The teenage years can be difficult. In addition to the pressures of school, deciding on the future and figuring out who they are, teens face immense pressure to fit in. They also have a variety of role models to base their behavior on and not all of them are positive.
Like any behavior at any age, there is no single explanation for why teens use drugs. The reasons for using drugs are as complex and varied as each individual teenager. But there are some general reasons that can provide insight into teenage drug use. Understanding these reasons can reveal the pressures and stressors that teens face and can offer some guidance for dealing with teen drug use.
Despite what adults think about how easy teens have it, school is a stressful time for teenagers, filled with a variety of pressures and challenges. Teens who have difficulty coping with those stresses—or who think drugs might help them overcome the stress—may be more likely to try drugs.
Fitting In and Peer Pressure
The pressure to fit in and have a peer group to bond with can be overwhelming for teenagers. Drug use can provide a means to bond with other people and find a group to fit in with. Having friends who encourage drug use can increase the chances that a teenager will use drugs.
Self-medicating and Escape
Along with facing stress and pressure, teens may feel unhappy, depressed and even angry. If they cannot find an outlet for their emotions, they may turn to drug use to change or manage their emotions. Some may find that drugs numb their emotional pain, while others find that drugs make them feel happy, confident or energetic. Drug use may feel good to them, providing instant gratification. For teens with low self-esteem, drugs may make them feel more confident and more likeable, making them more comfortable around their peers.
Image Presna 420
Despite programs designed to warn teens about the dangers of drug use, there is still widely spread misinformation about drugs. Teens may believe their friends who tell them there are no risks associated with drug use, rather than listening to parents or experts on the topic. A 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health found that less than 60 percent of high school seniors saw regular marijuana use as harmful.
As teenagers attempt to understand and navigate their own identity, they frequently try on new personalities to determine what works for them. These personalities are often based on the people they see around them: their parents, friends and role models. If they see people they consider role models using drugs, they are more likely to use drugs as a way of imitating their behaviors, especially if they do not see any of the negative consequences of the drug use.
Curiosity and Boredom
Curiosity and boredom can be powerful motivators. Teenagers may try drugs with the intent of only trying them once, just to experiment, but that once can quickly develop into a habit and possibly an addiction.
Teens who are bored or need an outlet for their energy and emotion might be more likely to use drugs. Drugs provide a way to pass the time, and they can also help teens fill an internal void.
While teenagers are trying out new personalities, they may take part in activities that they believe assert their independence or provide an outlet for acting out. Some drugs may make teens feel more free to be aggressive or violent. Meanwhile some teens may use drugs to provoke their parents into a reaction.
Although teenagers do not intend to become addicted to drugs, what they thought was a one-time experiment could quickly become a habit and an addiction, with terrible consequences.
Teen drug use is a complex topic. Understanding some of the reasons for teen drug use can help parents identify risk factors their teens may face and encourage them to have an honest discussion about the risks of drug use with teenagers.
Feature image Drew Herron