Why Are Teens More At Risk for Addiction Than Adults?
According to a survey commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 61% of high school students drank alcohol at one point in their lives. While drinking once or twice does not necessarily count as alcohol abuse, it does prove that the teenage years tend to be the phase where one develops a substance abuse disorder. This fact has led many to wonder why are teens more at risk for addiction than adults, as this seems to be the trend.
Alcohol remains the most commonly abused substance by teenagers, followed by tobacco and marijuana due to ease of access. The survey also showed that older teens preferred to abuse drugs such as meth, cocaine, or heroin. 2021 Monitoring the Future survey done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) gathered the following data relevant to substance abuse in teens:
- 8th graders: 10.2%
- 10th graders: 18.7%
- 12th graders: 32.0%
The substance used by the teens in the survey included marijuana, LSD, hallucinogens, cocaine, and heroin. An independent study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that American teens aged 14 and older abused both alcohol and prescription medications whenever they could get any.
As alarming as these figures are, they reflect a decrease in substance use among teens, a trend that began in 2021. Compared to data sampled from 2020, a general drop of 5% was observed in the number of teenagers who admitted to using substances. The downtrend, however, has not been conclusively associated with a particular reason other than the pandemic and the isolation that came with it, which is contrary to the trend in adult substance abusers, which saw an uptick at the onset of the pandemic.
What Makes Teens More Susceptible to Getting into Substance Abuse?
The teenage years typically bring with them a good amount of turmoil, as the transition into adulthood causes physical changes that are nothing short of confusing for the average adolescent. This confusion is made even worse by the pressures of school, peer groups, and a flood of emotions that they are not prepared for.
Although younger people tend to be more resilient to stress, many teenagers find it immensely difficult to cope with everything that is happening, making it so easy for them to make bad decisions. While there are many different reasons for a teenager to use substances, some of the more common ones include:
Acceptance is not always as easy as most would want it to be. This is particularly true during the awkward teenage years, as the desire to be part of the “cool crowd” often dictates the actions of most teenagers. Most would do anything to take on the appearance of being bold and daring, even engaging in illegal things, such as drinking while underage or even trying out substances that they know would get them in trouble.
Most teenagers often say they initially tried the substances they got hooked on because they were curious and wanted to know what the fuss was all about, with laws governing the purchase and use of some substances. The sad reality about this is that some substances, such as cocaine, heroin, and even alcohol, are pretty easy to get hooked on. What started as a few furtive tries here and there eventually becomes a chronic habit, and then it becomes apparent that the teenager is already addicted.
Even at a young age some people are well-known for all the wrong reasons. Some teenagers prefer not to be popular because of academic or physical prowess, and instead be known as someone who could drink the most, or know where to get substances that would otherwise be difficult to procure. Many teenagers who take this route say they did so because they could not and did not want to compete with others who were already known for being intelligent or for being good in school sports. By becoming the “life of the party”, or someone known to drink a lot or be the source of illegal substances, they have secured the attention of their peers.
Many who have gotten hooked on stimulants admit that they got started on them during their school days. As teenagers, they used stimulants to boost their physical performance or help in staying awake longer to study and go toe-to-toe with others who were at the top of their game. This habit, however, will give rise to a trait that the teenager will carry well into adulthood: the preference to always use an unfair advantage if it would secure a win.
The confusion that teenagers go through could cause them to become emotionally unstable, and as such, they would always try to find a sense of validation for what they feel, even if it means using illegal substances. Many who do not find the emotional support or validation that they crave from their parents and peers may just find it from the good feeling they get while high on substances. This is why adolescents are always being advised to speak to someone if they feel they feel the need for support of any kind, otherwise, they might find some other way to feel the acceptance and validation they crave.
Bullying is still rampant in this day and age of emotional awareness. Emotional pressure is already bad enough as it is at any age, but it is particularly damaging to someone going through the emotional and psychological confusion of adolescence. There are many cases of people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from unresolved incidents they went through during their early years. Unaddressed trauma of this kind could cause behavioral and mental issues that only get worse as the person gets older.
Many teenagers tend to be receptive to suggestions, as they try to fit in with their generation, get in on what the trend is, and not be left behind by their peers. This is why their demographic is typically the best to market anything to, as they will try just about anything, and will do whatever everyone else is doing, or at the very least what the people they look up to are doing. This is why the term “positive role model” has now become a relative term, as teenagers may view the activities of whoever they look up to as positive, regardless of what it is.
Another sad fact about many teenagers is that the emotional confusion they feel often creates a feeling of great resentment in them. The teenagers themselves barely know what they truly resent, which is why they foster an attitude of rebellion and intentionally engage in activities they feel would give them a sense of identity and independence, even if these activities are those that would be highly detrimental to them, such as substance abuse.
One quality that all teenagers are known for is their immensely short attention span. This trait has been made worse due to the nature of progress and innovation, where instant gratification could be had with a touch of a button. With everything going faster and easier, teenagers today will always prefer to do whatever it is that would give them excitement with the shortest amount of involved effort. As taking substances could be as easy as popping a pill, drinking, or inhaling something, it is not that difficult to see why they got into substance abuse.
The alarming number of teenagers that are into alcohol and drugs is more than enough to prove that there is a great need for adequate and accurate information regarding substance abuse and how easy it is to develop a substance abuse disorder. There is also a need for a more effective mode of information delivery to teenagers, one that they would be more likely to respond to. Those who intentionally get teenagers hooked on substances tend to be people who pretend to know all about recreational substances and how to safely use them, and this kind of misinformation is leading more and more adolescents into substance abuse.
LUNA Recovery Could Help Getting People Back on the Right Track
Substance abuse is a hard lesson for anyone who has ever had the misfortune of getting into it. The sad reality is that it is a mistake that many tend to repeat. This is why the better approach to correcting this mistake is patience, proper care, therapy sessions, and support groups that people could resonate with. Instead of emphasizing the mistake, we here at LUNA Recovery prefer to show people that it is possible to stop the cycle of mistakes and get on a better track which will lead to recovery.
Our experience in helping with recovery has shown us that people respond better when you shine a light on what they could do better, instead of focusing on what they did wrong. Let us help you or a loved one break the cycle of addiction. Contact us today.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.