For people who have never used drugs, it can sometimes be baffling as to why anyone would consider doing something so dangerous and foolish. But if you’re a parent and want to do whatever you can to prevent your child or teen from drug use, then it’s helpful to be aware of the many different reasons they might be tempted to use. Keep in mind that the reasons aren’t always obvious, and often aren’t just to “get high.”
Even teens that have never been in trouble before, have bright futures, or that no one would ever suspect would engage in drug use of any kind – the honor student, the teen who’s active in church, the star athlete – can give in to the temptation to use drugs under the right circumstances.
Many teens are vulnerable to prescription drug abuse who would never think of using street drugs. This is because of the illusion that prescription drugs are safer – after all, they’re developed by pharmaceutical companies and prescribed by highly trained medical professionals. Also, experimenting with prescription drugs and using them to get high is considered socially acceptable or even “cool” by many teens.
As a parent, don’t ever assume that your child would never abuse drugs. It can happen to anyone and to any family. It happens every day.
Following are some of the most common reasons that people (both teens and adults) use drugs:
Exposure and Accessibility
The more often people are exposed to a certain drug, the more likely they are to use that drug. Also, if the drug is readily available or easy to access, the risk of abuse increases. This is one of the reasons that bartenders and cocktail servers, for example, have a greater likeliness of abusing or developing an addiction to alcohol – they work around it every day. It is not uncommon for doctors and other medical professionals to abuse prescription drugs for the same reasons. They are around them every day, and obtaining them is easy.
If you have several prescription drugs in your home that are sitting on your night stand or unlocked in your medicine cabinet, then your teen has easy access as well as exposure. Additionally, if prescription drugs are also accessible in the homes of relatives or your teen’s friends, the availability is even greater. This is one of the reasons it is so important that you keep any prescription medications locked up, and encourage relatives and other parents to do so as well. Even if your child doesn’t touch them, one of his friends might during a visit to your home.
When it comes to reasons for drug use, personality often plays a significant role – both in whether or not someone uses, and especially whether or not they become addicted. Teens that are hostile, defiant, impulsive, or that have a high need for stimulation are particularly prone to abusing and becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Adolescence is a particularly challenging time of life. Teens are struggling to fit in and establish their identity. Pressure from their peers to experiment with drugs can be very difficult to resist, especially if those peers have a lot of influence, charisma, or social power. Refusing to go along with the crowd can lead to painful rejection and ridicule in some cases, which is one of the reasons peer pressure is so very powerful.
Not everyone uses drugs to get high. In fact, many people – teens included – use drugs to self-medicate one symptom or another. Since prescription drugs are “medicine,” they can be particularly tempting to a naïve teen as a way to alleviate distressing physical or emotional pain. Some of the things teens may desire to self-medicate with drugs include:
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep problems
- Physical pain
- Psychotic symptoms (e.g. hearing voices)
- Uncontrollable anger
As the old saying goes, “curiosity killed the cat.” Curiosity is a powerful temptation and is one of the reasons people experiment with drugs and other substances. Children are especially curious – trying and exploring new things is how they learn about life. This is one of the many reasons why it is so very important that you keep medications of any kind out of the reach of children (and teens) and locked safely in your medicine cabinet or other safe place where they cannot access them.
Most experts believe that genetics play a role in drug and alcohol addiction. This doesn’t mean that the child of someone who has an addiction will automatically develop one, but it does increase the odds. Just what role heredity plays is not fully understood at this time.
Mental Health Disorders
People who have mental health disorders – whether the disorder has been diagnosed or not – have a much greater risk of abusing drugs than people that don’t suffer from mental disorders. Of course part of the reason they do this, as mentioned above, is in a desperate attempt to alleviate the distressing symptoms they are experiencing, such as depression or anxiety. For example, someone who is depressed may be tempted to use stimulants to give them more energy, or take benzodiazepines to help them sleep.
A teen who is starting to develop schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder that often first appears during late adolescence, may turn to drugs to quiet the voices in his head, or as a way to cope with or escape the frightening feeling of “craziness” he is beginning to experience. Individuals with bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety or depression, and certain personality disorders are especially vulnerable to drug use in an attempt to cope with or try to control their symptoms.
Unfortunately, many drugs cause symptoms that are often seen in various psychiatric disorders. They also typically make an underlying mental illness worse. If your teen is suddenly starting to exhibit unusual behaviors, mood changes, or personality changes, it is always important that an evaluation include a drug screen to determine if drugs may be causing the symptoms rather than assume he or she has a psychiatric disorder. In many cases, though, both may be present.
Events that occur during the developmental years can play a significant role in the tendency to use drugs and develop an addiction during adolescence or adulthood. A childhood history of neglect, deprivation, trauma, and / or abuse increases this risk.
Imitation of Role Models
Children and teens often use drugs in an attempt to imitate their role models. The most obvious role models are parents, but may also include celebrities they idolize or peers they look up to. If you want to prevent your teen from using drugs, be sure that you are a positive role model yourself. If you actively use drugs or alcohol, your teen has a much higher risk of following suit than if you don’t.
In a society that puts such a ridiculous emphasis on being thin, teenage girls in particular feel a lot of pressure to lose weight – even if they don’t need to. Stimulants – whether prescription drugs like Ritalin, or street drugs like methamphetamines – can be a very tempting way to speed up one’s metabolism, suppress appetite, and quickly lose unwanted pounds. Unfortunately, they are also very dangerous and highly addictive.
Build Muscle or Improve Athletic Performance
Young males who desire ripped, bulging muscles or who are involved in competitive sports and want to enhance their performance and have an edge over the competition are especially vulnerable to the allure of anabolic steroids. These drugs are not that hard to obtain and can be quite dangerous. Female body builders and athletes may be tempted to use them as well.
Teens with too much time on their hands may use drugs just as something to do for entertainment and pass the time. This is one of the reasons it is really important to get your kids involved in activities they enjoy and can take pride in doing. Also, too much time alone and lack of supervision on a regular basis makes them especially vulnerable to drug use and other undesirable behavior when they are bored.
To Stay Alert
Many people start using drugs to stay awake and alert. This is especially true for teens who are studying for exams or who struggle with insomnia and have a hard time staying awake during the day. People who work long hours, swing shift, or night shift may use stimulant drugs to stay alert both during work and for the drive home.
Sometimes teens use drugs just to be defiant. Teens who are angry at their parents or want to get revenge or be rebellious may use drugs just to get back at their parents in some way. If their parents are highly critical or often tell them they are stupid, a failure, or worthless, some teens turn to drugs not only to cope but as a way of defiantly saying to their parents, “See, you were right!” when they get caught using.
To Get High
Many teens use drugs simply because it makes them feel good. They enjoy the high and feel it is worth whatever consequences may come with it. Some drugs create intense feelings of euphoria that can be very seductive. Once this is experienced, the desire to feel it again and again can be very compelling. Intoxication also provides a temporary escape from reality that can be very enjoyable – at least for a short period of time.
Dependence and Addiction
Sadly, many people use drugs because they have either developed a physiological addiction to the drug, and / or they are addicted to it. Dependence is not automatically the same as an addiction, although the two words are often mistakenly used interchangeably.
With many drugs, if they are used regularly for a period of time, the body begins to become used to the drug and requires increasing amounts just to achieve the same effect. When stopped, the person will experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically subside as soon as he or she takes more of the drug. This often becomes a vicious cycle. When dependency has developed, the drug is needed in order to function normally.
Addiction, however, may or may not include a physiological dependence on the drug. Some argue that an addict doesn’t use the drug so they can function normally. They use it to experience the high, and they are compelled to keep using no matter what the consequences. Addicts also crave the drug. If they are also dependent on the drug, they will also use it to prevent or alleviate withdrawal symptoms, which can be very unpleasant and, with some drugs, very dangerous.
Whether an addiction, a dependency, or both, this is another reason that many people use drugs. Once this vicious cycle begins, it can be very difficult to break. But many people do with the proper treatment, although the road can be a long and painful one.
Many prescription drugs can quickly lead to dependency and / or addiction. Benzodiazepines, pain medications, and stimulants are the three types of prescription drugs that have the greatest risk of dependency and addiction. If you have any of these types of prescription drugs in your home, be sure to keep them locked in a safe place to prevent abuse or misuse that could easily lead to a much more serious problem. The same is true for other types of prescription drugs as well, as all are dangerous in the wrong hands.
As you read this, hopefully you will realize that people use drugs for many different reasons. And in many cases, it is a combination of reasons. While it is easy to sit back and judge, it is much better to genuinely try to understand the reasons for use. Judging and punishing the behavior without trying to understand the reasons often end up perpetuating the problem in the long run, especially with teens.