it’s not just about getting high, team drug abuse is happening because of educational pressures as well.
Prescription medications have a variety of uses legitimately, but it’s their ability to get you high, give you a sense of calmness, or improve performance, the makes them appealing to anyone seeking to abuse medication.
So the problem with drug abuse around teams is not just about illegal drugs nowadays, and it’s not just about obtaining prescription medicine in the same way as illegal drugs. What we now face as parents and carers is the possibility of teens taking the medication family and friends for illegal use.
How Do Teens Buy Drugs?
The key danger points at which teams could buy drugs are as follows:
- From friends
- From people at school/through school
- From acquaintances at specific locations
- At parties or gatherings
- Sought out individually by the teen
So you can see there are an incredible amount of ways that the team can buy drugs nowadays. It’s not like the old days, where you had to approach somebody unsavory. Nowadays, the drug use is so widespread, and so ignored amongst the younger generations, that people barely raise an eyebrow when a transaction is done.
One danger to look out for is your teen hiding their movements, or being unclear about where they are going on a regular basis. This can often point to them visiting a location by and take drugs.
In recent years, “cuckoo” houses have sprung up. This is where drug dealers prey on somebody weak, like a single female living in an apartment on their own, to basically tempt them with drugs, and then move in forcibly. The cuckoo is kept compliant through fear, friendship and the drugs they are being given.
The step after that is for friends to be recruited in, initially to have a good time, and then to sell the drugs on, and recruit more people. So it’s a great idea to be a little more aware of where your teen is going on a regular basis, and also to watch out for warning signs from a close friend of theirs, to see if they have been compromised by a drug dealer.
How Are Drugs Mostly Used?
The way drugs are consumed, and effects they have varied wildly. With something like Adderall, at low doses, although the person taking them would feel cognitive improvements, people around them might be completely unaware of any change.
At the other end of the scale, drugs like heroin can have a very strong effect on the body and mind, which are impossible to hide in the minutes and hours after taking them.
Generally, drugs can be smoked, snorted up the nose, or ingested. If being ingested, this can be in the form of powder, pills, and within food. At the extreme end of the scale, some drugs can be taken intravenously.
Let’s take the example of ecstasy, aka Molly or MDMA. This can be taken as a pill, or “rocks” can be crushed into a powder and then taking in drink, snorted, or wrapped up in something like paper, and swallowed. Sometimes the rocks are not even crushed, and are ingested whole.
Unfortunately there are myriad of ways that drugs can be consumed, and in many cases it almost impossible to spot.
Is Marijuana A “Gateway” Drug?
A lot of people see marijuana as a different scale of drug. Smoking marijuana is increasingly socially acceptable, with many US states decriminalizing them in recent times.
But there is also evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug, meaning that people start with marijuana, which internally leads to an acceptance of drug use, which leads to an increased desire to experiment, without fear. This is a process called cross-sensitization.
This is not the whole story however. A large percentage of teens who smoke marijuana do not go on to other substances. And likewise, many teens who take harder drugs, tried marijuana and hated it.
But marijuana is generally a sign that your team is open to experimentation, and marijuana use has especially been linked to an increased chance of alcohol consumption and abuse.
Can A Teen Be Stopped From Using Drugs?
Unfortunately, if your teen is experimenting with drugs, then any attempt to stop this process could me met with resistance that pushes them further away. This usually leads to a situation where there is a barrier between parent and child, which can also increase rebelliousness, and therefore drug experimentation.
The factors that put the child at risk from starting experimentation with drugs include:
- Genetics, unfortunately some people are more prone to risky behaviors
- Traumatic life events, such as a key family member die
- Abuse, either from parents, relatives, or even close friends
- Mental health problems
- Emotional problems
- Gender (males are more likely than females to be risk-takers)
- Social circle
- Stress, from key events such as exam pressure
The decision to take drugs as a teenager is often not clear-cut, and where trauma of some description has happened, it may not actually be a conscious decision at all. More usually, it is a decision to escape from internal trauma, or wanting to fit in to a peer group.
So unfortunately, it’s not easy to get the child to stop taking drugs, whatever their reasons for starting. The harder you go on them, the worse it tends to be. Especially if their social circle is guiding their direction, trying to intervene in that will usually lead to them moving further into that social circle.
How To Spot If Your Teen Could Be Using Drugs
A clever teen can hide their drug use very well. But generally there are some simple things you can do overtime to spot whether your teen could be experimenting:
- Extended time away from home
- Evasiveness to questioning
- New friends who they are protective and vague about
- Money and alcohol disappearing from the home
- Asking for money more frequently
- Not being able to explain where the money has gone
- Being arrested
- A suspicion of underage activities being experimented with, going to bars for example
- Unusual sleep patterns, or times arriving and leaving the home
- Violent mood swings, and a feeling they are “changing”
- Signs of withdrawal symptoms, like sickness, sweating, shaking, lack of appetite
- Blocking family from social media
What Should I Do If I Suspect A Teen Is Using Drugs?
If you suspect your teen is taking drugs, it’s important not to confront them immediately. Your anger and suspicion will usually be enough to drive them further into the arms of the drugs, and the people supplying them.
However, the good news is that a teenage drug problem is treatable with the right conditions, approach, and importantly the right support.
What is vital is to get to the root of why the behavior is happening in the first place, what has triggered them experimenting. Sometimes it’s tough for parents to realize that they have been the trigger for the drug use, and to accept they have caused the problem.
It’s not always a case of external forces, or bad friends.
Once you have gathered as much evidence as possible to be certain, wait until they are in a good mood, and then approach the topic gently, and sensitively. Not making it like an intervention, not getting angry, not giving ultimatums, which are the key things that usually drive the team away.
Only when they have acknowledged the problem, and acknowledged they should really stop, should you seek any external intervention. Trying to get them to go to a clinic when they are emotionally not on-board, is the quickest way to get them to leave home on a more frequent basis, rather than to submit to the help provided.
However, if you do spot signs that your teen is using drugs, your first step to come to terms with the situation you are probably going to face, is to seek outside counseling and advice yourselves, before you talk to your child.