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The 3 Most Common Substances Abused by Teens

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teenage substance abuse

Teenage years are often a time of self-discovery and experimentation, and combined with raging hormones, biological changes, peer pressure, and stresses of school work; it is no real surprise that substance abuse can crop up in their life.

It is tremendously worrying to think about your teen abusing drugs or alcohol, and there is no escaping the devastating impact it can have on everyone. Here we look at the three most commonly abused substances, their effects, and how to identify signs or symptoms of substance abuse, before things spiral out of control.

1. Marijuana

Marijuana, also referred to as pot and weed, is very common among teenagers. It is often perceived as harmless, an opinion only heightened by media portrayal and its legalization in many states. This, combined with the increased use for medicinal purposes, means that many teens view it as innocuous. Research shows that the fewer risks associated with a drug, the more people use it; statistics regarding marijuana back this up, showing a steady rise in use among teens since 2007.

Although public opinion is divided on the dangers of marijuana, with many people simply unable (or unwilling) to see any potential harmful side-effects, extensive research has been undertaken, which reveals that there is evidence to suggest that it can cause long-term damage to the developing brains of teens, and a whole host of other problems. Short-term, it can affect memory, the ability to problem-solve, reduces concentration, impairs perception, and decreases inhibitions. Research also indicates that prolonged use of marijuana in teens can lead to serious mental health issues, depression, anxiety, immune system ailments, and fertility problems.

Alcohol

As one of the easiest drugs for children to get hold of, it is no surprise that alcohol is the number-one method of substance abuse in teens, with statistics showing that up to half of junior and high-school students indulge at least once a month.

As with Marijuana, alcohol plays havoc with a teen’s ability to concentrate, and has a serious adverse effect on memory, and brain function, highlighted in a report by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Teenagers that drink alcohol are also more liable to engage in potentially dangerous behaviour, such as driving a vehicle when under the influence, and in particular, risky sexual activity. Worryingly, research indicates that teenagers who drink are more likely to try to commit suicide, and use lethal methods to do so; statistics also highlight that alcohol is often a stepping-stone to more serious drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Prescription Drugs

It is increasingly common for teens to misuse prescription drugs, either by taking more than the recommended dose, or using those that do not belong to them. As with alcohol, prescription drugs are a popular option with teens because they are easy to come by, usually picked up from friends, or taken from family members. Boys and girls use prescription drugs for different purposes, with males often taking them to get high, and females abusing to lose weight, or increase concentration levels.

Although when prescribed by a qualified health practitioner, and taken as intended, these drugs are useful and rarely harmful. However, when abused, especially when taken in higher doses than recommended, these pharmaceuticals can have the same effect as illicit drugs, with potentially dangerous consequences.

The most common prescription drugs abused by teens are:

  • Opiods – painkillers, such as Codeine.

  • Stimulants – including Ritalin

  • Depressants – often used to treat anxiety and sleep problems

Possible Signs of Substance Abuse

Although there is some variance in signs, many indicators of substance abuse are consistent across all three mentioned above. It is important to reflect that not all of the following are conclusive indicators of substance abuse on their own, and could be down to typical adolescent behavior. However, if your teen is exhibiting several of the signs below, then it might be a good idea to investigate further.

Physical changes:
  • Red or dilated eyes

  • Impaired co-ordination

  • Spaced out appearance

  • Shakes or tremor

  • Slurred speech

Differences in behavior:
  • Drowsiness

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Unwillingness to do anything (couch potato)

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Increase or decrease in weight

  • Exhibits paranoia, anxiety or fear

  • Aggression – frequent clashes or fights

  • Uncontrollable giggling, goofiness, or hyperactivity

  • Increasingly secretive, or requesting more privacy

  • Changes in eating habits – a seemingly insatiable appetite, or consuming less

Social Changes:
  • Skipping school, or sudden drop in performance and grades

  • Concern expressed by teachers, friends or family members

  • Becomes isolated or withdrawn

  • Hangs around with a new group of friends, or ignores old ones

  • No longer participates in activities once enjoyed

Tangible Evidence:
  • The distinct marijuana aroma, or scents to mask it, such as incense or using mints

  • Drug paraphernalia, including bongs, pipes or rolling papers

  • Spending, or requesting, more money

In the majority of cases, drinking or taking drugs is nothing more than teens experimenting, and exercising control and choice over their own lives, often with very few repercussions. However, as parents, it is important to educate our teens on the dangers, and remain vigil.

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Written by Tracy Morgan

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Tracy Morgan is a freelance writer living in Hjärup, Sweden. The proud mum of two amazing boys, Tracy loves baking and when pushed, admits to a weakness for reality shows.

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