High school is the time to experiment, to try out different personalities, appearances, friends, passions, and making drugs and alcohol so enticing. The school systems have been doing a great job of educating the students in health class about the dangers of drugs and alcohol so we have seen a decrease in the use of these substances.
However, coming from someone who works at a high school and middle school, the problem of drugs and alcohol still hit home. Throughout this article, anytime I mention drugs, I am alluding to all of the following unless stated otherwise: alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain relievers/opioids, e-cigarettes, tobacco, abuse of cough medicine, inhalants, prescribed stimulants like Adderall, and many more. For a list of slang words for drugs, check out this article.
In addition to teaching our kids the ’80s slogan of “Just Say No,” I think it’s important for us as parents to recognize why, even with education on the dangers, the use of substances is still an option. I have broken down what I have seen behind their motivation; it is complex and multifaceted. Therefore, we have to educate, offer support, display grace, and love intentionally to help our kids make good decisions.
1. The Social Implications.
Because drugs are taboo, especially for youth, for someone to make the choice to use implies they are confident and fearless. We are naturally drawn to confident people as if they have or know something we don’t. Teens feel the same way. Using drugs is a way for teens to feel cool, even if this perception is only in their own mind.
Using drugs is another way to make friends. I have seen personally how individuals from two different social groups come together and smoke pot. There is a sharing of experiences that bond individuals together. And as a teen who feels like they don’t belong anywhere, having a group that accepts them could be a big draw to using drugs.
2. The Emotional impact.
We’ve heard the saying alcohol provides liquid courage. Teens experience this when, after they use drugs, they start feeling more confident and powerful. So whether they are able to talk to their crush for the first time or have a reduction in their depression or anxiety symptoms, they feel good! Once they know they could feel this way, it makes them want to go back to it, which is both a psychology desire and a biological one. Which leads into the next point of how drugs affect the body.
3. The Biology.
Our brains are not fully developed until the age of 25. This means that our brains are attempting to prune the good and bad through the experiences we have until the development is complete. For example, with drugs, especially the ones that increase the level of the natural feel-good chemical dopamine, our brains will create an alarm system to remind us of the pleasure we could be experiencing if we used again. Adding to the fact that impulse control and understanding of consequences are one of the last areas to develop in our 20s, the reward of use far outweighs any negative a teen can see.
Information is key in battling the war for our kids’ hearts and lives, but they need you more than they need information. They need your time, your wisdom, your humor, your support, and most importantly, they need your love! So using this information in combination with spending intentional time with them will contribute to teens making wiser choices!
Information is key in battling the war for our kids’ hearts and lives, but they need you more than they need information.
Which do you see as the biggest motivator in teens today?
Paige Clingenpeel is a licensed teen therapist and has worked on TV, radio, and web-based media. Her passion is creating health, hope, and humor for youth and their families.