Young people use or try drugs for many of the same reasons adults use drugs – for example, to discover what happens, because they think it will make them feel different or better, or to help ease emotional pain. This chapter looks at some common factors that may lead a teenager to try drugs and why some continue use after it has started.
I don't know why anyone would want to use drugs!
Having a good understanding of this question can help parents prevent their children from using drugs and to reduce the harm that drug misuse can cause. In the next chapter, we discuss how to put this information into action to help make you a prevention-smart parent.
Why use drugs?
Why do you think adults use drugs? Consider this question for a moment and list 4 reasons why you think adults use drugs.
Remember, by drugs we mean all street drugs, prescription drugs found in the home or that can be purchased illegally, non-prescription drugs available in stores, household products such as inhalants, drug substances, tobacco and alcohol.
Here are some common reasons why adults use drugs:
What do you notice about this list? One thing is that these reasons remind us that drug use has several effects on the user: emotional changes (how we feel), social interactions (how we react to others in a relationship and in social situations), and physical changes (how our bodies feel).
And there is another thing about this list: All of the reasons listed for why adults use drugs are also relevant to why teenagers use drugs. Just like adults, teenagers will say they use drugs to provide comfort, to change the way they feel, and to make them feel better.
Of course, these effects are temporary, which leads some people to continue to use. And when drug use is repeated, a person can become dependent on them and even get addicted.
A teenage view of drug use
Let’s examine in more detail some of the reasons why teenagers might use drugs.
To escape from problems
Drugs can be used as a crutch to help cope with personal problems, such as pressures from school, family break-up, or relationship problems.
Relief from boredom
It is common for young people to complain of boredom. Unfortunately, some teenagers see drug use as a way to deal with this feeling.
Seeking the high
Teenagers may believe that drug use can lead to positive physical and psychological effects, and that the feeling of getting “high” is pleasurable.
To feel more confident in social situations
It is common for young people to feel awkward in social situations, and youth may use drugs to feel more confident with peers.
To fit in or to be cool
Many young people believe that using drugs will help them fit in with friends so they can be “cool”. And when their friends are using, it is hard for young person to go against what the others are doing.
Some young people use drugs because they are curious about their effects.
I guess teenagers aren't that different from the rest of us really!
Risk Factors: Why some teenagers may be more likely to use drugs
We have highlighted some of the common reasons why teenagers use drugs. But some teenagers are more likely to use drugs than other teenagers. Over 25 years of international research have found there are characteristics – called risk factors – of some young people and their circumstances that tend to increase the likelihood of using drugs.
Before we describe these risk factors, keep these points in mind:
Risk factors are characteristics that can be seen in your child, but they also come from the child’s environment and social circumstances, such as at home, school and in the community.
No single risk factor is by itself a reliable predictor of drug use. A teenager can have a risk factor and not use drugs.
The more risk factors that are present in a teenager, the greater the likelihood that they will try or use drugs.
Risk factors do not determine future drug use; they only provide a general gauge as to the likelihood of drug use. Some youth with many risk factors will not use drugs, and some youth with no risk factors will use drugs.
Common risk factors that increase the likelihood of drug use in young people
Serious disruptive behavioral problems or delinquent behaviors, such as breaking the law, not obeying rules, getting into fights
Parents who are too permissive about their child’s disruptive behavior
Friends and peers who also show serious delinquent or disruptive behaviors
Trouble at school, including truancy and expulsion
Insensitivity or lack of respect to others their same age
Difficulty controlling impulses or delaying gratification; for example:
I want it now!
Suffers from severe depression or anxiety
Parents who do not regularly talk to their children about the issue of drug use
Parents who abuse and/or regularly use alcohol or other drugs themselves
Lack of parental care and guidance and of any other significant adult to offer guidance and support
Risks in the home
Don't be put off by this long list of Risk Factors.
We can learn a lot about why youth use drugs by also understanding what keeps teenagers away from drugs. Here are some reasons offered by teenagers as to why they do not use drugs:
Disapproval of drug use by significant people in the young person’s life (parents, friends, other relatives, other adults)
Fear of legal consequences
Has a strong interest in being responsible and a good role model
Develops future career goals; drug use is viewed as incompatible with being successful at work or in life
Uses spare time; e.g., several hobbies; a part-time job; engaged in voluntary work; and drug use would interfere with these
Has a negative prior experience with drugs (e.g., made the person ill)
Concerned drug use would damage or harm one’s health
Fear that using drugs will lead to addiction
Concerned about losing and control doing something they would later regret
Concerned that drug use would hurt school performance
Has several alternative sources for excitement and arousal; such natural “highs” include hobbies, sports, theater or music, and other school interests.
That's reassuring - there are lots of very good reasons not to do drugs!
Share with your child
Discuss the list of why some young people use drugs (the risk factors) with your child and see if they agree and how they feel about the risk factors and how they might apply to them. Try and identify the ones that you may need to work on.
Share the list of why young people do not use drugs and identify with them how far these items figure in their thoughts and behaviors.
Select whether you 'Agree' or 'Disagree' with the statements below and compare your answers with the experts:
Why Do Some Kids Use Drugs?
Teenagers are not all that different than adults when it comes to reasons why they use drugs. Drugs provide temporary relief from emotional suffering or boredom. And drugs can make a person feel different, which is rewarding for some people for some of the time. These temporary psychological and social effects can tempt young people into trying drugs and which may lead to regular use, use of different drugs and even to addiction.
Research indicates that some youth are more vulnerable to using drugs, and to end up in trouble with them more than other youth. These “high-risk” teenagers tend to be experiencing the risk factors such as being rule-breakers, not doing well in school, having friends who also use drugs, having chronic problems with depression or anxiety, and having parents who are not concerned about their child using drugs.
Not all young people use drugs. Most teenagers stay away from drugs because they know the dangers, risks and harm drug use can bring, and they find more satisfaction from alternative activities.
Remember in spite of what we read and some of the disturbing statistics about young people’s drug use the majority do not regularly use drugs; though some may experiment or try only once, typically they will not get into regular illegal drug use. However, what we have to be concerned about is the number that do use the legal substances of alcohol and cigarettes and increasingly the use of prescribed and over the counter drugs.