By the time a teenager turns nineteen there is a 98 percent chance that he or she has tried at least one drug (including alcohol). It’s hard to say why teenagers try drugs. Sometimes they don’t even know why they do it. If a person asked ten teenagers at a party why they were getting high, that person would probably get ten different explanations. A lot of the time teenagers don’t even recognize the paths that led them to drug abuse. Drug abuse is usually the result of a problem, an outside influence, or the combination of these. There are many reasons why teenagers decide to use drugs, but there are specific influences that appear time and again. Experimentation
Part of being a teenager is experiencing new things, taking risks, and rebelling against authority. According to Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal, president of a large drug treatment program called Phoenix House, teens are seeking adventure and they often find it by experimenting with drugs. A middle school guidance counselor told Newsweek that when she talks to students about drugs she asks them to go to a certain section of the classroom if they consider themselves big risk takers. The result no longer surprises her. “They push each other out of the way to get there first,” she reports. The attitude that nothing can hurt them, that they can handle anything, makes teenagers vulnerable to the lure of drugs. According to USA Today, drug use among teenagers is increasing at an alarming rate, while the perceived risk is decreasing. Amy, sixteen, considers herself a “recreational” drug user, meaning she only uses drugs occasionally and doesn’t think drugs are dangerous in moderation. “Every year at school there would be a new drug to conquer,” she explains. “You just wanted to see what it would do to you, you know, would it be cooler than the last thing. It’s no big deal if you don’t take it too seriously.” For many teens who are bored, taking drugs is something to pass the time. Tom, sixteen, says, “There’s seriously nothing to do where I live. Getting high is like the major activity. If I didn’t get stoned, I’d be bored out of my mind.” The denial by teens of the dangers involved with even occasional drug use has drug educators frustrated. They feel that teens have to learn that experimenting with drugs isn’t like experimenting with a new hairstyle or way of dressing. Barbara C. Thornton, a high school principal recognized by President Clinton for working with teens who have drug problems, sees experimentation and recreational use as a huge problem that only secures drugs a firmer place in teen culture. “I think it’s gone beyond experimentation,” she says. “It’s become a part of what young people do.” She believes that taking drugs has replaced the harmless activities of past generations such as bowling or skating. A route of escape
Life today often presents young people with situations that they are not emotionally and psychologically equipped to handle, and many troubled teens turn to drugs as a way to escape from the pain around them. According to Peter Provet, the director of adolescent programs at Phoenix House, “Our most vulnerable kids have experienced and witnessed tragedy to a greater degree than they did even five years ago [in 1990]. We’re seeing kids totally unmotivated, who don’t care about living or dying. They are increasingly coming from single parent neighborhoods where violence or AIDS has claimed relatives and friends.” Some teens feel that they’re trapped in a community that encourages drug use. Rosalyn, seventeen, lives in a town where poverty, joblessness, crime, and drugs all mix. “Sometimes I feel like I live in this very weird place, like a planet that nobody else but us knows about.” She explains that kids in her town use drugs so they don’t have to think about how bad their lives are. Drugs give them the illusion that everything’s all right. Dr. Allison Dubner, a school psychologist in Long Island, New York, explains that teens are often...
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