Preventing Teenage Substance Abuse

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Teen substance abuse prevention begins with the family but extends into society as a whole. Substance abuse among teenagers is dangerous for many reasons. First, there are the obvious reasons like the risk of overdose, addiction, illegal consequences, and more. Then, there are also potential problems that are unique to teenagers, themselves.

Teenagers’ brains are still developing, so their likes and dislikes, their identity, problem-solving skills, and other important life skills are still in the developmental stage. If teens begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol, they may set themselves up for a variety of issues later in life. This is why it is so important to provide a healthy and firm foundation for young children as this can aid in teen substance abuse prevention.

Understanding the Dangers of Teen Substance Abuse

The ultimate goal of preventative techniques is to stop someone from acting out on behaviors that could cause harm to themselves or others. As such, it’s essential to understand exactly what are the dangers and consequences associated with teen drug and alcohol use.

Teens may choose to experiment with drugs or alcohol for various reasons. Some due to peer pressure or general curiosity while others do so in an attempt to cope with a mental health issue or difficult emotions. However, drug and alcohol use typically only makes these types of things worse. Some short and long-term consequences of teen drug and alcohol use include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and poor mental health
  • Trouble developing and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Declining overall health
  • Low self-esteem and self-image
  • Increased risk of grief, loss, and trauma
  • Feeling isolated from one’s peers
  • Getting into trouble at school or with the law
  • Unwanted pregnancy or STDs
  • Increased risk of polydrug use

Risk Factors for Teen Substance Abuse and Addiction

Ultimately, addiction is a nondiscriminatory disease, so anyone can end up with an addiction regardless of their age, race, gender, and background. At the same time, implementing teen substance abuse prevention techniques can make young people less likely to use drugs or alcohol. However, there are certain risk factors that make some people more likely to abuse substances and develop an addiction than others. For example, teens who struggle with mental illness like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or ADHD may be more likely to experiment with or abuse drugs and alcohol.

Other major life changes and stressors can also trigger a substance abuse problem. For instance, teens who suffer a great loss, watch their parents go through a divorce, experience trauma, or those who move to a new school and experience isolation are all at a higher risk of substance abuse. These individuals may try to use drugs or alcohol to cope. In most cases, the earlier a person begins using substances, the more likely they are to develop an addiction or substance use disorder later on in life.

In addition to these difficult experiences, peer pressure can play a huge role in teen substance abuse, as well. If a teenager is hanging out with friends who drink or smoke marijuana, they are likely to get curious, feel pressured, and try smoking or drinking to fit in with their friends. Regardless of how a teen begins using substances, long-term use can easily spiral into physical dependence and addiction.

Tips for Teen Substance Abuse Prevention

If you want to avoid having an addicted son or daughter, early prevention is key. The two primary pillars behind preventing teen substance abuse are communication and education. Teens who have open communication with positive family influences that have educated them about the dangers of drug and alcohol use may be less likely to use substances as they get older.

Positive Family Influences and Open Communication

Teenage substance abuse prevention starts in the home. Parents should make it a point to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol in an open and non-scolding manner. Talking to children while they are young and instilling communication skills around difficult topics like drugs and alcohol can help make them more educated about the topic. It will also help develop a positive relationship between the parent and the child so the child feels as though they can open up to and talk to their parent about anything.

It’s also important to lead by example. If parents are abusing substances in the home in front of their child, the child may take after their parents and use drugs or alcohol themselves. If you are a parent that drinks, make sure you educate your child on how to drink responsibly and explain to them why they shouldn’t drink until they are 21.

Another important aspect of teen substance abuse prevention is teaching children and young teens how to set boundaries. Setting boundaries will help teens recognize and respect their own needs, learn how to say no when faced with something they want to do, and gain a more solid ground to help them deal with peer pressure and other difficult situations.

Healthy and transparent communication builds trust. Rather than lecturing your child about substance abuse, speak to them openly. Have a conversation – not a lecture. Encourage your kids to talk to you about difficult topics, ranging from relationships to drugs and alcohol. This way, you can build trust and open the door for your teen to come to you later in life if they are struggling and considering turning to drugs or alcohol. These types of conversations and communication skills are key to substance abuse prevention.

Educational Tools for Teenage Substance Abuse Prevention

In addition to talking to teens at home, there are many community resources that provide educational tools for substance abuse prevention. Oftentimes, schools, community centers, churches, and more will offer educational workshops, videos, or lessons that aim to teach children and teenagers the importance of living a substance-free life.

You can find these resources by speaking to your child’s school or local community center.

Put an End to Teen Substance Abuse Today

Teen substance abuse prevention strategies are the single most effective way to stop teens from developing an addiction later in life. That being said, these techniques will be ineffective in teenagers who have already developed a substance use disorder. In cases where addiction has already developed, individuals may need professional addiction treatment.

If you or someone you know is losing their battle with substance abuse, know that help is available. Our dedicated treatment specialists are here to help you in any way possible – whether that means staging an intervention or connecting you to a rehab near you. Contact us today to get started on a better life.

Medically Reviewed: November 13, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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