Drug Abuse Among Teens

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A commercial once aired on television describing the effects of smoking on the brain. It began with a person holding an egg and saying, "This is your brain". The person then cracked the egg into a frying pan and as the egg sizzled the voice was heard saying, "This is your brain on drugs". The message was powerful while at the same time informative. Smoking not only affects a person physically, but mentally as well. However, most people do not know the severe mental damage smoking inflicts since the focus is primarily on the physical effects.

Drug abuse is becoming a growing problem among teenagers. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse's 1999 survey of 2,000 teens, about 14 million teens ages 12 to 17, 60% are at moderate or high risk of substance abuse1. A leading reason for this increasing number is that it is getting easier and easier to obtain drugs. Marijuana is easier to buy than beer, while cigarettes are the easiest to buy. Forty-seven percent of all teens say cigarettes are easiest to buy, 27% say marijuana and 12% say beer. The older the teen gets, the easier it is to buy marijuana rather than beer1.

There are a number of different reasons teenagers begin to use drugs. Many kids use drugs for the same reasons adults use drugs- to get high, to feel happy, stimulated, relaxed, or intoxicated. Drugs can also be used to ease stress, frustration, tension, disappointment, fear or anger. Many teens turn to drugs when they feel as though they have no where or no else to turn to for help. Depression is a major reason teens might turn to drug abuse. They are overcome with a feeling of emptiness and hopelessness and tend to try to fill the void by using drugs. When teens are particularly stressed or upset they may use more drugs than normal in an attempt to ease their distress. Teens that are shy or fearful may begin to use drugs to boost their self-confidence. Many teens use them to fit in or are peer pressured into doing it.

Teens often change their drug habits because of life changes such as death of a loved one, family problems, grades, school, or legal troubles. Emotional problems can also increase or decrease drug use. At times, teens can experience no desire to use, but mostly when problems arise, the desire to use increases dramatically.

An often overlooked cause of drug abuse is heredity. While no one is predestined to become addicted to drugs, some people are born more susceptible to drug dependency. People inherit this predisposition from the genes passed down to us by our parents. Most research on this topic focuses on alcohol abuse. Studies show that if one parent of a child is an alcoholic, the risk that the child will become an alcoholic increases by about 40%, or about four times that of a child without an alcoholic parent. If both parents are alcoholics, the risk increases to about 60%.3

The environment plays a significant role in substance abuse because anything that increases drug exposure will affect the person's likeliness to use drugs. People who inherit a genetic predisposition to alcoholism must at some point begin drinking on order to trigger the addiction. Adolescents who begin drinking before the age of fifteen have an increased risk of becoming alcohol dependent. More than 40% of people who begin drinking before age fifteen later became alcoholics while only 10% of those who started drinking after age twenty-one became alcoholics.3

Smoking often damages a person's mental health. Such mental health disorders as depression, anxiety disorders, characterological disorders, borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can all be related to drug abuse. Drugs can either cause these disorders or intensify them. Many people already experiencing a disorder may turn to drugs or increase their drug usage in order to try to diminish the symptoms of the disease. This can result in addiction or more...
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