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Why Do Adolescents Begin Abusing Drugs?

Jessica McConnan By Jessica McConnan, M.A. on December 19, 2015

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, a survey of “more than 46,000 teens––8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact––showed that 13% of 8th graders, 30% of 10th graders, and 40% of 12th graders say they have used a drug at least once in the past year.” Because of the particular dangers associated with teen drug abuse, including a higher chance of addiction, we as a society must come to understand why adolescents begin abusing drugs in the first place.

Causes of Adolescent Drug Abuse

It is common for teens to feel the need or the desire to abuse dangerous substances, but this should be prevented whenever possible. Prevention is much easier and safer than attempting to treat substance abuse once it has occurred, and knowing the causes of adolescent drug abuse is part of this. As stated by the National Library of Medicine, “There are many reasons why teens might abuse drugs.”

  • They may feel a strong need to fit in, whether this means they are being pressured by friends to abuse drugs or not. Peer pressure is one of the main reasons may teens cite for their early substance abuse, but they may have also wanted to impress others or seem cooler, and smoking, drinking, getting high, etc. may have seemed like the easiest way to achieve this.
  • They may be having trouble coping with the changes they are going through. As a teenager, it can seem like your life is changing constantly, and this can be difficult to adjust to. Especially for those who move away, go through their parents’ divorce, lose a loved one, or experience another traumatizing change, drug abuse can seem like a good way to cope or at least take the edge off, but many adolescents have issues dealing with just the everyday changes they experience in their life.
  • They may decide to use drugs in order to socialize more easily. Some teenagers have trouble feeling comfortable around others and use substances to feel calmer or less anxious about social interactions at parties or even day-to-day events. Drugs can lower a person’s inhibitions and make them less self-conscious, which is why some teens see them as a helpful option.
  • They may turn to drugs as a way to cope with other issues that require treatment, such as mental disorders, self-esteem problems, mood disorders, etc. Adults and teens are both likely to turn to drugs for this purpose, although doing so usually makes both issues much worse.
  • They could also begin using in order to be better. Teens and college students who want to get higher grades or perform better in school or sports often abuse drugs like prescription stimulants. Unfortunately, though, “studies have found that stimulants do not increase learning or thinking ability when taken by people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD” and this behavior usually even causes an individual’s grades to drop (NIDA for Teens).

The best way to help an adolescent avoid drug abuse is to talk to them about these issues and how abusing substances often only causes more problems to occur. If you would like more advice on the subject or if you have other questions about teen substance abuse, call 800-654-0987. We can help.

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