Teen Substance Use: Why Preventive Matters

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Teenagers are going through many formative changes in their physical bodies and in the way they see the world around them. Teens are especially vulnerable in terms of brain development at this age, and may be feeling the effects of peer pressure, increased curiosity around drug use or experimentation and higher levels of rebelliousness and risk-taking which can influence drug use.

Preventative Works

Although substance abuse issues are a real concern for youth across Canada, the use of certain drugs amongst teens has gone down over the past ten years. This shows that the education can help with the prevention of teen substance abuse. For example, cigarette consumption has gone down dramatically over the past five decades, and this is related to a strong societal movement to educate not only youth but also the general public on the health concerns related to nicotine.

Educating Teens about Risks

The more teens know about the risks of drugs including alcohol use, the better. However, to be most effective, the education needs to start in the elementary school years, and continue on through high school in a layered and consistent fashion. This way teens are able to make informed and better educated decisions as well as help influence their peers’ decision making around risky behavior.

Obviously, the most important influence in a young person’s life is often their parents, so modeling and parental involvement in the child’s life and activities are critically important. If a child is regularly using drugs like marijuana and alcohol in their early teen years, they are significantly more at risk of developing a serious addiction problem. The longer one can delay the experimentation and use of drugs, the better likelihood a young person has of avoiding the pitfalls of addiction. Engaging youth in healthy activities, supporting their passions and interests, staying connected to them as responsible parents, and modeling the behavior we hope them to aspire to – while none a guarantee – are some of the best investments we can make for our younger generation.

Mental and Physical Consequences Of Teen Substance Use

There are some very real long-term effects on their health, up to and including death. Some of these issues include:

  • Mental health issues like anxiety, depression and personality disorders.
  • Strained relationships and alienation from friends and family.
  • Declining grades from behavioral issues, intoxication, and drug use.
  • Criminal Activity including drug dealing, drug possession, property crimes, violent crimes
  • Decrease in Physical Activities - hard to maintain sport participation, team activities, individual sports
  • Determining Who Is At Risk:Some teens are at a higher risk of substance abuse than others. It is important to determine which type of help each teen is in need of depending on their circumstances. Some common risk factors can be:
  • Youth with mental health disorders like anxiety and depression which can manifest in young children can lead to having a higher risk of substance abuse issues.
  • Youth experiencing transition periods can add new social pressures and influences to a teen’s immediate social circle.
  • Youth not having positive role models including parents or influential adults adds to the risk of a teen developing a substance abuse issue.
  • Youth experiencing peer pressure and associating with peers who are active in drug experimentation and use
  •

Having critical conversations as a family

The most important influence teens have are their parents. Statistics show that if parents talk about drug and alcohol risks openly with their teens, they are less likely to develop an issue. Rather than ignoring the issue altogether, or thinking that talking about substances will somehow encourage teens to use them. Oftentimes parents are reluctant to talk to their adolescent youth about drugs, and this is where the Odd Squad Productions materials including presentations, films, and videos can assist.

Here are some ways in which parents can instill strong values in their teens:

Open communication ensures that your teen can come to you when they have questions about the use of substances, this ensures that the teen knows it is not a topic that is off limits. This allows an open conversation and the parents can let the teen know where they stand.

Debunking misconceptions is easy when a teen feels confident coming to their parents with the idea that everybody their age drinks and does drugs and this is ok. With the increasing toxicity of illicit drugs, the opportunities for serious health implications (including overdosing) proper information about substance use is more important than ever before. Parents must be aware of their kids’ beliefs when they arise in order to dispel them.

Avoiding the glamorization or drug and alcohol use in the media may seem impossible with the amount of saturation in mainstream film and television. It is important to talk to teens about these messages and let them know that real life circumstances of substance use look a lot different.

Set a positive example by never drinking and driving and using substances, including prescription drugs, responsibly in the presence of teens.

Read our recent article about "What the Fentanyl Crisis Really Means" now.
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