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Teens – Alcohol and Other Drugs

Teenagers may be involved with alcohol and legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don?t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. It is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which will develop serious problems. Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those:

  • with a family history of substance abuse
  • who are depressed
  • who have low self-esteem, and
  • who feel like they don?t fit in or are out of the mainstream

Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescribed medications, inhalants (fumes from glues, aerosols, and solvents) and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana (pot), stimulants (cocaine, crack, and speed), LSD, PCP, opiates, heroin, and designer or club drugs (Ecstasy). The use of illegal drugs is increasing, especially among young teens. First marijuana use occurs in middle school, and alcohol use can start before age 12. The use of marijuana and alcohol in high school has become common.

Drug and alcohol use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment puts teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex,
and suicide.

Warning signs of teenage alcohol and drug abuse may include:
Physical: Fatigue, sleep problems, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.
Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, withdrawal, and a general lack of interest.
Family: starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.
School: decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.
Social/behavioral:   peer group involved with drugs and alcohol, problems with the law, dramatic change in dress and appearance.

Some of the warning signs can also be signs of other emotional problems. When parents are concerned they should consult their teen?s family physician as a first step. If drug or alcohol use/abuse is suspected, then the teen should have a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional.

Parents can help their child through providing early education about drugs and alcohol, open communication, positive role modeling and early recognition and treatment of emerging problems.

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