There is no simple answer to why a young person might begin using alcohol or other drugs. Many times, it is a combination of several factors, including society, family and peers. They may turn to drugs to escape stress or loneliness or to overcome shyness in social situations. They may want to be seen as grown up or as a risk taker. Or, they may simply be curious. Teens often want to be like their role models as well. So, if their favorite music group, older sibling, parents or a "cool" peer at school uses drugs or alcohol, they may also use drugs or alcohol to emulate their role model(s). Adolescence is often a time of low self-esteem, which can develop as a result of not being able to grow and change as quickly as is desired. Or conversely, physical development can occur much earlier than emotional development. A young person with low self-esteem may feel they are not as smart, attractive, talented or popular as their peers. They may also feel pressured by parents, teachers or others to achieve goals that seem unattainable. To help deal with the pressure, a young person with low self-esteem may be more likely to put aside his/her good judgment and turn to drugs or alcohol to escape.
Start early: Statistics show that by age 13, many young people are already experimenting with drugs. Children may be curious or fearful about drug-related images and messages they see in the community and media. Even when children are as young as 5 or 6, you can talk to them about things that are "safe" or "dangerous." Don't wait until a problem arises to discuss their questions. By talking to children about drugs when they are young, good communication habits are being developed; and the chance that they will discuss concerns later are improved. Give them the facts: Talk to teens about the dangerous consequences of drug use. Respect their need to know the facts and answer their questions honestly. Help them sort through all the confusing messages they get from peers, television, movies, music and school. Listen, don't lecture: Teens often struggle to express their feelings and concerns to adults. Take time to hear what they are really saying, as well as not saying. Help them think of ways to respond to social situations, especially where drugs are involved. Encourage them to explore new interests. In doing so, their sense of identity is being developed. Teens who feel secure about themselves are better able to cope with peer pressure. Remind them that they are not alone and they have the ability to make good choices. Be a good role model: Set firm rules about drug and alcohol use and be consistent about enforcing them. Adults need to also make wise choices about their own use of alcohol and other drugs; in other words, what is done is as important as what is said.
Teenagers may be involved with alcohol and legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don¦t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others. Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. It is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which will develop serious problems. Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those: with a family history of substance abuse
who are depressed
who have low self-esteem, and
who feel like...