Summer is a season most teens look forward to. With no school and an excess of free time, adolescents fondly anticipate warm summer days and spending more time with friends. While the break from academic responsibility is more than welcomed, the summer months are often accompanied by a rise in teen drug use. Studies show that during the months of June and July, teens are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. In fact, a recent report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that approximately 11,000 teens use alcohol for the first time, 5,000 try a cigarette for the first time, and 4,500 use marijuana for the first time during the months of June and July. While the risks of substance abuse are real and experimentation is possible during any time of the year, the drastic increase during summer months highlights a need for education and preventative measures.
Influences on Substance Abuse
Teens are susceptible to a number of influences including peers, social media, and pop culture. With more free time and less adult supervision, it is easy to see how a combination of these factors can influence experimental behavior. While these risk factors are present throughout the year, the freedom of summertime puts teens at greater risk. Location can also influence substance abuse. This map illustrates drug use by state.
Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and prescription drugs continue to be some of the most highly abused substances among young adults, and studies show that the earlier teens begin experimenting with substances, the more likely they are to develop more serious issues later in life. This is due to the fact that teens are undergoing major physical, emotional, and mental development during their adolescent years and the effects of illicit substances can cause irreversible damage to the brain.
Some signs of teen drug use may be confused with symptoms of just “being a teenager,” which is why it is important for parents to be actively involved in their teens’ lives. Teens may be tempted to experiment for a variety of reasons including peer pressure, stress, emotional struggles, a desire to escape, or simply because they are curious. Although experimentation does not necessarily mean a teen will indefinitely become an addict, a majority of adults who struggle with addiction first began using substances before they were 21 years old.
Common signs of teen substance abuse include:
- Bad grades
- Poor hygiene
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Secretive behavior
- Unusual tiredness
- Missed curfews
- Diminishing physical appearance
- Bloodshot eyes
- Avoiding eye contact
Addressing Teen Drug Use
In order to prevent teen drug use and substance abuse, it is important for parents to be the first line of defense. Although parents cannot be present at all times, having open conversations with teens can help prevent experimentation. Parents must be vigilant in setting boundaries, monitoring activities, and staying involved. Always ask questions regarding who your teen is spending time with, what they are doing, and when they’ll be home. Talking to teens about the risks of substance abuse before experimentation begins can be one of the most impactful actions parents take. Sometimes, the best approach is simply asking straightforward questions such as “have you used drugs or alcohol before?” or “has someone offered you drugs or alcohol recently?” While it may seem difficult, with the right tone, these conversations can be an important starting point in a necessary discussion.
If your teen admits to using drugs or alcohol, it is important to not overreact. An overly negative response may cause a teen to shut down and prevent further discussion from taking place. Having a conversation about a teen’s experience with drugs and alcohol can help parents determine the severity of the issue, the proper channels for support, and if professional help is needed. Strong support networks are vital to recovery from substance abuse, and teens are more likely to accept help when they feel loved and supported.
There is always the possibility that a teen may lie about their substance use, and it is important to reassure them that their safety and wellbeing is your number one concern. If a teen continues to deny substance use despite evidence that proves otherwise, there are a variety of resources available to parents that can help address the issue. Professionals such as therapists and addiction specialists can help identify whether or not a problem exists and how to proceed should action be needed.
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