What leads young people to experiment with drugs?

Understanding why young people might use drugs is an important step towards having effective conversations with them.

There is no one-size-fits-all explanation, but there are several common reasons that teenagers and young adults might experiment with using drugs:

CURIOSITY Many teens begin experimenting with drugs simply because they are curious and want to know what it feels like. Even if they’ve heard that “drugs are bad,” they don’t believe that anything bad can actually happen to them. They often feel that they are invincible. The part of the brain that controls rational decision-making, self-control, and judgment isn’t fully developed in teens, making them more prone to take risks without the fear of consequences.

PEER PRESSURE Young people may begin experimenting with substances because they see their friends doing it. They may also feel pressured if they think “everyone else is doing it”. To them, experimenting with substances may seem like an expected part of the teenage experience.

ATTEMPTING TO FIT IN Making friends and establishing themselves at school can be difficult for young people. The teenage years often come with many insecurities, low self-esteem, and fear of not being accepted. Their desire to “fit in” is human nature. Many teens see drugs as a way to cope or to feel more comfortable in their own skin.

It’s critical to educate and model self-love, acceptance and healthy relationships for our youth. Encouraging young people to join clubs and sports can help them make friends and be a part of groups that focus on healthy behaviors.

TO FEEL BETTER There is the desire to feel good and there is the desire to feel better. Teens trying to “feel better” through drug use are often self-medicating. They might be battling something deeper than peer pressure or a failed homework assignment. Some young people are suffering from conditions like depression, social anxiety, and stress-related disorders. They may use drugs to forget or replace their negative feelings with substance-induced pleasure.

STRESS/NEED TO ESCAPE Some teens turn to drugs as a form of escapism. When they are sad or depressed, they seek alternative methods as a way to forget and feel happier. Some teens might misuse prescription pills to manage their depression and anxiety. Many teenagers are overly stressed with a packed schedule of advanced classes and extracurricular activities or difficult home lives. A lack of coping skills can lead them to seek out an artificial method of coping with stress.

LOW SELF-ESTEEM In teenagers, low self-esteem due to how they feel about their appearance or their relationships can lead to a lack of self-confidence. The media, friends, and family members often put pressure on teenagers to act and look a certain way, and they may lose confidence in themselves if they don’t meet those high standards. Teenagers who lack self-confidence will often seek drugs to feel more confident in social settings or to loosen inhibitions and lower their social anxiety.

LACK OF KNOWLEDGE/EDUCATION Some young people grow up thinking drug and alcohol use is normal. Their favorite musicians are singing about it, the movies are glamorizing it, the TV and social media ads are selling it. Our culture has adopted a “pill cures all” mentality – whether you are sad, can’t sleep, or have a headache, there is a drug that can fix your problems. Many young people do not understand the potential consequences of drug use, and how it could harm their minds, bodies, and relationships.

GENETICS If there is a family history of drug addiction or alcoholism, teenagers may be genetically predisposed to experiment with drugs and alcohol and become addicted. If you have a family history of addiction, be honest and open a dialogue about the real risks of substance use.

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