Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

As a parent or educator, you may be wondering why teens use drugs. Are there core issues or influences behind a child's substance use or addiction? Or are they simply experimenting?

What Are the Risks of Teen Drug Abuse?

Teen drug abuse is no less risky than when adults take drugs.

Teenage drug use can cause poor judgment in both social and interpersonal interactions. It can also expose them to a community where drug use is considered normal, exposing them to potential substance addiction. It may also cause them to engage in unsafe sexual activity, which may lead to sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies.

Teen drug use also complicates and increases the risks of mental health issues and disorders. Teenagers run the same risk of potential overdoses or causing physical or psychological damage to themselves and their loved ones through substance abuse, as adults do.

Substance use can in turn lead to drug dependence, and teenagers who use drugs run a higher risk of being involved with serious drug use later in their lives. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, new studies show that adolescents with multiple symptoms of substance use disorder do not easily transition out of symptomatic substance use in adulthood.

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Drug abuse among juveniles is commonly seen as an expression of another unspoken, unsatisfied issue. Alcohol is frequently associated with teenagers who wish to release anger, as it allows them to behave aggressively. Prescription medications may be abused simply to get high, while hallucinogens like mushrooms or LSD are often used by young people as a means of escaping to a more kind or idealistic world. Cigarettes are sometimes associated with provoking parents or rebelling and showing independence.

People often want to believe that teenage drug use is just a phase or a means of experimenting. But with drug use among 8th graders going up 61% between 2016 and 2020, there may be some underlying reasons.

To Fit In

Teenage years often come with low self-esteem, many insecurities, and a big fear of not being accepted. Making friends at school can be difficult for young people, and many teens may engage in drug abuse to fit in. If others are considered 'cool' and are doing it, kids may fear that they will not be accepted into a social circle if they aren't using drugs too.

Alcohol and drugs also loosen inhibitions, making social interactions easier and alleviating any social anxiety. Drug use can make teens feel that they have something in common, and a fear of being left out can prompt them to engage in it.

To Do Better

Many parents overlook the possibility that school stress can lead to their teen's drug use. In a very competitive society, there is immense pressure on kids for athletic and academic performance. Some young adults even turn to illegal prescription stimulants to enhance their school performance.

In and outside of school, young people may want to prove their worth to their peers and their loved ones. Competition to be outstanding comes with a lot of intensity, and sometimes costs teens their sobriety.

To Feel Good

Drugs affect the neurochemistry of the brain and produce pleasurable feelings. Many teens use drugs or alcohol simply to get high. They may be looking for a thrill or an intensified feeling that they may not find in other activities. This is usually where addiction starts, as drugs interact with our brain's method of producing and experiencing pleasure.

To Feel Better

Feeling good is one thing, but it is vastly different from feeling better when considering teen drug use. Usually, kids who take drugs to 'feel better' are in fact trying to cope with something.

It may be that they want to numb or dull very real emotional or psychological pain. They may be battling with something much deeper than peer pressure or school pressure. Teenage years come with everyday drama, challenging family dynamics, and loads of hormones. Rough teenage years can take an emotional toll on children, and they may take drugs to cope.

Adolescents can also suffer from depression, stress-related disorders, and social anxiety. Mental health issues combined with low self-esteem, possible anxiety disorders, and loneliness are often associated with drug abuse as teens use them as self-medication.

To Deal With Change

Change is not easy for most, and for teens, this is no exception. Teens turn to drugs to deal with changing situations. These could include moving, undergoing puberty, changing schools, or dealing with their parent's divorce. Any change in school, friends, mental health, or self-esteem could prompt a teen to use substances.

To Experiment

Kids are indeed naturally curious and they sometimes stay curious as teenagers. It is common for teens to wonder about the sensations associated with alcohol or other drugs. Adolescents are usually motivated to look for new experiences and ones that are risky, daring, or thrilling are especially tempting. Teen years are the typical time for exploring and learning more about themselves, and this usually involves testing boundaries.


Teenagers often feel that they are not good enough, or look for something that will make them stand out or make them special. One of these things may be drug abuse, or the feeling of not being good enough can drive them to substance abuse. Sometimes a teenager might act out so that they may receive their teacher's or parent's attention.


Often things that happen in childhood influence a person's behaviors or psychology when they grow up. A family history of substance abuse could expose a child to drugs at an early age, and they are more likely to develop a substance abuse issue themselves. Traumatic events such as experiencing a car accident, or low self-esteem stemming from emotional and physical abuse can cause teenagers to take drugs to cope.


Most kids grow up believing that drug or alcohol use is normal. Television shows, movies, and music may advertise or speak about it. A prime example is how easily pills are accepted as a means to deal with emotions or minor ailments like headaches. Teens may not always understand the consequences of drug use either.

Inaccurate information about drugs and alcohol is one of the key contributors for kids taking drugs. Usually, some friends will claim to know about recreational drugs, and can easily reassure others about their safety or minimal risk.

Role Models

Teens see their parents and other adults smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol, or sometimes trying other substances. They most often will imitate the habits of those that are supposed to be their role models. Parents may be permissive to drugs, smoking, or drinking, which places a teen at risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol.

What Can Help Prevent Teen Drug Use?

What Can Help Prevent Teen Drug Use

There is no surefire way to end addiction or ensure a teen never does drugs. However, there are effective drug prevention efforts that can reduce risk factors. It has to do with protective factors related to substance abuse.

The Parent or Caregiver Bond

A strong bond with a parent or caregiver can help decrease the risk factors of taking drugs. The first important step if a person suspects their child is struggling with substance abuse, is to not ignore it or its signs. To understand a teen's drug use, a person has to understand the dynamics, feelings, or pressures behind it. To steer a teen away from harmful substances, a person may have to educate themselves on drugs and alcohol.

Parents or caregivers could talk to their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol regularly. As parents and caregivers are the most important role models in children's lives, it is important to be aware of one's behaviors. It may mean not taking drugs, drinking alcohol in moderation, and using prescription medication only as directed.

Taking care of a child's mental health could include engaging in athletic or community activities, spending quality time together, or teaching them healthy coping skills for dealing with mental issues. Often, treatment centers can help with this. Treatment facilities can also help with any questions regarding a medical condition.

Know About Your Child

It is important to know your teen's friends, and even better to meet their parents. Encouraging a child to invite their friends over could be a way to know them better, and to see if someone may be a bad influence.

Clear rules about drug use help, and being aware and talking about what a child hears, sees, or is exposed to can be vital.

Treatment Center

If your child's drug use is worrying you, Clearfork is here to help. As a residential treatment center for teens, we understand how difficult drug and alcohol abuse can be for both teens and their parents.

That is why our treatment involves a family intensive week, while a licensed education program can keep your child's academics on track. Medical detox, and residential and outpatient treatment options are available, and experienced nursing staff are on hand 24/7.

Clearfork understands that drug and alcohol use among teens may mean that they are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues too. That is why our addiction treatment program includes behavioral health treatment for substance use, mental health, and any co-occurring disorders. Get in contact today to find out how Clearfork Academy can help your teen.

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