Teen drug abuse continues to be a tremendous problem in our country. Although the substances young people abuse change, the plague of addiction is the same as it has been for decades. No matter how people try to solve this issue it continues to grow. There is no simple answer as to why this scourge remains but there are some simple steps people can take to provide young people with some alternatives.
Remember The Angst Of Adolescence
Most young people can’t wait to become adults. In the mind of a teenager this is the time in life when there are no longer any restrictions. Unfortunately, in society today many teens are expected to act as adults before they are truly capable. Rather than adolescence being a time in life when a person can make mistakes and learn from them, in the age of “zero tolerance” and increased isolation, young people are often left to fend for themselves. At some point almost every teenager will have to face the temptation of drugs and alcohol. It is impossible to predict who will wind up with a serious problem but there are certain factors that increase the odds.
Be Available And Listen
Most of how a person views the world starts at home. Throughout childhood and adolescence other factors start to influence how someone thinks but the foundation is laid early on. In substance abuse treatment the person with a strong emotional footing is more likely to grasp a program of recovery quickly. People that grew up around a lot of dysfunction, instability, or spent very little time with positive family members will have a more difficult time connecting with basic concepts common in treatment. At this point figuring out “why” a teenager has a drug problem is far less important than having a stable and secure environment in which to heal. Most teenagers thrive on friendship, security, and (most importantly) fun. Often what they need more than anything else is to be listened to. An easy response to adolescent substance abuse doesn’t exist but society can make a difference with a shift in attitude.
It is not uncommon to hear stories about “at risk youth.” The term is often used but at times misunderstood. There are so many circumstances that put young people in potentially dangerous situations that in some ways young people are “at risk” all the time. Normally, parents compare what teenagers experience today through the lens of their own life but today’s world is a very different place. Every generation has its version of “these young people just don’t get it” but in reality things have changed significantly in the past three decades.
Information Changes Everything
Access to information has radically changed the way young people react to life. In most cases this is a good thing but there are exceptions. For teenagers prone to drug and alcohol abuse or other forms of self-destructive acting out this can be devastating. People that get high are in constant search of justification. Now it is possible to build an army of support for any behavior without any pushback. This is extremely dangerous for young people who are suffering because if they successfully find others to validate dangerous forms of acting out, they are less likely to find help when it is really needed. A drug or alcohol abuser is an expert at showing the world what he or she wants others to see. The isolation and internal torture a young person lives with is difficult to recognize. Receiving validation from “friends” online only perpetuates the problem. This was not the case in the eighties and nineties.
Same Mindset, Different Circumstances
Teenagers are still teenagers. Anyone can understand that simple fact. Many parents of teenagers today had their own bouts with drug and alcohol abuse in high school or college. However, it is dangerous and naive to think this provides the knowledge needed to help a struggling young person. The drugs of today are different. They are far more powerful and much more available. The social acceptance for drug abuse is rampant. These facts don’t make the situation hopeless. No one needs to accept a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol or convince themselves their child is “going through a phase.” If you are concerned about someone you love, ask for help. If this is an overreaction, so be it. With a problem this serious an exaggerated reaction is better than waiting until it is too late.