Chapter 6

Why Do Some Kids Use Drugs?

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:

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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.

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:

Common risk factors that increase the likelihood of drug use in young people

I want it now!

Risks in the home

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Not all teenagers use drugs

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:

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.

If these are the risk factors try and think about what might be the factors that will help to protect them – the protective factors – we will see more on these in Chapter 7: How Do I Protect My Child From Drugs?!

Quiz... Do you Agree or Disagree

Select whether you 'Agree' or 'Disagree' with the statements below and compare your answers with the experts:

If a parent abuses alcohol, their child is more likely to abuse alcohol.
Living in a neighborhood that is unsafe for children and where neighbors do not know each other does not increase the likelihood of drug use by youth.
Teens use drugs for some of the same reasons that adults use drugs.
Sometimes teenagers get drugs from other students at school.

One way a parent can help to reduce the likelihood that their child will abuse alcohol is to not personally over-use alcohol, and not get intoxicated in front of your child.

Neighborhoods with unsafe conditions may contribute to drug use by the young people living in that neighborhood.

Young people and adults often use drugs for the same reasons, such as to relieve anxiety, to deal with depression, or to deal with boredom.

Unfortunately, sometimes a teenager gets his or hers drugs from others at the same school.

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.

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