Teen Substance Abuse This Emotional Life on PBS

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Adolescence

		

Drugs & alcohol

Experimenting with alcohol and drugs during the teen years is common.

Unfortunately, teens often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. Drug use is particularly problematic in the teen years because it increases the likelihood of accidents and risky behaviors that can have lifelong consequences. Experimenting with risky behavior is occurring at a very early age. The use of marijuana and alcohol in high school has become common.

Risks of substance abuse

Risks of teen alcohol, tobacco, and drug use

Some teens experiment with alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana and stop, or continue to use occasionally without significant problems. Others develop a dependency, move on to more dangerous drugs, and cause long-term harm to their health. The earlier young people start experimenting with alcohol and drugs, the greater the risk to their long-term health and well-being.

Drug and alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of many negative consequences, including:

  • Addiction
  • Failure in school
  • Car accidents
  • Violence
  • Unplanned and unsafe sex
  • Suicide

Some children and teens are at greater risk than others of developing alcohol and drug problems, including those:

  • With a family history of substance abuse
  • Who are depressed
  • Who have low self-esteem
  • Who feel like they don’t fit in

Warning signs

Warning signs of alcohol and drug use

If you are a parent, the best way to prevent alcohol and drug problems in your children is to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Open communication, modeling responsible behavior, and recognizing drug and alcohol use early are ways to keep experimenting from becoming a problem.

Warning signs of child and teen drug and alcohol use may include changes that are not characteristic for your child, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Red and glazed eyes
  • A lasting cough
  • Sudden mood changes or personality change
  • Irritability
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Depression
  • Starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing
  • Decreased interest in school
  • Drop in grades
  • Increased absences and truancy
  • New friends who are not interested in school or home activities
  • Problems with the law
  • Change in dress and music

Many of these changes are temporary and part of adolescence. They may also be signs of other problems. If you notice changes like these in your child, have a conversation with her, and consider a visit to the doctor to rule out other health issues.

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.